The original Ip Man was one of my favourite martial arts movies of recent years, so it came as little surprise to see that Ip Man 2 (Cine Asia) was being labelled ‘the most anticipated martial arts movie of the year’. But does it live up to the hype?
After vanquishing the best fighters that the sadistic Japanese army had to offer at the end of the first film, Ip Man 2 sees our hero (Donnie Yen) and his family settle in post-war Hong Kong. Despite his aversion to violent conflict, Ip opens a kung fu school as a way of making money and helping to keep local ruffians on the straight and narrow. Unfortunately for him, his burgeoning reputation quickly earns him the attentions of his local contemporaries, lead by the fearsome Hung Quan (Sammo Hung). After winning the begrudging respect of Hung and his cronies with his Wing Chun prowess, the reluctant Ip Man finds himself thrust into centre-stage once more when corrupt British officials organise a brutal exhibition tournament so that their arrogant British compatriot Twister (Darren Shahlavi) can humiliate the local fighters.
Despite an engaging premise that’s rich with possibilities, Ip Man 2 falls flat compared to the superior first instalment. Whereas the first movie grafted a thought-provoking narrative onto a real life scenario, Ip Man 2 feels like it is being made up as the filmmakers go along. Equally, whereas the original piled on the pathos, the sequel is positively cartoonish -especially where the British villains are concerned. Effectively a mash-up between ’80s Van Damme material and Stallone’s Rocky 4, Donnie Yen’s understated Ip Man character frequently feels like he has wandered into the wrong movie. That said, the fight scenes are reliably spellbinding, and Yen fans will have few complaints about his increased fight-time. Overall, Ip Man 2 is moderately entertaining, but a far cry from the evocative original. Approach with caution.
Acclaimed music video directors Greg and Colin Strause, have taken their first steps into movie-making this year with the special effects-heavy alien invasion movie Skyline (Momentum), which they shot on a shoestring budget of $10 million. As the owners of in-demand special effects firm Hydraulx Filmz, the Brothers Strause (as they like to be referred) have an inevitable preoccupation with dazzling visuals, and they don’t waste any time in flaunting their stock-in-trade. As Skyline grinds into gear, a strange blue light descends on Los Angeles, drawing citizens towards it like moths towards the proverbial flame. As chaos reigns, a motley crew of TV-approved protagonists, including Eric Balfour (24), David Zayas (Dexter, Oz) and Donald Faison (Scrubs) find themselves holed up in a high-rise apartment block, and our intrepid heroes must try to figure out how to survive until the military intervene.
Despite being a familiar face, leading man Eric Balfour (desk-bound Milo in 24) lacks the kind of heroic appeal that would give the film more of a heartbeat, and the cast in general struggle to wring any coherence out of the slap-dash script. Ultimately, Skyline is a slick but soulless exercise in sci-fi/horror, and its eye-catching special effects scenes don’t make up for the paucity of the plot. Less of a film and more of an extended showreel for the Brothers Strause visual effects company, Skyline is passable entertainment, but it isn’t strong enough to make an impact outside of its undemanding target market. Either way, the Brothers won’t be short of work at the more explosive end of the Hollywood spectrum, and their handiwork can also be seen in cinemas this month with Battle: Los Angeles.
In 2007, after years in the doldrums, legendary British horror studio Hammer Films was acquired by John De Mol, the Dutch businessman best known for inflicting Big Brother on the world through his production company Endemol. The rejuvenated production company has endured a mixed return so far, with productions ranging from the sublime (Let Me In) to the ridiculous (Beyond The Rave). The latest offering is Wake Wood (Momentum), a sinister Irish thriller about a pair of grieving parents (Aidan Gillen and Eva Birthistle) who move to the titular town of Wakewood in an effort to cope with the despair of losing their daughter in a savage dog-attack. However, all is not as it seems in the remote community, and the couple stumble across an ancient Pagan ritual in which the townsfolk bring the departed back from the dead.
Despite a neat premise, and an impressively macabre line in Pagan rituals, Wake Wood doesn’t manage to live up to its enviable billing as the first homegrown Hammer production in over 30 years. Although the engaging cast -fleshed out by Timothy Spall as the town’s malevolent leader Arthur -deliver the goods, Wake Wood feels sloppy and badly-thought-out in places. After seducing horror fans with its punchy, grisly trailer the finished product feels slightly disappointing, and suggests that Hammer needs to up its game if it wants to add to its illustrious back catalogue.
Allegedly based on a true story, The King Maker (Anchor Bay) is the first Thai movie to be shot entirely in English since 1941. If that bizarre fact isn’t enough to pique your interest, then the movie features a cast that includes B-movie veteran John Rhys Davies, former Miss Thailand Cindy Burbidge and boxer-turned-actor Gary Stretch. Originally made in 2005 -following Gary Stretch’s memorable appearance in Shane Meadows’ awesome Dead Man’s Shoes -it has taken The King Maker six years to scrape a DVD release, and it’s easy to see why. Lancashire-born Stretch stars as Fernando De Gama, a Portuguese mercenary who sets sail on a warship bound for the Orient, only to find himself shipwrecked and auctioned off by Arab slave traders in the Kingdom of Siam. After being rescued by the enchanting Maria (Burbidge), De Gama is plunged into a deceitful world of murder and intrigue, where the sinister Philippe (Rhys Davies) rules the roost.
Piecing together a feature film in another language is arguably a tough task, but much of The King Maker is downright illogical, verging on mind-boggling at times. Rhys Davies -a man who never knowingly turns down the chance to make a ropey B-movie in an exotic foreign country -booms out all of his lines with improbable gusto, and his attempts to imbue the dialogue with a level of gravitas that it clearly doesn’t deserve is as bizarre as everything else in the film. Furthermore, while Gary Stretch’s swashbuckling presence looks the part, his thick Northern accent sounds downright comical. If there was any pleasure to be had from watching The King Maker then it could be described as a ‘guilty pleasure’. Regrettably, that isn’t the case, and anyone who watches this will merely feel guilty at wasting an hour and a half of their lives. As it stands, the only people who will give this film a second glance are Stretch’s family and friends. Absolutely bonkers.