someone’s about to get…Beat to a Pulp

My story “A Glutton for Punishment” appears today in the great BEAT TO A PULP magazine. Very proud to be among the many great writers David Cranmer and crew have chosen to appear there. I’d also like to thank my friend Peter V. Dell’Orto, whose first Shooto match I attended, and my friend and teacher Phil Dunlap of Advanced Fighting Systems for inadvertently assisting with this story.

© 2011 Thomas Pluck

The Warrior’s Way

There now exists a subgenre known as the Samurai Western; they were made for each other, as Kurosawa directly inspired spaghetti westerns, and now it’s come back at us like a kid’s boomerang in a post-apocalyptic wasteland. We’ve had SUKIYAKI WESTERN DJANGO, SIX STRING SAMURAI, SHANGHAI NOON and NIGHTS, and now we get cowboys, carnies and carnage with THE WARRIOR’S WAY. Written and directed by Sngmoo Lee, who’s IMDb resume includes only this film. So I’m calling him Schmoo for the entirety of his review, in case he does not actually exist.


Dong-gun Jang from the excellent Korean war flick TAE GUK GI: THE BROTHERHOOD OF WAR stars as the Yang, Greatest Swordsman of All Time Ever, as we are told in glittering Comic Sans. We see him pose dramatically after slicing apart a dozen warriors in a few seconds, and he finds the treasure they are guarding is a baby girl, the last of the enemy clan. He cannot kill her, so his assassin’s guild- the Sad Flutes- vow he will die. He flees to the mythical American West, and comes upon a ghost town that a group of Carnies have chosen to build a Ferris Wheel in, hoping to lure pioneering tourists to the middle of the desert. It’s like Vegas, built by extras from “Deadwood” and “Carnivale.”

The movie keeps us interested by having an absurdly comic tone, from Yang carrying the baby girl like a shopping bag to how he kills innocuous-seeming bystanders, only to have assassin’s weapons fall out of their hands after they collapse. There are references galore, from Lone Wolf & Cub, to John Woo, and more, but they never feel like cribbing. Yang strolls into town, Walkin’ the Earth like Kane in “Kung Fu,” as lone killers are wont to do. We meet Geoffrey Rush as the Town Drunk, Tony Cox as the midget ringmaster who’s quick to crush someone’s nuts in his hands, and Kate Bosworth as Jesse the Cowgirl from TOY STORY 2, at least at first. She manages to mellow out into less of a caricature, but still has plenty of fun with their role. Rush is very memorable as the drunk, staggering around in his pajamas and getting the best lines.

The closest you get to boobs in this R rated bloodless film.

The wild west equivalent of a post-apocalyptic wastelands motorcycle gang rides into town on horses, like they have once before; Kate has a score to settle with their leader, and Yang can’t draw his blade without alerting his Sad Flutes to his whereabouts. But you know he’ll have to, and thank goodness he does. That’s when we get to see six guns versus samurai swords, and it’s a lot of fun to watch how they make it less one-sided than it seems. The town drunk is of course a great gunslinger; they nod toward BLAZING SADDLES
some more with how they use dynamite. It’s not long before blood, explosions and gunplay light up the town, and we get to settle that childhood bet, who kicks more ass? Toshiro Mifune or Clint Eastwood?

The director makes great use of his bizarre set, with merry-go-rounds and circus freaks and clowns fighting against masked marauders with a Gatling gun and ninja swordsmen. It’s a lot of fun to look at when the overuse of CG doesn’t get in the way. I have made peace with CG blood after @AxelleCarolyn on Twitter- better known as the smokin’ hot killer Pict babe from CENTURION– told me how much money it saves independent productions. But I noticed CG cowboys climbing the Ferris Wheel, and CG swordsmen in black leather all over the place. It really stood out and made it look like anime at times, which I know the story owes a lot to, but it was very distracting from a very fun film.

3 out of 5 midgets with specially designed spiked gloves for crushing your nutsack

© 2010 Tommy Salami

where have all the hot dogs gone?

I haven’t eaten a hot dog since my martial arts instructor put his knee on my chest and told me “My students DO NOT EAT HOT DOGS!” He meant it as a joke, but it’s amazing how a knee on your sternum will assist with your willpower. In fact, on New Year’s Eve when you make your resolution, if you had someone throw you to the floor, plant their knee in your gut and tell you to quit smoking, I bet you’d see results. Probably because your abdomen would hurt so much that you wouldn’t be able to inhale for a while. But try it, and get back to me. It’s certainly worked with hot dogs. I used to love me a nice hot tube steak slathered with toppings, and preferably wrapped in bacon. Now all I can think of is Phil’s face, hovering above me like the drill sergeant in Full Metal Jacket. It’s like the Ludovico technique in A Clockwork Orange, for food. (See, it’s still a movie blog- I just mentioned two Stanley Kubrick films.) It also doesn’t help that I’ve been getting into the Slow Food movement and trying to eat less processed foods. This Easter, I ordered a ham from Newman Farm, which humanely raises heritage Berkshire pork. I honestly believe that their bacon could create peace in the Middle East, if only Jews and Muslims could be convinced that God is now cool with swine. It’s that good.
The last hot dog I reviewed and loved was Hillbilly Hot Dogs in West Virginia, last May. I had sausages at DBGB’s this winter, but those are house-made and less likely to contain floor scraps and anuses. In fact, they are some of the best I’ve ever had, and they do make a frankfurter, so I’m bound to try it someday. A few places make their own hot dogs, but it’s a dying art. The modern equivalent of Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle is watching movies like Fast Food Nation (starring Lou Taylor Pucci, plug plug) and last year’s Oscar nominee Food, Inc., which give us a picture of how “farming” and “ranching” have become more akin to the automotive assembly line than anything in our imagination. Creatures that never see the light of day, penned in cages where they can’t turn around, often bred to be so disproportionate that they can barely stand. Compare that to the legendary Wagyu cattle of Japan, prized for their stress-free lives that lead to the tenderest, most marbled meat ever tasted, and you can see that even if you don’t care how animals are treated before slaughter, the factory farm creates tasteless widgets of meat.

Some of the best burgers I’ve had lately came from my own kitchen, made with organic 85/15 beef from Costco. They were certainly better than the Island Burgers patty I had the other night, which was drowned in toppings for good reason. Elevation Burger and even Five Guys do better than that. Elevation uses grass-fed organic beef, and manages to cost about the same as folks who don’t. I recommend them highly. When I compare the heritage pork I had for Easter with the hickory smoked ham steaks I get at the market, they taste like two different animals. Happy pigs make happy carnivores. The organic chicken I roasted to Jacques Pepin’s recipe earlier this month was fantastic, especially compared to the conventional chicken breasts I had for lunch this week. I don’t know what they tasted like, but it wasn’t chicken. Maybe tofu? When even chicken doesn’t taste like chicken anymore, something is wrong.
So, I’ll have a hot dog again when I find one that’s worth eating. I’d certainly eat another Crif Dog, but right now my only wiener craving is to try DBGB’s again, or perhaps pick up some made at The Meat Hook butcher in Brooklyn. Or if you’re in Portland, Oregon, Otto’s Sausage Kitchen still makes home-made hot dogs. I always knew what was in hotdogs- lips and assholes- but I didn’t care as much. But after my last hot dog- an atrocity at Sonic- I had to ask myself, is this worth it? Life is too short to eat bad food. Does that mean I’ll never stop by J.R.’s Hot Dog Truck in Nutley, or Rutt’s Hutt? No. But I won’t be sampling dogs at places unless I’ve heard they do something special. Same with burgers- I’ve had too many boring, bland burgers to not be a snob about it. It’s not that hard to make a great burger with fresh ingredients. If I can do it, I expect the restaurant to. If Yesterday’s Bar can make a memorable bar burger for $5, why can’t places that charge $8, $10, $12 do the same? If HB Burger and Shake Shack, Five Guys, Smash Burger and Elevation can kick ass with a $5 burger, why the hell would I go back to 25 Burgers again?

To quote Bruce Willis in Fast Food Nation, “Everybody has to eat a little shit sometime.” I say, life is too short to eat crap.

© 2010 Thomas Pluck.

mondo mini movie reviews!

This is what I’ve watched in the past week or so.

Black Dynamite
A hilarious homage to the blaxploitation flicks of the ’70s, this one should not be missed. A dose of Dolemite with a dash of The Mack and Superfly, martial artist Michael Jai White plays the title character who’s out to avenge his dead brother, who was working for the CIA when a mafia drug deal went sour. It begins with him kicking an old lady through a door, and ends with him kicking ass at the White House, as his battle leads him to The Man himself. It gets a little silly in the middle when we learn what the Sinister Plot is, just in time for a homage to Enter the Dragon, but the dialogue is so moronically clever that you’ll be laughing the entire time. “If your momma was alive to see this, she’d be spinning in her grave!”

4 out of 5 fat muthafuckas wrestlin’ over pork chops ‘n greens

The Cove
If you ask the average person in Japan if they eat dolphin, they’d say no. So then why are thousands slaughtered every year in a secretive cove in Taiji? This documentary plays like a heist film as the man who trained Flipper, now turned activist, exposes the brutal and bloody secret of the dolphin industry, where hundreds are harvested for amusement parks and the rest are butchered for meat, and because the Japanese fishing industry thinks they eat too many fish. Yeah, really. This doc certainly has an agenda, but all good ones do; it takes great pains to show that the average Japanese has no idea this is going on, and this is no different than the corruption in America’s cattle industry, which keeps us from testing every animal for Mad Cow disease. You’ll never go to Sea World again after you watch this one.

4.5 out of 5 senseless slaughters

A Serious Man
The Coens weave a darkly comic tale of Larry Gopnik, a physics teacher whose life takes on the story of Joband the puzzle of Schroedinger’s Cat as his life begins to fall apart. I found it interesting, but at times deliberately difficult, and a little pretentious. It calls back to Barton Fink, and is enjoyable as a dark comedy if you don’t want to wonder if Gopnik is destined to misery because he’s angered God, is being tested, or has just made a serious of bad choices that like Schroedinger’s Cat, he can’t tell the result of without affecting it. It’s a good discussion film, but not for everyone; if you hated Synecdoche, NY you’ll probably find parts of this a little pretentious. I myself liked it, but felt some of it superfluous. The opening story of the dybbuk makes sense in retrospect, as it can be likened to Schroedinger’s cat, and then the issue of a student who may or may not be trying to bribe Gopnik for a better grade, and so on. There’s also the story of his son preparing for his bar mitzvah, which is both entertaining and nostalgic; did I mention it’s all set in the Jewish neighborhood of Minneapolis suburbs in the late 60’s? Nice touch. Much like the story of the dybbuk, it places it in the past and gives it all the feel of a parable.

4 out of 5 Larry Storches
The Hurt Locker
Wow. This is a war film, and the best depiction of the Iraq War I’ve seen, but first of all it is a character study. A study of the kind of adrenaline junkie operator who can handle the job of Explosive Ordnance Disposal- defusing bombs and IEDs in a war zone. Kathryn Bigelow has made a documentary-style masterpiece that takes the opening sequence of A Touch of Evil, where we see a bomb put in a car’s trunk and follow it, knowing it must go off, and makes it into a gripping war thriller. The movie is over 2 hours long, but felt like 90 minutes. Like the heroes of a Michael Mann film, these are men who define themselves by what they do, and there is a paucity of dialogue. Sgt. James leads a small squad after their leader is killed; they’re short timers who just want to go home, but he actually seems to love this job. And he’s incredibly good at it. The story unfolds like a memoir, with little structure, jumping from a sniper battle in the desert to an Iraqi base rat kid who James takes under his wing, to his men wondering if he’s going to get them killed. He’s a mystery; but in the end, we see his heart, and what makes him tick. It’s a brilliant character study of the kind of man it takes to do this insane job, disguised as a satisfying thriller. It is one of my favorites of the year, and it’s a toss-up to me whether it or Up in the Air is the better picture. Both make great entertainment out of prescient issues we’d rather ignore.

5 out of 5 Best Director Oscars for Kathryn Bigelow, Dammit

The Ghost Writer
Fuck you, Polanski. Come let justice be served. Stop being Noah Cross. Have you made a great movie since then anyway? You’re not getting my money until you pay your debt.

Temple Grandin
Excellent biopic of an autistic woman who revolutionized the beef industry by making slaughterhouses more humane. I read her story in the Star-Ledger years ago, and Claire Danes portrays her amazingly in what will surely be an Emmy-nominated performance. This is playing on HBO, and you should see it. It tries to give us the view of the world through her eyes, and while some of the direction is a bit indulgent and lazy- a montage set to guitar as she figures out how to get on a cattle lot that won’t let women in for example- the story itself is compelling and touching. It’s a TV movie for sure, but Danes performance, and David Strathairn as the teacher who understands her genius, make it worth your time.

3.5 out of 5 moo moo everywhere a moo moos

Dirty Ho
No, not porn! One of the better humorous kung fu flicks of the ’70s. Pita-San and I watched this and One-Armed Boxer vs. the Master of the Flying Guillotine, which has some cool fights and great kraut-rock music by Neu!; Dirty Ho is a kung fu comedy from ’79 starring Chiu hiu “Gordon” Liu, best known as Johnny Mo/Pai Mei from the Kill Bill movies. I’d recognize that bald noggin anywhere! He plays a prince with many brothers who’re trying to kill each other off for Dad’s inheritance, and he tricks a scheming thief named … Dirty Ho… to help him. Let’s face it, the name is what makes you watch this movie the first time, but it has great training sequences and fights, and plenty of laughs and slapstick. Plus a great scene where Gordon “fights” using his servant. An underappreciated classic, if you love kung fu flicks, you must find this one.

4 out of 5 dirty ho’s

© 2010 Thomas Pluck.

R.I.P. David Carradine

David Carradine has died at age 72, in a hotel in Bangkok. Conflicting reports from news agencies and his lawyers have it vary from natural causes, suicide by hanging, to death by misadventure from autoerotic asphyxia, or perhaps someone was helping and fled. He was found in a closet, after all. I don’t want to think of my ’70s hero with a rope around his genitals, so let’s remember all the great movies and TV shows he gave us.
Of course, the TV series Kung Fu, where he played Kwai Chang Kane and walked the Earth. Along with Bruce Lee, he helped bring martial arts to popularity in the States. But he began in Westerns, and even had small roles in The Long Goodbye (full review) and Scorsese’s Mean Streets. His dive into exploitation began with Roger Corman and Paul Bartel’s classic Death Race 2000 (full review) and othe car movies like Cannonball! and continued with unbelievable ’80s movies like Q and The Warrior and the Sorceress, which I’ve finally found and will review next week in his honor.
He managed to sneak the uber-violent Western The Long Riders in there, and he was always working, even if it was playing the bad guy vs. Chuck Norris in Lone Wolf McQuade. My favorite roles of his were Frankenstein in Death Race 2000, and when he took Bruce Lee’s role in the underrated martial arts film The Silent Flute (aka Circle of Iron). That story was originally written by James Coburn and Bruce Lee, and the story is similar to Game of Death in some ways. After Lee died, Carradine was the only choice- he not only had good kung fu chops and acting ability, but his chilly presence gave off just the right kind of mystic aloofness the role required.
Now, Carradine is probably best known as being Bill in the Kill Bill movies, and we should thank Tarantino for bringing Carradine to a big film again. He was always working, as his extensive IMDb profile shows, but languished in many forgettable roles unworthy of his presence. He was an instantly recognizable icon, and will be missed. Hopefully it was quick. We were all hoping he passed away under a pile of hookers of a massive cardiac infarction, befitting his manly image. But no matter how he died, we’ll always remember the crazy, fun movies he helped give us.

R.I.P., Mr. Carradine.

80’s Trash of the Week: Bloodsport

You are nex!
You break my record, now I break you, like I break your friend.

I like to know how to say “Hello,” “cheers,” and “screw you” in every language. But in Belgian I only know how to say four words: Jean-Claude Van Damme. Which means “cheesy spinning kick split monster,” and Bloodsport is where I first learned to say it. Van Damme had been in the awful Sho Kosugi vehicle Black Eagle as a Russian assassin, but Bloodsport is where he spun onto the martial arts movie scene. Slightly less intelligible than Schwarzenegger but with plenty of fight cred, his eagerness to do his trademark splits at every opportunity made him a hit with the ’80s ladies as well as their beaus, who were amazed that someone with a French accent could kick so much ass.
The story as such is this- as a young boy Frank Dux gets caught fiddling with a neighbor’s samurai sword, and to pay penance, becomes his student- if only to be a punching bag for the man’s young son. He stole from the wrong guy- Tanaka, a ninjutsu sensei and keeper of the secret death move, the Dim Mak. Through an extended montage we watch him learn to do splits while suspended by ropes, to catch goldfish with his bare hands, and to serve tea blindfolded. And this makes him the greatest fighter of all time.
Frank Dux- pronounced “dukes”- wants to fight in “the Kumite,” which means “the sparring” in Japanese. It is held in Hong Kong, and is a secret underground fight club where practitioners of all the deadly arts converge to pit their skills against each other in battles to the death. On ths bus he meets Ogre from Revenge of the Nerds, a brawling biker also there for the “secret” Kumite, which everyone seems to know about. There’s even a blonde reporter using her sly investigative skills at the hotel bars, asking every tough guy where the Kumite is.
The path they follow through the underground to the Kumite matches is like the famous long take in Goodfellas where they enter the Copa, except there are lots of cuts, no one says anything, and I think they walk through the same hallway three times. To prove that this round-eye devil has really been trained by Tanaka, Van Damme must show them the fabled “death touch.” The Dim Mak or “death touch” is changed from the classic kung fu move to a sort of Tetris brick-breaker maneuver. It’s closer to dim sum than Dim Mak. But who cares, all you have to do is see JCVD’s crazy brickbreaking face to know this movie is going to be awesome.
Bolo Yeung always plays the bad guy, Chong Li, but he gets more lines here than he usually does.. He’s most famous for being the huge opponent of Bruce Lee in Enter the Dragon, and here he gets to say all the best lines. He’s also the one guy who can look crazier than Van Damme, as evidenced in this freeze-frame:

We get a lot of bloody fights, including one where a rapey Arab gets his gold tooth knocked out, which is scooped up by a scurrying Asian fellow. There’s an African guy fighting “monkey style” which sort of looks like capoiera, except really offensive. The two cops following Dux to stop him from competing- including a young Forrest Whitaker- eat something at a restaurant that makes a dog whimper.

But racism was all in good fun in the ’80s! This movie isn’t about that, it’s about seeing karate vs. boxing. Prior to the Ultimate Fighting Championship, Bloodsport was the only way to decide which martial art could kick the ass of all others. And the answer was Van Damme ninjutsu. As the competitors are winnowed down- either whupped by honorable white folk or cruel Asians who kill you for the bloodlusty crowd- we get to see Ogre be a complete idiot and turn his back on Chong Li after knocking him down. Slowly the inevitable match between Dux and the murderous champion arrives, and the final fight is a glorious example of ’80s chop socky.
They say that the movie languished for 2 years until Van Damme helped them re-cut the film; I’d love to see the original version! When evil Chong Li blinds Dux, it takes him so long to remember all that blindfighting training we watched in the montage that I like to think it originally took him 2o minutes of getting his ass kicked before he realized he can fight blindfolded. There’s another slow motion shot where he windmills his leg like Popeye winding up a punch.
The movie is also controversial because it is supposedly “based on true events,” as reported in its end credits:

This motion picture is based upon true events in the life of Frank W. Dux.
From 1975 to 1980 Frank W. Dux fought 329 matches. He retired undefeated
as the World Heavy Weight Full Contact Kumite Champion.
Mr. Dux still holds four world records:
Fastest Knockout – 3.2 seconds
Fastest Punch with a Knockout – .42 seconds
Fastest Kick with a Knockout – 72 mph
Most Consecutive Knockouts in a Single Tournament – 56
Subsequently Mr. Dux founded the first American Ninjitsu System. Dux-Ryu.

The 80s were the prime time for bullshido, and even Soldier of Fortune went after Dux for his claims of secret military service. Who knows? Here’s an incredibly lengthy article on it. A 72mph kick? I guess there was a cop with a radar gun in the ring. It all sounds very impressive, and we all wanted to be ninjas after watching it. Personally, I think the movie is better as the insane fantasy it is, where if Americans travel to exotic lands they can fight to the death in Kumite, or wind up as victims in Hostel. Foreign places were scary in the ’80s! Bloodsport is an original, maybe it’s awful it many ways but it is unique, and a must for martial arts fans.

Beers Required to Enjoy: 2
Could it be remade today? It should be. Over and over.
Quotability Rating: mild
Cheese Factor: Jean-Claude Van Edam
High Points: Fights
Low Point: yellow peril crap
Gratuitous Boobies: We was robbed.

Chocolate

This was recommended by Tractor Facts movie blog, so I gave it a shot. I also liked Ong Bak: the Thai Warrior and The Protector (Tom Yum Goong) a lot, so more Thai martial arts films are welcome. Chocolate is pretty good, but takes 1/3 of its time to spiral up, and feels like something from the Luc Besson factory at times. Then again I love movies where women kick ass, and Zen- an autistic girl whose parents are brutalized by thugs- studies Tony Jaa on TV and learns she can replicate his moves. She’s a Muay Thai savant! Sure beats counting toothpicks.

This leads to many fight set pieces as she starts collecting money from thugs to pay for her mom’s hospital bills. There’s one in an ice block cutting factory, a meatpacking plant, another atop building signs on the third floor above a city street. Directed by Prachya Pinkaew- who did those two Tony Jaa movies I mentioned- and starring newcomer JeeJa Yanin as the lanky and flexible fighter Zen- she always looks like she could really kick some ass, and the fights are all fun to watch. Sometimes she channels old school Jackie Chan.

On the other hand there are lots of interludes with Zen on swingsets or screaming at flies- her Kryptonite- that get a bit old. It needed a little less Rain Man and more Sling Blade. As action movies go it is pretty good, following the typical revenge formula as Zen tries to avenge her mother against the thugs, engaging in Kill Bill style sword battles and whatnot. I wasn’t very engaged but I liked the fights a lot, so it’s worth a viewing if you like the chop socky.

http://rcm.amazon.com/e/cm?t=plyoto-20&o=1&p=8&l=as1&asins=B001L67A4G&fc1=000000&IS2=1&lt1=_blank&m=amazon&lc1=0000FF&bc1=000000&bg1=FFFFFF&f=ifr

Rating: Worthy