Heading out of Hollywood for a moment, we take a look at one of the biggest movies of 2019 so far, hidden away on Netflix! Raking in a gigantic $700m, The Wondering Earth is a bold Sci-Fii epic produced in China, based on the novel of the same name. Don’t let the subtitles put you off! Managing to pull this off on a budget of $50m is hugely impressive!
Directed by Frant Gwo
Starring Wu Jing, Qu Chuxiao, Zhao Jinmai
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Ip Man (2008) was the fantastically gritty drama that was based on the life of Yip Man, the legendary mentor of a little known action star, Bruce Lee! The film was well received for its wonderfully choreographed fights and the harsh depiction of life during the Japanese invasion of China. Donnie Yen, who was cast in the role as Ip Man, is now pretty much synonymous with the role!
Ip Man 3 (2015) is the latest chapter to the saga, following the sequel to the original in 2010, and looks to further add to the journey of Yip Man. This had a limited release over in the UK, so I managed to catch it on the big screen in the little time it was out!
The movie sees Yip Man as he moves into a less hectic role in life, away from all the Kung Fu and drama. He lives the quite life with his wife & child, while acting as a mentor and figure of responsibility to his community. This doesn’t last long, as his neighborhood starts to suffer badly from the acts of a brutal property developer Frank, who is working in cahoots with the local gangs to force the local people out. There’s also the small issue of a local rival, Cheung Tin-chi, attempting to usurp him as the best in Wing Chun, a problem he really could do without, but is forced to confront.
The main driving force behind the movie surprisingly is not to do with our evil property mogul (Mike Tyson!), or the rising upstart trying to move him out the scene, but his wife, who has been by his side since the first film. We are used to seeing Yip Man handle multiple thugs, soldiers, criminal lords etc. but this sees him deal with a totally different type of battle, one that really puts him through a challenge he can’t simply fight himself out off. It’s this that really makes the film stand out from what could have just been a run of the mill Kung Fu film.
That said, the fight scenes are as always, exhilarating. Mike Tyson brings a level of fear, and the intimidation to the table, but his role is clear in the movie, minimum talking, show the power, leave. Sure Ip Man 2 had a Boxing v Wing Chun showdown, but this fight just feels so much more savage, and Tyson’s sheer size and brute force does all the things it has to here. You have the usual Ip Man v several faceless thugs scene which combines humour and action, but another highlight is the superbly choreographed elevator fight with the hired Muay Thai muscle. It’s not just himself he has to protect, but his wife as well, which gives the fight a different dynamic.
The film does struggle a tad to balance out the multiple plot lines that are being told, as there are 3 separate arcs, and at just over 100 minutes, it didn’t really have the time to resolve them all fully. The film didn’t require two antagonists, it’s understandable why Tyson had little screen time, but maybe a cameo would have been better suited, as he is marketed as the main villain!
Ip Man 3 at times is a genuinely touching movie, and the scenes between Ip Man and his wife bring some sentiment not really seen since struggles of War in part 1. There’s also the usual verve and energy in the combat scenes you would expect in a film like this, and yes, you finally have an appearance from Bruce Lee! Most definitely worth a watch if you like your martial arts, as it is currently on Netflix UK!
So that’s why the Great Wall of China was built………….lizard monsters!
Clocking in at over $150m in budget, The Great Wall is by far the biggest movie production to come out of the China, and with director Zhang Yimou at the helm, whose previous works include Hero & House of Flying Daggers. Can The Great Wall live up to all the commercial hype?
Unlike previous successes coming out from China, like Flying Daggers & Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, this isn’t a martial arts movie. It’s an all-out fantasy, action movie! This makes a nice change from the usual Chinese movies that get a huge western release.
There has been a lot of controversy regarding the casting of Matt Damon in this film, with accusations of ‘whitewashing’ the film, so let’s just get that out the way now. Damon plays the role of a European traveler; he is not taking the role away from an Asian actor. The film is also produced in China, by China, and using a familiar face from Western movies in order to increase their marketing appeal is understandable. Also, it’s a work of fiction, so they can cast whoever they desire, as there is no source for them to follow.
The movie is set during the Song dynasty, following the challenges of the Nameless Order, a faction of the military who are stationed at the Great Wall of China to provide protection from a mysterious threat to humanity. Travelling merchants William (Matt Damon) & Tovar (Pedro Pascal) are on a mission to find the mysterious Black Powder, which can turn air to fire (in another word, gunpowder!). The plan is to find the weapon, and take it back to Europe to sell, but they are halted, and taken prisoners by the Order.
The greatest strength of the movie is by far the action set pieces. Whenever the monsters attack (known as the Tao Tei) the film bursts into life! The Nameless Order are split into several divisions, each army is colour coded depending on their tasks. Ranging for archery, close combat to the acrobatic Crane Corps. Every battle scene is a visual spectacle, and it’s clear that most of the budget went into the CGI. The coordination and choreography of the various armies are amazing to see. Each division has their own lieutenant, and it’s Commander Lin (Jing Tiang) of the Crane Corps that takes centre stage, along with our western prisoners.
It’s a shame that the movie doesn’t really take off following the initial monster attack, there was so much to see and learn, regarding each of the military factions, but the film doesn’t really go into detail too much. Only the Crane Corps get any real focus, at least they explained why their division is made up of entirely females.
Damon does a fairly standard job here, his role is nowhere near as intense as Bourne, or as charismatic as he was in The Martian. His interactions with Tovar (It’s Prince Oberyn from Game of Thrones!) are usually full of sarcasm and jest, and provide plenty of fun for the audience.
The addition of Sir Ballard (William Dafoe) seemed abit out of the blue, and his role could have been cut out entirely and really have made no difference. Fans of Asian cinema in the West will be happy to see Andy Lau also making an appearance here, as the chief strategist for the Order.
The film does go ridiculously over the top, and the final act is a monster melee! Any fans of monster movies out there will enjoy these moments, the action is pretty cheesy, and it’s full of cliché, but it does its job of entertaining you. The Great Wall is over 5,000 miles long, and we are never told if the Tao Tei attack just one part of the wall, are there Nameless Order defending the entire wall? Why is it just this spot that is attacked? We may never know!
The Great Wall is nothing new, the story line is pretty generic, there really isn’t much character development, and it doesn’t really add anything to the Monster genre. On the flip side, it is enjoyable from a popcorn flick point of view; the action scenes do enough to keep you paying attention, the opening half hour or so are pretty outstanding. The Great Wall isn’t notoriously bad, nor is it a classic to be remembered for years to come.