The Karate Kid (2010)

2018 #72
Harald Zwart | 134 mins | streaming (HD) | 2.35:1 | USA & China / English & Mandarin | PG / PG

The Karate Kid

For some, The Karate Kid is one of the defining films of the ’80s, with a legacy so strong that, 34 years after the original film, YouTube launched a sequel/spin-off series — and it did well enough to get recommissioned twice (so far), so I guess they were right. I’m pretty sure I rented the original film on video when I was a kid, but my memories of it are incredibly vague, and I’ve no idea if I ever saw the sequels. Anyway, my point is that I don’t have a nostalgic attachment to the original, which seems to have coloured some people’s response to this remake (which is itself rapidly approaching being a decade old!) Maybe that’s for the best, because it seems to be a pretty thorough reimagining — heck, the kid doesn’t even learn karate!

This version stars Jaden Smith (son of Will) as the eponymous child, Dre, who’s forced to move from Detroit to Beijing when his single mother (Taraji P. Henson) gets a job transfer. Struggling to find his place in a foreign country, Dre gets bullied by his schoolmates, including a young kung fu prodigy (Zhenwei Wang). During one particularly vicious beating, Dre is saved by his building’s unassuming maintenance man, Mr Han (Jackie Chan), who it turns out is a kung fu master himself. When the bullies refuse to apologise because they’re taught poor values by their master (Yu Rongguang), Han agrees to teach Dre so that he might enter a kung fu tournament and face them fairly.

So, having a quick read through a plot summary of the original film, the actual story isn’t that different — set in China instead of the US, with different character names, and with kung fu instead of karate (apparently Sony considered changing the title to The Kung Fu Kid but producer Jerry Weintraub refused), but otherwise fundamentally the same narrative. Well, it is a remake — what do you expect?

Everybody was kung fu fighting. I mean, it was a kung fu tournament; that's kinda the point.

From reading other viewer reviews, I get the impression a lot of people dislike it just because they’re nostalgic for the original or because they’re annoyed by Jaden Smith’s parents trying to make him a movie star. But if you remove those external contexts, the film offers a decent storyline and some strong performances — it’s Jackie Chan, c’mon!

Speaking of which, there’s an alternate ending which features Chan fighting the other teacher (something that doesn’t occur in the film as released, obviously). I can see why they wanted to get more of Jackie fighting into the movie, because his is a supporting role otherwise, but it would’ve kinda diluted what the film is really about right at its climax. That said, some versions of the film are perhaps already structurally comprised: apparently the Chinese release was re-edited to make it seem like the American kid started all the fights against those good Chinese boys. I can see why Chinese censors would force that on the film, but I don’t see how it quite chimes with an ending where Dre comes out victorious.

As for the cut the rest of us get to see, I can’t speak for how it compares to the 1984 original, but it holds up pretty well as an enjoyable film in its own right.

4 out of 5

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Kung Fu Panda 3 (2016)

2016 #176
Jennifer Yuh Nelson & Alessandro Carloni | 95 mins | Blu-ray | 2.35:1 | USA & China / English | PG / PG

Kung Fu Panda 3Po and co are back in a movie that bucks the sequel trend by being perhaps the best Kung Fu Panda yet.

The two-pronged plot sees Po (Jack Black) finally meet his birth father (Bryan Cranston), while evil warrior Kai (J.K. Simmons) breaks out of the afterlife to hunt down the Dragon Warrior, putting Po’s new-found community in harm’s way.

After the occasionally muddled second film (which I felt improved a little with repeated viewings, at least), KFP3 sets the legendary adventures of awesomeness back on track with an appealing mix of humour, action, and moral lessons for kiddies and adult viewers alike. It keeps things focused and pacey, running just 83 minutes before credits, as well as maintaining the series’ typically stunning animation, which is just as polished whether creating epic scenery or up-close physical combat.

It’s also particularly satisfying when watched alongside its forerunners: it feels like Po’s story has come full circle, with the film linking in and wrapping up plot points from the first movie (as well as resolving things from the second). Reportedly DreamWorks have three more Kung Fu Panda films planned, but at this point it feels like a completed trilogy.

A downside for UK viewers, though: our localised soundtrack replaces the voices of two palace geese with members of the Vamps, who are a popular music combo, apparently. Wow. Aside from the underwhelmingness of the ‘famous’ guest voices, they’re appalling actors. They only have about three lines between them and they’re still terrible. To rub salt in the wound, some ‘clever’ disc coding means that if you have a Region B Blu-ray player this soundtrack is completely unavoidable, even if you import. Poor region-locked people. Family resemblanceI hope for humanity’s sake the version on Sky Cinema retains the original voices.

There are very few threequels that can lay claim to being a series’ best entry. Whether KFP3 actually tops the original or not is debatable, but it at least feels like a course correction after the somewhat disappointing first sequel.

4 out of 5

Kung Fu Panda 3 is available on Sky Cinema from today, screening on Premiere at 1:40pm and 7:15pm.

The Boxer from Shantung (1972)

aka Mǎ Yǒng Zhēn

2016 #56
Chang Cheh & Hsueh Li Pao | 125 mins | TV (HD) | 2.35:1 | Hong Kong / Mandarin | 18

The problem with watching so many Shaw Brothers movies so close together, as I have this year, is they begin to blur into one. There’s definitely a house style to the stories, the photography, the sets — everything, really. Even the particularly good ones can fail to lodge in the memory as discrete units.

That said, The Boxer from Shantung is a particularly good one. It tells the based-(loosely)-on-a-true-story tale of Ma Yongzhen (Chen Kuan-tai), a small-town guy labouring in Shanghai. After an encounter with gangster Tan Si (David Chiang), Ma decides that’s the life for him, and sets out to climb the crime ladder.

The Boxer from Shantung displays a greater focus on plot and character than is perhaps typical for a Shaw Bros movie, but doesn’t exactly stint on action either — the sequences are a little more spread out than usual, and it results in a just-over-two-hours runtime that isn’t typical for these films. Fortunately, it’s an engrossing enough story that this isn’t a problem, even if the narrative has a rise-and-fall kind of shape that is fairly familiar in the gangster genre.

Nonetheless, where the film really comes to life is in its stonking climax — a massive brawl in which Ma kicks everyone’s ass for quarter of an hour, even with an axe embedded in his stomach. At the end of the day, tightly choreographed and expertly performed action sequences such as this are why we come to these movies; and, at the end of the day, The Boxer from Shantung doesn’t disappoint.

4 out of 5

Ip Man 3 (2015)

aka Yip Man 3

2016 #108
Wilson Yip | 105 mins | streaming (HD) | 2.35:1 | Hong Kong / Cantonese & English | 12 / PG-13

Donnie Yen returns as the eponymous kung fu master, who’s most famous for training Bruce Lee, to complete a trilogy of biographically-dubious but broadly entertaining actioners.

This time round, Ip comes into conflict with property developer Mike Tyson (yes, that Mike Tyson) when he tries to buy out Ip’s son’s primary school. The principal refuses, violence ensues, and Ip and his students end up essentially working as security guards. While he’s busy doing that, Ip is once again neglecting his home life, where his wife (Lynn Hung) is getting mysterious stomach pains…

That occupies most of the film, anyway, until it suddenly resolves what appears to be the main story a good half-hour from the end, then spins out one of the subplots into the main storyline for the third act. It’s a remarkably odd structural choice. On the bright side, that means it may just surprise you a little — it dodges the boredom of, “well he can’t win now because this fight can’t be the climax”, or, “well that guy’s totally going to go back on his word because there’s half-an-hour left yet”, and so on. Predictable it is not. Well, OK, a fair bit of it is still predictable — you know who’s going to win in the end, don’t you? — but how many movies have you seen where the main villain is dealt with and/or simply set aside at the end of act two, and an almost-completely-new story powers the final act?

The downside is it makes a lot of the story feel like a case of something-and-nothing. Tyson is no real threat, not least because he’s barely in the film and can’t act for toffee, but related subplots — like the potential romance between one of Ip’s students and one of the school’s teachers — literally disappear without a trace. Even when there’s a young pretender to Ip’s title of grandmaster, there’s little sense that they may’ve opted for a “changing of the guard”-type narrative for the trilogy-capper. And, as with both of the previous films, the less said about the film’s attitude to foreigners the better (though I guess Hong Kong’s British occupiers weren’t exactly above reproach).

However, the film does deliver in two key areas. The storyline of the wife’s illness finally tackles Ip’s family issues head on. That conflict between his dedication to his martial arts life and his consequent semi-abandonment of his family has been an undercurrent throughout all three films, but I don’t believe they’ve engaged with it fully until now. That he chooses to forgo a challenge to be by his wife’s side stands in counterpoint to the climax of the second film, where he missed his son’s birth to fight a duel. Not only that, but these events finally get under Ip’s unflappably stoic demeanour, and Yen lets Ip’s polite blank-faced reserve crack. In some respects, it pays off having kept that up for most of three movies. Maybe I’m just being soft today or maybe it is well performed, but either way I really felt the emotional impact of this storyline.

The other key area is the action, with famed choreographer Yuen Woo-ping taking over from Sammo Hung, who choreographed parts one and two. Early bouts are not bad, though surprisingly underwhelming, but things really pick up later on. An elevator fight between Ip and a Thai boxer is the absolute high point, an incredible close-quarters action scene that spills out into a stairwell, but Donnie Yen vs Mike Tyson is a very good sequence also, and the climax ain’t half bad. Particular props to the sound designers in that last one, especially the clanging, squealing knives.

After an awkward first half, Ip Man 3 gradually transitions into a rewarding set of circumstances, on both the action and emotional fronts. The lack of consistency may mean it doesn’t satisfy fans as much as the first film did, but I’d say it’s a step up from the second, and definitely worth a look for fans of the old punching-and-kicking-and-hitting-each-other-with-poles-and-knives.

4 out of 5

Ip Man 3 is available on Netflix UK from today.

The Eight Diagram Pole Fighter (1984)

aka Wu Lang ba gua gun / The Invincible Pole Fighters

2016 #75
Liu Chia-liang | 95 mins | TV (HD) | 2.35:1 | Hong Kong / Cantonese & Mandarin | 18

When a warrior family are betrayed and killed, the surviving siblings seek vengeance.

Although the story features a lot of back-and-forth-ing to little avail, there are parts to commend it — the sequence where one son brutally inducts himself into a Buddhist temple is fantastic. Less clever: proving he isn’t too war-obsessed to become a monk by… fighting the other monks.

(Said monks are pacifists, refusing to kill wolves because that’s cruel. Instead, they defang them… presumably ensuring a slow death when they can’t feed. Well done, monks.)

Anyway, it’s rear-loaded with exceptional fight choreography, so providentially ends on a high.

3 out of 5

For more quick reviews like this, look here.

King Boxer (1972)

aka Five Fingers of Death / Tian xia di yi quan

2016 #12
Cheng Chang Ho | 98 mins | TV (HD) | 2.35:1 | Hong Kong / Mandarin | 15 / R

Released in the US as Five Fingers of Death, this popularised kung fu Stateside… before Enter the Dragon came along just a few months later and completely overshadowed it.

Viewed today, it’s a bit cheesy (which is par for the course, really), and does occasionally drag with the back and forth machinations of the rival schools. But there’s a good level of action (the primary reason to watch any kung fu movie worth its salt, surely), and a particularly stunning, casually inventive, multi-fight climax.

Also look out for “the Kill Bill sound effect” (actually from Ironside) and Evil Michael McIntyre.

4 out of 5

Film4’s Revenge of Martial Arts Gold season concludes tonight at 1:35am with The 8 Diagram Pole Fighter.

The Five Venoms (1978)

aka Five Deadly Venoms / Wu du / Mm Dook

2016 #9
Chang Cheh | 97 mins | streaming (HD) | 2.35:1 | Hong Kong / Mandarin | 18 / R

Some say The Five Venoms is one of the very best martial arts films ever made. Some say it’s the best. I’m afraid I have to disagree. Strongly.

It begins with a daft premise: a student is instructed to find five former pupils and a teacher, but he doesn’t know their names or where they went. All he knows is their fighting styles, which they will use in an emergency, and that the ex-teacher is rich. Presumably he therefore had to scour the entire country watching everyone fight until he stumbled on the right guys. Oh, and there’s a time limit because the pupils may go after the teacher’s money… though how the chap who’s setting this mission is supposed to know they haven’t already, I don’t know.

So the plot is a non-starter, but we don’t watch kung fu movies for the plot. Unfortunately, The Five Venoms seems to think we do, because action is actually in short supply. When a decent slab of it does arrive, in the form of a five-way fight for the climax, it’s somehow boring. Before then there’s bouts of torture and plain violence, and while the blood is as fake as ever, the style is cold and gruesome. The only really good bits come from the characters’ imagination: there’s the opening scene, with flashback demonstrations of everyone’s powers, in comic-book-gaudy colours; and later, the student teams up with one of the ex-pupils to plan and prepare, and as they practice we see the villains appear through their imagination.

I’m not sure what people see here to call it one of the greatest martial arts movies ever. The establishment of the Five Venoms and their styles, all of that mythology, seems to be a big thing for some people. I keep reading things like “the concept of the five Venom styles is simply amazing”, or that “the mythology alone is exquisite”, but I just don’t buy it. There’s nothing wrong with it — it’s a decent setup — but to call it a “mythology” is bordering on grandiose. And whether it’s a full-blown mythology or just a high-concept setup, either way it’s not that incredibly mind-blowing a concept.

The hype means that The Five Venoms is a disappointment — cheesy, convoluted, sometimes nonsensical, lacking in action, and, worst of all, often dull.

2 out of 5

The Five Venoms is on Film4 tonight at 11:10pm as part of their Revenge of Martial Arts Gold season.

Return to the 36th Chamber (1980)

aka Shao Lin da peng da shi

2016 #13
Liu Chia-liang | 97 mins | streaming (HD) | 2.35:1 | Hong Kong / Cantonese & Mandarin | PG / R

Con man Gordon Liu poses as San Te (Liu’s character from the first film) to help his oppressed friends at the dye factory. When his ruse is rumbled, he heads to the Shaolin Temple to learn kung fu… and spends a year constructing scaffolding and learning to wash his hair with a rock. Of course, he may’ve accidentally learnt a few other things too…

Return’s story follows the shape of its forebear, but with less inventiveness and more comedy, both intentional and not: the villain’s weapon of choice is a collapsible stool. Each to their own.

Fine, but no classic.

3 out of 5

Talking of kung fu and returns, Film4’s Revenge of Martial Arts Gold season kicks off tonight at 11:05pm with The Boxer from Shantung.

For more quick reviews like this, look here.

The Vigesimal Monthly Update for January 2016

A new year means the monthly update format is… exactly the same as last year, because it works. (Well, I think it does.)

For any newcomers, or people in need of a refresher, here you’ll find: everything I watched in January 2016, with some observations and analysis too; all the reviews and 100 Favourites entries I posted last month; and The Arbies, my monthly awards. Plus, this month, a few snippets of site news.

Without further ado:


#1 Sherlock: The Abominable Bride (2016)
#2 Snatch. (2000)
#3 12 Years a Slave (2013)
#4 Funny Games (1997)
#5 Lady of Burlesque (1943)
#6 The 36th Chamber of Shaolin (1978), aka Shao Lin san shi liu fang
#7 Super 8 (2011)
#8 The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (2015)
#9 The Five Venoms (1978), aka Five Deadly Venoms
#10 Hercules (Extended Cut) (2014)
#11 White God (2014), aka Fehér Isten
#12 King Boxer (1972), aka Five Fingers of Death
#13 Return to the 36th Chamber (1980), aka Shao Lin da peng da shi
#14 Starman (1984)
#15 The Two Faces of January (2014)
#16 Amistad (1997)
#17 The Last Temptation of Christ (1988)
#18 47 Ronin (2013)
#19 A Boy and His Dog (1975)
#20 Adam (2009)


  • For the first time, I’ve opened up my What Do You Mean You Haven’t Seen selections beyond my DVD and Blu-ray collection to include stuff I have access to on streaming services, etc. Due to my inattentiveness, I included a film that was to be removed the day after I posted that list. Fortunately I did notice, and 12 Years a Slave was squeezed in on its last evening on Amazon Prime.
  • I also caught Snatch before I cancelled my Netflix subscription (I hadn’t meant to keep it so long, what with also having Amazon Prime, but golly, there’s so much to watch!) That’s two checked off already, meaning WDYMYHS 2016 is off to a flying start. Considering I usually end up playing catch up (and, two times out of three, failing), that’s a Good Thing.
  • A few other instances of pairs and repetitions this month:
  • 2x Guy Ritchie movies. As mentioned, one was the first check off WDYMYHS 2016; the other was the first check off my list of 50 Unseen from 2015.
  • 2x slavery-related movies. The aforementioned 12 Years a Slave, and Steven Spielberg’s Amistad. Both feature Chiwetel Ejiofor, donchaknow.
  • Lots of kung fu movies! Two reasons: Film4’s first Martial Arts Gold season (there’s another in March/April), and that loads are available on Netflix UK, including several well-regarded ones.


January is always the most awkward month to analyse. In so many ways the start of a new year is a false new start — it’s an arbitrary marker imposed on Time by humanity, not any kind of empirical new beginning. (Sorry to get glumly philosophical.) A goal like watching 100 films is different though, because January bumps you right back to #1; and this year, that was from the lofty heights of #200. My point being: here, January is a new beginning, not just “the next month”, and can set a tone or pace for the year to come.

Probably not this year though, because — in spite of my stated aim to watch fewer films in 2016 — I made it to 20 in January. That makes it only the fourth month to pass into the 20s, and also my fourth-highest month ever — and as I’ve been doing this for 109 months now, being fourth is (in relative terms) an achievement. It’s the best January ever too, exceeding last year’s tally of 16, and the 20th month in a row with a double-figure total. That is something I aim to maintain this year. If I achieve it, it will see me reach 10+ films per month for two consecutive years, and a total of 31 consecutive months. Just 11 months to go…

So what else can we forecast for 2016? If I keep this up, it’s looking at another record-obliterating final total, this time of 240. I won’t keep it up, though. Historically, January averages 8.08% of a year’s final tally (the actual percentages ranging from 2008’s 5% to 2011’s 12%), which would peg 2016’s total at an even higher level: 248. Which, I say again, it won’t be. What it should be, though, is over 130 — which would still position it as my third best year ever. Considering I intend to spend February and/or March getting value-for-money out of a streaming service or two (as I did in January), besting 2014’s 136 is certainly not out of the question.



A new series for 2016, tracking my 100 favourite movies (that I saw before starting 100 Films). This month: a fuller introduction than that one-sentence summary (though that is the gist of it) and the first seven entries. The full list of all 100 will continue to be updated here throughout the year.



The 8th Monthly Arbitrary Awards

Favourite Film of the Month
Looking back over this month’s viewing, it feels a bit “good but not great” — a lot of films I liked very much, but nothing that really jumps out at me as a dead-cert contender for this category. While it’s more of a Quality movie than a favourite per se, then, the best film this month was its only five-stars-er, 12 Years a Slave.

Least Favourite Film of the Month
Conversely, not many films I didn’t enjoy this month either. However, for disappointment value — expecting the greatest martial arts movie ever made and getting a mess — the loser is The Five Venoms.

Best Opening Sequence of the Month
If you haven’t seen White God then it can be a tough experience (especially for dog lovers), but the opening is fantastic: our young heroine cycles through deserted city streets, percussion-heavy classical music dramatic on the soundtrack, pursued by a pack of hundreds of dogs. There’s a reason they used it for the poster.

Most Surprising #1 at the Chinese Box Office
I know I’m meant to choose these awards, rather than let the Chinese public do it for me, but surely it’s worthy of note that the cinema release of Sherlock: The Abominable Bride saw it top the box office in China, as well as post strong figures in South Korea and other countries. No, really. And that was just the start of it: according to Box Office Mojo, it wound up taking $20.5 million in China and $7.5 million in South Korea, where it bested The Force Awakens (seriously), while other reports peg it as earning $2.7 million in the US. Full figures aren’t easy to come by, but it seems to have a worldwide gross somewhere north of $34 million. Not bad for a TV episode produced for a couple of million quid.

The Audience Award for Most-Viewed New Post of the Month
Outpacing popular posts from just inside the New Year, like Sherlock and my statisticstastic 2015 list, was fun backstage murder mystery — and, significant to its success in this category, blogathon entry — Lady of Burlesque.


Normally I refresh my directors page header image somewhere around August to October, but I was busy watching a shedload of films back then, so it’s been pushed to now. January’s a better time for it anyway, after a full year of film viewing — and next January could make a big change, with my 100 Favourites factored in. The header features the 20 directors who have the most films reviewed on here, and some will get multiple additions thanks to that favourites list. For now, it’s based on how things were on January 1st. I completely rebuilt it, so it’s all spiffy.

Also, I’ve modified the “list of reviews” header. I think that’s the first time I’ve changed it since it went live a couple of years ago. Of the 27 pictures, ten were replaced and four refreshed with higher-quality versions, so it looks a lot spiffier too.

Finally, I decided to re-write the “About” page, for the first time in 3½ years. I re-read the old one and found myself intensely irritating, so hopefully the new version is… less bad.


My viewing selections will be mainly dictated by “what’s on Sky Movies”, in the run up to the Oscars…

The 36th Chamber of Shaolin (1978)

aka Shao Lin san shi liu fang / Master Killer

2016 #6
Liu Chia-liang | 111 mins | streaming (HD) | 2.35:1 | Hong Kong / Mandarin | 15 / R

Widely regard as one of (if not the) greatest kung fu movies ever made, The 36th Chamber of Shaolin introduces us to San Te (Gordon Liu), a student whose hometown is oppressed by forces of the ruling Qing dynasty. He and his classmates join the underground resistance run by his teacher, only to wind up witnessing his friends and mentors be hunted, tortured, and killed. Faced with a similar fate, San Te escapes to the Shaolin Temple, widely known for being home to the best kung fu around. The temple’s monks refuse to teach martial arts to normal folk, nor help by joining the fight — they’re Buddhists, after all. Nonetheless, San Te manages to inveigle his way in to their company, and years of training begin.

Said training — where San Te must progress through the Shaolin Temple’s 35 (not 36) chambers one by one — makes up the bulk of the film, though there are lengthy bookends dealing with the reason he goes there in the first place and what he later does with that training. If the notion of watching chamber after chamber after chamber (times 35) sounds dull, don’t worry, we only actually see ten of them, and several of those via an extended montage. The chambers take the form of challenges, which San Te must overcome by either puzzling them out or developing some kind of physical or mental acuity. Their content is varied and innovative, which makes them engrossing to watch even as they make the film episodic, but the nature of the challenges makes the movie different from the usual fight-after-fight-after-fight structure of kung fu flicks.

If it’s combat you want, though, never fear: everybody is kung fu fighting at regular intervals. Displays of physical skill and speed are de rigueur for these kind of films, but the combat here is as impressive as any. While the initial training takes the form of tangentially-related skills tests, San Te is eventually learning how to use weapons, and when he finally graduates from the 35th chamber he has to prove himself in combat, first against the temple’s justice, then when he returns to the outside world and seeks vengeance. Fights both with and without weapons are imaginatively choreographed and executed with the customary speed and precision.

Much as you won’t enjoy many a musical if you can’t accept people just bursting into song, you won’t enjoy many a kung fu movie if you can’t accept a story told primarily through back-to-back action sequences. The 36th Chamber of Shaolin is more-or-less that kind of movie, though the differing styles of the chambers’ challenges bring pleasing variety. Is it the greatest kung fu film of all time? I’m no expert, but it’s certainly inventive, masterfully performed, and suitably different from any such movie I’ve yet seen.

4 out of 5

The 36th Chamber of Shaolin is on Film4 tonight at 10:55pm. It kicks off a short season of martial arts movies — more details here.