To say that none of the 40 + films on our staff-voted list is universally beloved is putting it mildly; but then, that’s the nature of polls like these. Every year we’ve run this poll, there’s been a runaway winner; this year, the top film crossed the three-hundred-point threshold, a first here at Sound On Sight. Not since Inglourious Basterds has a film run away so clearly with the number one spot. Our top choice received unbelievable love and support from everyone, nearly doubling the amount of points of our second place pick.
Nobody will agree on each entry, but keep in mind, Sound On Sight has always been a place that bridges the gap between mainstream and independent cinema. We love foreign films but we also love genre pics and documentaries. In other words, we cover it all, or at least we try.
With more movies in limited and general release than ever before, 2012 was a ridiculously crowded year for both casual and discerning moviegoers alike. Usually we publish a list of 25 entries but this year we’ve extended it to 40. There is just far too much to choose from and we cover too much ground to limit it to any less.
2012 was the year of disappointing blockbusters yet somehow a few managed to sneak onto the list. The year’s top grossing movie only reached the twelfth spot, and one director managed to get in two movies. Ten foreign-language films made the cut, as well as five documentaries. Twenty six contributors from around the world participated, and every film listed below received at least three votes. (In the event of a tie, which only occurs when the films get the same number of votes AND points, they share the poll number. Got it?) Yes, we have a mad method on how to calculate the results, but every year our method proves to work – in the sense that it really reflects our entire staff and our year-long-coverage.Source: soundonsight.org
and they say it was a bad year in film. I could have easily made a list of 100 movies I loved
25: The Dark Knight Rises
Directed by Christopher Nolan
Screenplay by Jonathan Nolan and Christopher Nolan
The Dark Knight Rises feels as if it was made up of two equal halves, with the most critical moment of the film breaking the movie in half, almost literally. While the second half may have been a let down, the first half is incredibly ambitious to say the least. The opening sequence, a gravity-defying skyjacking, is a tour de force – wildly choreographed, vivid, visceral, and chock full of suspense. That aerial extraction alone is worth the price of admission. Production-wise, effects-wise, Nolan’s movie (with sequences shot with Imax cameras) is staggering. There was an opportunity here for Nolan to stretch the boundaries of what is possible in the genre, alas, the final act becomes a little too conventional – complete with a doomsday device and a ticking-clock countdown. But for every quibble, The Dark Knight Rises remains an excellent summer blockbuster, but just not the best film of the year.Source: soundonsight.org
With The Raid: Redemption now in cinemas around the world or on the cusp or release, the names of its stars have been gaining traction, those names being Iko Uwais, the star and master practitioner of Pencak Silat, and the director, Gareth Evans, from the Welsh valleys, who grew up with a love of Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, Sam Peckinpah and John Woo. That love relayed itself into pursuing a career in cinema. Despite the misstep in 2006, with his little seen directorial debut, Footsteps, Evans never gave up on his dream until a moment of genuine serendipity when he found himself with the opportunity to direct a documentary about martial arts in Indonesia, an opportunity that lead from his Japanese-Indonesian wife. That lead to him making his next film, Merantau, where he started his work partnership with Iko Uwais and Yayan Ruhian, and the rest is history, as they say.
The notion of a foreign director coming into the martial arts cinema industry and changing it is not a new one. Take King Boxer (Five Fingers of Death), for example. One of the most important and influential martial arts films that established things like the jumping face off, white powder on the actors to accentuate the power of blows, many genre tropes and conventions where established through this movie, and it was directed by a Korean director (Chang-Hwa Jeong). Where does Gareth Evans fit and what has he done for the genre?Source: soundonsight.org
Ricky D, Justine Smith and Simon Howell return to the dank Batcave known as Sordid Cinema! This time around, martial arts are the focus, thanks to Gareth Evans’s Indonesian asskicking epic The Raid: Redemption, currently kicking around arthouses everywhere. They also get to talking about 1978 kung fu touchstone The 36th Chamber of Shaolin.
TAKE A LISTEN - CLICK HERE
The release of The Raid: Redemption has made us revisit our favourite martial arts flicks and pick five favourite films to suggest for Sound on Sight readers.
Before I give my five picks though, I would like to turn the floor over to a man who has been a friend of mine since grade seven at Oxford Street Junior High School in Halifax. As the line editor for Steve Jackson Games’ “Generic Universal RolePlaying System”, Sean Punch aka Dr. Kromm has been directly or indirectly responsible for a number of source-books on the Martial Arts including writing and editing GURPS Martial Arts.
I asked him earlier this week what films he would put on his list. He named three.
You’re not looking for goofy, cinematic Asian martial arts are you? Because I tend to like stuff that is more realistic, more like what commandos would use. You mentioned Steven Seagal and you have to include Under Siege on any list like this. It’s his best film and has the best fights of any of his films. His aikido is top notch and he does a really good job of using the environment of the ship while fighting. Plus he uses a knife really well.
It’s not a film that many would point to, but the fights in the second Bourne film (Bourne Supremacy) are really well done. They look like the quick brutal fights that a real, trained commando would have.
The thing with films with realistic martial arts is that most of the time, people have guns. The fights happen only when they can’t use guns. The Tom Cruise film Collateral has a really good fight built around a briefcase, even though most of the time the Cruise character just shoots people.
As Kromm correctly guessed, my five picks are all goofy, cinematic martial arts films. Despite the fact that I am a wrestling geek, I am not a big fan of what “smart” wrestling fans call “work-rate” which is to say technically precise fights. I am much more interested in the emotional context of the fights.
(And now hold on while I completely contradict myself. I contain multitudes.)
In no particular order…
6- Above the Law
Written by Steven Pressfield, Ronald Shusett and Andrew Davis based on a story by Andrew Davis and Steven Seagal
Directed by Andrew Davis
USA, 1988, imdb
I cheerfully acknowledge that Under Siege is the better film, but Above the Law is the film that established Seagal as a bad-ass. No one has ever broken arms on film quite like Seagal. The injuries always looked (and sounded) painful and permanent. Steven Seagal’s run as the baddest man on the planet started here and arguably ended with the the success of Under Siege in 1992.
Early in this film, Seagal faces multiple opponents in the middle of a Chicago street, coolly evaluating who he can take and how quickly and then executing his plan, dropping opponents like so much kindling.
Put together by one of Seagal’s aikido pupils, Michael Ovitz, who was convinced that he could make anyone a star, Seagal was surrounded by a great, young director and teamed with Sharon Stone as his wife and Pam Grier as his partner, perhaps hoping that Sharon Stone finding Seagal loveable and Pam Grier believing him to be a bad-ass would achieve for Seagal the same effect as what Ingrid Bergman did for Humphrey Bogart.
“If a face like Ingrid Bergman’s looks at you as though you’re adorable, everybody else does too. You don’t have to act very much” -Humphrey BogartSource: soundonsight.org
2012 promises to be a fantastic year in cinema. Not too long ago, we posted a list of thirty of our most anticipated films of 2012, and so I decided I would keep track of my favourite films released each month. Here are my five favourite films released in January.
1- Once Upon A Time In Anatolia
Directed by Nuri Bilge Ceylan
Screenplay by Nuri Bilge Ceylan and Ebru Ceylan
Nuri Bilge Ceylan is one of the most interesting directors working on the international scene, and Once Upon A Time In Anatolia might just be his best movie to date. This being his sixth feature, it won the Grand Prize at Cannes last year and as since received critical acclaim around the world.
In this somewhat police procedural / metaphysical road, a group of men (including a police commissioner, a prosecutor, a doctor and a murder suspect) drive out in the middle of the night through the Anatolian countryside, in search of a corpse. The mystery isn’t who the killer is but instead where the body was buried since the suspect, who claims he was drunk, can’t remember where he left his victim. The drama unfolds mostly offscreen but Anatolia is overflowing with deception, betrayal and violence from the start. Nothing is what it seems; but when the body is found, the real questions begin to creep up.
Anatolia is a non traditional, unique and refreshing crime investigation, that is at times darkly funny, subtle and always gorgeous to look at. Cinematographer, Gohkan Tiryaki brilliantly uses light as a storytelling tool. The bare facts of the case emerge from the shadows, and the essential mystery deepens into the long night. The performances are as impeccable as the look; Anatolia is a crime story with emotionally layered characters and the acting here is superb. But it’s Ceylan’s mastery of composition and pacing (made with such confidence) that ranks Anatolia as one of the best films in recent memory. A must see for any patient cinephile.Source: soundonsight.org
Lady of Steel
Directed by Ho Meng Hua
Written by Liang Yen
Hong Kong, 1970
Movies whose stories are set within the parameters of grand scale wars can tell one of two types of stories. Either the film speaks to the grandiose nature of the conflict, with the themes and ideologies concerned with the overall attitudes towards war in general, or they will concentrate their efforts on sharing a specific, more personal story that in some is a microscopic version of the epic battle that unfolds. Some prefer the former because the featured action is often more epic in scale, but the latter may provide with a more intimate storyline for which characterization is more pertinent than lofty themes. Ho Meng Hua, with his 1970 action film Lady of Steel, goes for the second option, exploring how one woman’s quest for revenge relates to the oncoming invasion of a massive army.
A small band of experienced soldiers are transporting a serious cargo of silver tales across the country side. Their aim is to assist refugees displaced by ongoing fighting elsewhere in the country. They choose to stay at an innocent looking inn, only to discover that it is run by an old gangster, Han Shi Xiong (Wong Ching-Shun). The host reassures them that they are in safe hands, his days of theft and murder are long behind, but the sudden appearance of Wei Tong Ming (Lee Wan-Chung) does little to ease their suspicion. Unsurprisingly, this was all a set-up: the heroes are ambushed, their silver taels stolen, with lone survivor being a small, innocent girl, daughter to one of the deceased warriors. Lost in the woods, she is rescued by an elderly kung fu master, and as the opening credits role, we see her grow and become an expert his that martial arts. Now a grown woman, Fang Ying Qi (Chang Pei-pei) is sent by her master to Da Kun Mountain where various heroes are gathered to prepare for what seems like an inevitable Jin invasion. It turns out some old enemies, Wei Tong and Han Shi Xiong (who now goes under the name Cai Yi to hide his true identity) and operating as spies for the Jins. Ying Qi not only has the opportunity to save her country, but finally avenge the death of her family…with a little help from the leader of a band of thieves, Shang Yi (Yueh Hua).Source: soundonsight.org
12- Jing wu ying xiong (Fist of Legend)
Directed by Gordon Chan
1994 – Hong Kong
For sheer martial arts action mayhem, Fist of Legend stands as one of the most impressive entries in the genre. Three names to take notice of here: Director Gordon Chan, action choreographer Yuen Woo-ping, and star Jet Li, all collaborate in what is essentially a loose remake of Bruce Lee’s chopsocky classic The Chinese Connection (a.k.a. Fist of Fury)
Set in Shanghai International Settlement in 1937 during the Second Sino-Japanese War, Fist Of Legend touches on the mutual racism between the Chinese and Japanese. But put aside the tackled on love story, the historical references, and even the political overtones, Fist Of legend is essential viewing for any fan of martial arts cinema simply for the action scenes and not necessarily the plot, which admittedly is handled poorly.
As a pure adrenaline rush, it’s the closest thing to matching The Raid: Redemption; the martial arts sequences are deftly handled, showcasing Li’s awe-inspiring fighting skills. The legendary Yuen Woo Ping (Drunken Master, Wing Chun, Kill Bill, The Matrix) choreographs the high-flying, hidden-wire martial arts madness helping positioning Li as the true successor to Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan. The action is top-notch, opening with one of the greatest sequences of all time, in which Chen (Jet Li) takes out an entire class of Japanese fighters.Source: soundonsight.org
Not long ago, Sound on Sight’s editor Ricky D emailed myself and fellow contributor Michael Ryan for the purpose of compiling some of our individual favourite martial arts pictures to celebrate The Raid‘s theatrical release across North American this Easter weekend. I would never consider myself to be a scholar of the genre, but it is true that I do tend to go back to martial arts films on a consistent basis when I have I craving for high-octane action. I think it has to do with the fact that what the performers pull off actually can be done if one practices long and hard enough. You can round-house kick someone in the face or brutally beat up a group of thugs with nunchucks but you could never levitate off the ground on bend metal with your mind, fun as it may be to watch movies in which characters perform those acts. I will never round-house kick someone in the face because I am too lazy to learn how, but it’s fun to think that I could…
1- The Big Boss (aka Fists of Fury)
Directed by Lo Wei
Hong Kong, 1971
For whatever reason, when people think about Bruce Lee, the first film which springs to mind is Enter the Dragon. I have no idea why since that movie is a sham. The second obvious pick is Fist of Fury, (not Fists) eventually remade in the early 90s as Fist of Legend, the latter which starred Jet Li. That is a great movie, make no mistake about it, but it is The Big Boss, the movie that shot Bruce Lee into stardom which seems to win my heart the easiest. It’s a bit cheaper, a bit rougher around the edges and a bit more on the exploitation side of the spectrum of film genres.
Lee stars as a poor young man from mainland China who, at the behest of his uncle’s council, moves to another town for work in an ice block carving factory. Unbeknownst to them at the start of the film, their boss is using the factory as a front for his drug smuggling operations. Lee gets to know some of his cousins and make new friends who also work at the same plant, but when they start suspecting something is amiss, a few of them die (surprise!). Of course, it is up to Lee to save the remainder of his family and stop the ‘big boss’ from getting away with his scheme.
This movie is amazing, but amazing in that ‘wow, this movie is kind of on the cheap scale but still manages to be brilliant in a early 70s kung fu style sort of way’. You know what I mean, right? It is perhaps the Lee film (among his major films at least) which features the least amount of action, but it is there and it is pretty cool What’s more, The Big Boss is what started the entire running joke about Bruce Lee growling like a dog joke and yelling ‘Whhoooooaaaahhhhh!’ whenever beating the living daylights out of opponents. The first ever appearance of the legendary sound effects occurs about halfway through. Lee is staring off against another man. Slowly, they circle one another, their glares burning. Suddenly, Lee shifts his head ever so slightly (presumably to unsettle his opposite) and the soundtrack booms with ‘Oooah!’, only to be followed with ‘Ggggrrrrrrrr…’ When the kicks and punches start flying, Lee is the quickest of the bunch, a formula 1 car in the shape of a martial artists next to everybody’s ordinary Nissan.Source: soundonsight.org
At the end of each month, the Sound On Sight staff will band together to write an article about their favourite scenes in films released. Here are our favourite scenes from the month of February.
Wanderlust – Rudd vs. the mirror
David Wain’s Wanderlust may not turn out to even be one of the 10 best comedies of 2012, but it sure goes a long way to re-establishing Paul Rudd’s comedic bona fides. In a stunningly funny scene, Rudd’s character, George, is about to break his marital vows (with his wife Jennifer Aniston’s blessing) with a beautiful, willing fellow commune resident (Malin Akerman) – but he’s awfully nervous. To work up the nerve, he gives himself a filthy, ultimately nonsensical pep talk that, in all seriousness, rivals the pivotal montage from 25th Hour as the best cinematic use of a self-addressed monologue in recent memory. The only downside: it’s not nearly long enough.Source: soundonsight.org
The Raid: Redemption aka Serbuan maut
Written and Directed by Gareth Evans
Indonesia, 2011, imdb
In Defence of The Raid: Redemption
For the martial arts afficiandoes out there, don’t even bother even reading this review, just go to the theatre now. The Raid: Redemption is everything that you have heard it is and more. Offering a rare glimpse on the Indonesian martial art style Pentjak Silat, the film is one long, almost continuous combat sequence, with all the fights performed at mach speed by a stunt team that make Tony Jaa’s unit look like conservative wimps. Many of the fights are done with one or both fighters holding knives, but if anything they fight faster with knives than with empty hands.
Don’t ask, just go.
OK. Everyone else, let’s talk about Roger Ebert who has eviscerated this film not once, but twice, first giving it one star and then expanding his original review in a blog post to give more context to his dislike the film.
There’s obviously an audience for the film, probably a large one. They are content, even eager, to sit in a theater and watch one action figure after another pound and blast one another to death. They require no dialogue, no plot, no characters, no humanity. Have you noticed how cats and dogs will look at a TV screen on which there are things jumping around? It is to that level of the brain’s reptilian complex that the film appeals.
The Web of Death
Directed by Chor Yuen
Written by Ni Kuang
Hong Kong, 1976
Is there value in creating a remake? The safe answer is a resounding no given how, unfortunately, too many of them fail to live up to expectations. In fact, the frequency with which remakes disappoint is high enough that said expectations have been lowered to the deepest depths of the earth. Whenever the word ‘remake’ is uttered by a studio executive, it is the cue for general film lovers and film bloggers to collectively groan in perfect synchronicity. However, the original question still stands: is there value in creating a remake? The true answer, one not enough film buffs consider entertaining, is yes, provided the filmmakers have something to add to the original material in a way that will improve upon it. In 1976, not quite a decade after Chiang Hung Hsu’s The Thundering Sword, Chor Yuen brought audiences The Web of Death, a direct remake the former.
Director Chor Yuen sets up the mythos surrounding the world’s ultimate weapon right off the bat in the opening scene, in which a sizable platoon of soldiers is confronted by a mysterious enemy, leader of the Five Venoms clan, carrying an immaculate cage with a large red spider bust decorating the top. The villain opens the cage, revealing glowing, roaring (!) tarantula which shoots a thick mist from what one assumes is its tiny mouth. Everyone is instantly caught in a vast web which electrocutes its victims. Fast forward many years later. The Five Venoms, while still highly regarded and feared, does not promote the same fearful image it once did. Its current leader (Wong Hap) is told of an upcoming gathering in the world of boxers by his trusted captains, among them the Snake leader (Lo Lieh). Five Venom chief is begged to release the Five Venom Spider (the tarantula from the opening scene) in order for the clan to reclaim its once unquestionable supremacy, but the chief refuses. Snake leader therefore opts to spread a wild rumour that the Spider has in fact been released onto the world, which consequently sends all other clans in a fit of panic, hoping to locate the weapon before its too late, incidentally revealing the its secret location. The school at Wudang Mountain sends off Mr. Fei (Yueh Hua) on that very quest, during which time he meets Hong Su Su (Cheng Li) who chooses to help Fei all the while preserving her identity as the Five Venom Chief’s daughter! Of course, the two slowly begin to fall in love while everybody scrambles to find the Spider.Source: soundonsight.org