Review: Kill Zone 2

I was more than surprised by this movie. After being disappointed by not one but five action flicks, Kill Zone 2 not only delivered on the story, but on the visuals as well. I don’t know if we have The Raid to thank for an increased awareness in Asian cinema when it comes to film/digital quality, but if so… thank you Raid.

Not to get all "back in my day," but when I first got into Asian cinema during college, the thing that I really liked was that the film quality was really good. Then there was a bit of a bust and every studio went back to cheap looking film. Clearly technology has gotten cheaper and so the quality of movies has gone up as well. I know this all seems unimportant to the review, but when you see Kill Zone 2 it looks like it was produced in Hollywood. In particular, there is one scene involving a phone falling into the water and the way it looks when it’s falling is actually quite beautiful and metaphoric.

The story is layered quite well. It spans from Hong Kong to Bangkok and gives each city’s actors their fair share of screen time. Though I will instantly tell you that that means that Tony Jaa never really “goes off” in the movie until the very end.

BD-2D-KZ2The story is basically two fold. There’s a human trafficking ring that the Hong Kong police are trying to shut down by sending in an undercover cop. He’s hooked on smack, but getting the job done. The kidnapping ring as they call it, is run by a rich sick dude in Hong Kong who funnels the people out to a prison run by one of his operatives in Bangkok. The sick dude needs a heart and decides that if his brother isn’t going to give him his, he’s going to take it by force. This is where the undercover cop comes into play as he’s invited to his first kidnapping.

Tony Jaa works at the prison, but he’s naïve to what really going on there. His daughter is sick and he’s basically just keeping his head down and trying to find her a bone marrow transplant that matches. Eventually, the undercover cop ends up in the prison after being exposed. Now he’s collateral for the rich dude to get his brother released to him.

As I said, the story is layered and there’s more layers that I won’t reveal to you. They are clever and while at times they feel conveniently added to the story, when you really look at them and look at the way they’re included you’ll find that it’s anything but convenient. You will spend some of the movie wondering when the other shoe will drop and the way that they reveal it was anything but typical. It was handled incredibly well and so there’s some major kudos to the writer of the movie.

For any martial arts film you need impressive bad guys. Obviously the sick rich dude isn’t going to throw down, but he surrounds himself with two awesome fighters that are both given great scenes to showcase their skills before their final battles. The setup is typical, but its executed so well. The Warden in particular had an awesome look. Seeing him fight in an expensive tailored suit was actually pretty incredible. As for the other fighter, I don’t want to spoil it. You’ll know him when you see him.

Really my one and only gripe is that Tony Jaa wasn’t given enough solo fight time. I mean he has a couple of moments when he goes off, but in large part it felt a bit like a Jackie Chan movie in which there’s only a handful of scenes in which he’s actually fighting. Which is actually good. I have to admit that it was a stronger movie and made Jaa come off as a stronger actor because of it. He’s leaps and bounds better than his first movies and is on his way to being an even bigger international name. That and if I really need to see more fighting from him I could go watch Ong Bak.

Wu Jing also does some great martial arts in the film. I really have no idea if he’s trained at all. He might have some training, but for the most part everyone he fights makes him look really good. They sell his moves for him so even if he isn’t trained in martial arts, he’s presented as knowing quite a bit. He also carries the other half of the movie for the most part and shows why he’s getting more and more roles. I actually became a bit of a fan of his after seeing this movie. Especially after a scene in the hospital that I won’t spoil for you because it’s really emotional.

Kill Zone 2 isn’t perfect. There’s a few spots that could have used another pass to really make it great, but it’s probably the best movie from the East that I’ve seen a couple of years. I enjoyed the story and the care that was used in layering it from beginning to end. The visuals were extremely impressive and the fighting was memorable and reinvigorated my desire to see more martial art films. And best of all, I have no clue if it had anything to do with Kill Zone 1 and didn’t need to know in order to enjoy this film.

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Kill Zone 2
Director: Soi Cheang
Distributor: Well Go USA
Price: $24.98
Format: Blu-Ray/DVD/Digital



Review: Chronicles of the Ghostly Tribe

Last year I got back into Asian cinema after taking a pretty long break from it. Like most things that I nerd out about, they rotate in and out of my life catching my interest at different times. If I didn’t run a comic website,  this would have already happened a few times with comic books as well. I didn’t see anything that was really worth a damn last year and almost fell out of interest as quickly as I fell in.

Chronicles of the Ghostly Tribe was a step in the right direction for me. It reminded me of a lot of action intense films that I first watched when getting into Hong Kong cinema. Heavy on the CGI, interesting concept, but not a very deep story. One thing that Ghostly Tribe has going for it is the fact that it has a cast that can act.

The story is spread out across several years, but it starts in the 70s as a special expedition is exploring a cave that’s producing some interesting skeletons. After an explosion is triggered, an even smaller expedition is gathered to venture beyond the cave. They end up finding large animal prints and continuing their journey to follow it. Along the way they run into danger. Over and over until there’s only four of them left. Hu Bayi, Ping Yang, her father Professor Yang and another dude who is protecting Hu Bayi as much as he can. They find an alien created cave and shit gets weirder. Eventually only three make it out and they’re scattered to the wind until an event brings them back together.

BD-2D-ChroniclesOfTheGhostlyTribeWhat’s really actually interesting about the story is that it’s a big monster movie hidden behind history and aliens. The three play well together as writer/director Lu Chuan not only creates a very convincing secret history for China, but then sneaks in aliens and monsters. The pacing of the story is pretty typical of Hong Kong cinema. There’s a lot going on in the beginning, then it slows down in the middle and speeds up at the end. It’s not bad when you consider that Hong Kong/China cinema follows its own storytelling structure. There is a scene at the end that basically reveals why we saw everything at the beginning and it actually works. If most other movies did that you’d be upset that they waited to tell you the point of everything right at the end, but really the rest of the movie stands on its own and if it weren’t setting up a series of movies/stories then this scene wouldn’t even be needed.

The acting again is actually really good. I only had a problem with the type cast fat guys since one of them is nicknamed “Fatty” and it was just the most overplayed gag ever. He was still a good actor and he never went over the top with the “funny fat friend” role, but it was still kind of disappointing to see that they’re still writing that character after all these years. I mean Hollywood is still doing it so I shouldn’t be that surprised, but still disappointing none the less because his weight never needed to be brought up and he actually served as a well-balanced supporting character.

The cinematography and CGI were the strongest aspects of the film. The film looks great from start to finish, I couldn't get over how great it looked. I don’t know why, but even though it was obviously CGI, it matched the world and looked better than a lot of CGI I've seen in American films lately. And there was a ton of it. The monsters, the caves, hell there’s even a scene in which a library is recreated in CGI and in the moment it’s very convincing. There was a great deal of attention paid to the CGI, especially when the monsters were running amok. At one point, a monster claws several seats on a bus and the rips appear in CGI. It’s a small detail, but I can’t tell you how many movies I’ve seen where they missed stuff like that. It gave the impression that this movie was given the time it needed to be the best version of itself possible.

That’s not to say that the film is perfect. One problem I had was actually on the back of the box in which the synopsis incorrectly states the story ends up in Modern Day New York. I only caught this part since it’s bold and in large print so I kind of wondered when the movie was going to jump to the modern era. It never did. It spans several years, but the story intentionally stays in the past and it definitely doesn’t go to New York. Another gripe if you will, is that in the closing scenes of the movie it sets the story up for a strange sequel in which our main character must look for another character, one that I had zero interest in finding. It was a bit of a head-scratcher as to why another movie would be dedicated to finding this “B” list character, but hey, not my movie.

My last “issue” with the film isn’t really an issue because I don’t know enough about the director’s vision. It’s tough to say if he was trying to capture an era in Chinese history accurately or if he was simply encouraged to put the material in the film. That is to say there’s quite a few scenes that I can only describe as propaganda due to the hokey nature of the material and the fact that everyone takes it seriously and never questions it. Again, tough to say if it was just being historically accurate or if it was imposed on the movie in some way. Since I don’t know, I definitely don’t want to assume, but it’s worth noting.

At its core, Chronicles of the Ghostly Tribe is a popcorn flick. It’s not going to open our mind or make you feel a wide range of emotions. It delivers on the action and intensity and so I’ll be rating it on that. On being a really enjoyable and fun action movie that I might actually watch again and even more so watch the sequel too, even if I don’t care about the character they’re searching for.

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Chronicles of the Ghostly Tribe
Writer/Director: Lu Chuan
Distributor: Well Go USA
Price: $24.98
Format: DVD/Blu-Ray/Digital