I watched Vision Quest, and it was awesome

Vision Quest poster

I’m a sucker for martial arts flicks from the 80s, whether it be from Japan or Hong Kong, or from the US. Even if it’s rubbish, I’ll probably still enjoy it, because bad 80s movies are entertaining by default. Vision Quest is hardly earth-shattering, but it’s not a stinking pile of gloop either. In fact, it did a very good job of entertaining Wifey and I for a couple of hours. This is because Wifey is suitably tragic as well. That’s yet another sign of our collective awesomeness.

Moving along – Vision Quest’s a bit of an unusual pick as it revolves around wrestling competitions from the perspective of a US high school, rather than my usual martial arts pics featuring one-man armies with optional mullets. While the film began with a bit of a false start, it didn’t take long to win me over. First of all, it’s a teen movie with 80s grit. Love it. It also features Jake Ryan (well, Michael Schoeffling, but he’ll always by Jake Ryan to anyone whose a fan of 80s John Hughes gold), so there’s more thumbs up, particularly if you’re like Wifey and still harbour a secret passion for Jake Ryan… bugger knows why she married a ranga with one leg considering it’s a bit of an antithesis to 80s Schoeffling, though I’m certainly not complaining 😉

Then there’s the Madonna factor. Not only do we get to see her do her quality 80’s dancing, but we get “Crazy For You” played throughout the movie during montages, in a club, as an instrumental during terrible romantic moments, et cetera.

In fact, let’s give this one another thumbs up for cramming in plenty of montages – if there’s anything Trey Parker has taught us using the power of animation or marionettes, it’s that everything works better as a montage.

But going back to Madonna, I think we need to take a moment to consider the soundtrack. As noted, not only is there some 80s Madonna in there (I’ll admit to enjoying 80s Madonna sugarpop), you get a menagerie of awesomeness in the form of Don Henley, Style Council, Foreigner and (wait for it), Journey. Epic.

But what about the actual movie? Wasn’t too bad actually – I don’t know a lot about wrestling, but it was interesting to see some of the groundwork in there. The Wikipedia entry tell me it’s a bit of a cult classic among middle and high school wrestlers, so I’m guessing there’s something in there.

But for me, it was the cast, the music and the setting that won me over. This of course is completely obvious in this blocky trailer on YouTube:

I know I’m tragic, but as GI Joe told me in the 80s, knowing is half the battle.

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Wishlist: transforming leg

A friend of mine fired through a link for a story about a double amputee in New Zealand who had a mermaid tail prosthesis created by WETA, and it got me to thinking about stuff.

When I was 12, I was watching the very awesome third series of Robotech (which I later found out was called Genesis Climber Mospeada when ADV were kind enough to release the set on DVD, which I promptly snatched up several years ago 😉 ) on repeat on early morning TV, and in that series they have these awesome futuristic motor bike things that transform into these equally awesome power suit things (Wikipedia tells me they’re called Cyclone Veritech Ride Armors).

Genesis Climber Mospeada cover

Anywho, I remember thinking at the time that it would be awesome having a leg that could transform into something cool from Macross, like a rocket or something, and when I was reading that story I linked up above, out of nowhere I remembered that crazy thought I had when I was younger.

But who knows, following Rodriguez’ awesome premise behind Planet Terror, maybe the dynamic duo of the former + Tarantino (or someone following in their stead!) can do something crazy and awesome. I mean, when Rodriguez comes up with this:

Planet Terror (Dutch promotional poster)

… I think anything’s possible 🙂

This reminds me, I really need to buy Planet Terror and Death Proof 😀

I was about to finish this one off, but I realised I hadn’t posted a video of the super awesome opening animation from Mospeada 😀 😀 😀

Gold!

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Movie time: Enter the Dragon, in high-definition

So, Enter the Dragon is one of those quintessential martial arts flicks that anyone who is into biffo on celluloid has seen at least twice. I first watched the movie years and years ago on late-night TV, and absolutely loved the combination of crazy afros, flares, martial arts biffo, bad dubbing and crazy 70s porno music. I won’t go into the importance this movie played in the grand scheme of East / West martial arts movies in contemporary cinema (which, to be honest, hadn’t been equaled insofar as Eastern influence on Western martial arts film making until The Matrix hit the silver screen in 1999, but that’s a topic for a whole other blog… or two!), as I’m sure IMDB or Wikipedia will have plenty of accessible info on this movie (plus any half-decent Bruce Lee biography will give enough space to discussing it). So, this is about watching the movie, again, and why I still think it’s awesome 🙂

So, I bought the original R4 DVD release when it initially came out and watched it several times; when it got re-released later on with extra features and what-not, I then bought it again! I’m such a sucker for this stuff 😛 And when Wifey and I picked up a PS3 at the end of 2007, once again I fed the money-making machine that is Hollywood and bought it in HD on Blu-Ray a few months later. And I recently convinced Wifey that it would be an awesome idea to watch it, and she (quite surprisingly) agreed!

Watching it again, having studied martial arts for 4-5 years now and having had the opportunity to learn and read more on various styles and their respective histories, it’s still a pretty awesome movie. Surprisingly, there actually wasn’t a lot of fighting in it compared to some of the other Bruce Lee movies, much less than what I remembered. Sure, there are some amazing moments of truly brilliant choreography, and more than its fair share of crazy zooming close-ups of Bruce or one of the other cast striking a crazy pose, but at the end of it, of the time dedicated to the film, there’s plenty of other scenes dedicated to somehow trying to wrap some kind of James Bond-derived spy/thriller action or plot, laced with a bit of sex, watered-down philosophy on martial arts (watered down not because of the late Mr Lee, but to make it palatable to the masses Warner Brothers were marketing the film to; that being said, it was very ahead of its time…) and a bit of token character development. It’s hardly the most striking example of 70s film, but it’s still a damn good ride!

Hmmm, I’ve wandered off-topic… again 😛 Must be from being absent from the blogosphere for so long, will just have to write more posts on my blog and get back into it! Anywho, waxing lyrical aside, it was awesome to take a trip back in time, but this time it was in such high clarity! I know that the film stock would have hardly been of super-high quality, but it was great being able to watch the movie with so much detail compared to the previous DVD releases of the movie. Colour was also reproduced with greater accuracy and depth, and seeing it in 24p was awesome – no 3:2 pulldown or PAL speedup. The audio was certainly a bit clearer, but the production values weren’t exactly high in this regard even in the first instance, so let’s not pretend it’s any different this time 😉

So, what new insights came out of the recent viewing that I can appreciate now better than before? John Saxon’s form actually wasn’t too bad when he was being choreographed correctly (he apparently got just shy of his brown belt in karate at one point in the late 50s/early 60s, stumbled across an interesting interview with him here), though he doesn’t get a lot of screen time delivering biffo. Jim Kelly is quite impressive on-set, there’s a certain grace and power to his techniques that’s pretty amazing when you consider Hollywood-produced martial arts films in the 70s and even 80s often lacked grace and flow when depicting martial arts on-screen, though that’s probably more to do with bad choreography than anything else…

And of course there’s Bruce, he really does look awesome delivering all his signature moves and silly close-ups. Still, as much as I love him in this movie, I think for pure biffo, Way of the Dragon wins out (though the fact that Chuck Norris is in that one certainly helps!), and there’s something about the enthusiastic, raw energy in The Big Boss that really appeals to me as well… wasn’t much of a fan of Fists of Fury, so I’ll leave that one out of discussion – it’s good mind, but I prefer the others.

There’s something timeless about Enter the Dragon, and while I’m sure the movie won’t exactly convert anyone to the joy that is martial arts movies, it still makes for an awesome ride and was definitely worth the purchase… again… on Blu-Ray.

On the topic of martial arts flicks, haven’t watched too many of late, but John Woo’s apparently back in awesome form with his new flick (even if it is two films chopped and joined into a single film to please the West [grumble, grumble]), so might have to add that one to the list of movies I should check out. Oh, and Wifey and I recently re-watched Kill Bill vol. 1, might have to suggest vol. 2 soon and post some impressions on them afterwards. I know it’s hardly cutting-edge discourse, but I like rambling on about the occasional movie on this blog, so hopefully it’s likewise appreciated by those reading my random thoughts printed on these pages!

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Movie double part 2 – Kuro-Obi (Black Belt) (2007)

If there’s one thing I’ve continually come to love about Japanese cinema, it’s how they can create something utterly poetic of what many see as a static, mundane or spent medium. Whether it be animation (and let’s pick every Western film critic’s favourite buzz-names, Mamoru Oshii or Hayao Miyazaki [nothing against either director BTW, but there are plenty of other brilliant examples of Japanese animation out there that deserve some love and attention]), or live action martial arts (again, I’ll go mainstream with citing Kurosawa here, again, with no disrespect to him, as his movies are brilliant), outside the awesome fluff and pop-art execution, there are some amazing gems that just come out of nowhere. While the West was late to the party with Kuro-Obi /Black Belt (including yours truly), it is such a beautiful and almost poetic vision of traditional karate during Japan’s shift to totalitarianism that it deserves all the attention it keeps on receiving. For those interested, here’s a trailer:

I’ll leave the discourse to the IMDB entry on it (click here), and while I’d love to fire across a Wikipedia link, I can’t seem to find it in the English version (found it in the Japanese version though). Where I will wax lyrical is in the absolutely stunning form of the three main karate-ka.

My god, words can’t do justice how superb their form is, or of the beauty of the karate in action. There are no wire tricks, CG or other random silliness. The film’s is quiet, reflective and stoic, not unlike the process of learning and performing your favourite kata. The lead actors are actually martial artists first and foremost (and if the IMDB entry is to be taken as accurate, very high ranking ones at that), and thankfully the film is centered around this precept well – the characters don’t have a whole lot of dialogue, and they leave the acting to the supporting cast.

I highly, highly recommend you give this one a look. While I’m not sure about availability of this film in other countries, in Australia Madman Entertainment have it available via their website under their Eastern Eye label, and most good DVD retailers should be able to get it in for you. As far as I know, it hasn’t been murdered with a terrible English language dub at this stage, so you’ll have to do the right thing watch it in Japanese with English subtitles, as you should be anyway 😉

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Movie double part 1 – Best of the Best (1989)

Alright, in my last post I said I would be writing up on two films watched back-to-back over two nights that inspired some true awesomeness. For this post, I’ll be ranting about Best of the Best, a 1989 martial arts flick about a group of American martial artists who compete against an elite Korean martial arts team in a karate tournament. Even though it looks like it’s a taekwondo tournament. Methinks America-town wasn’t familiar with TKD, so it’s karate. Even though it’s mistakenly referred to as TKD in some points. It also features a poor-man’s Eye of the Tiger as the rousing montage theme, which they’ve been kind enough to include in the trailer:

See, doesn’t it just reek of pure awesomeness????? 😀 😀 😀

Surprisingly, this one isn’t too bad for a martial arts flick caught in the late-80s, early-90s cross-over period. There was a real combination of awesome (The Perfect Weapon) and rubbish (too lazy to single one out :P) during this period, often with really stark contrasts, but to be fair, most of the rubbish is hilarious. The fighting choreography isn’t too shabby, with Phillip Rhee’s skills given plenty of room to shine. Their competing cast from Korea weren’t too shabby either.

I guess where the movie comes into its own is in having just the right amount of cheese – despite some occasionally woeful acting, it’s a reasonably enjoyable and senseless romp, possibly enhanced by the presence of super-chief James Earl Jones and the often-typecast Chris Penn (who you may remember from the Bacon-fest that is Footloose, which also happens to be epic and full of win).

There are plenty of 80s and early-90s martial arts flicks that are great popcorn fodder, and Best of the Best ticks every box – unnecessary acting, plenty of biffo, familiar but enjoyable characters, James Earl Jones, montage anthems, demonised view of East Asia, and of course a good helping of Asian mysticism. Leave the sensibilities at the door, otherwise you won’t be able to savour the awesome cheese of it all 🙂

For more info, the IMDB listing is here, and the Wikipedia entry is here. Thanks to magic of Wikipedia, I found out there were apparently three sequels; might have to have a cursory look, though I imagine the cheese factor might be not quite as balanced as the original in the sequels.

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