Dateline Asia – Although unemployment in the South China film industry is still being reported as nearing seventy percent, those who are working are as busy as bees. The King Bee has got to be Donnie Yen, who openly admitted that he has at least half-a-dozen roles lined up for the year. Probably the most anticipated is Ip Man 2: Legend of the Grandmaster, the sequel to the Hong Kong Film Award-winning epic for which Donnie got his very first Best Actor nomination.
In fact, a ceremony was held in Foshan, Guangdong Province – the real Ip man’s hometown — which marked the official start of the sequel’s principal photography. Both films are loosely based on the life of the Wing Chun martial-art master who first gained international fame as the sifu of Enter the Dragon’s star. The first film showed him escaping evil Japanese occupiers during World War II. The follow-up shows the hero as a respected Hong Kong teacher, who must deal with the ignorance and arrogance of Hung Gar students.
Joining Donnie will be original director Wilson Yip and action director Sammo Hung, who also plays the Hung Gar sifu, as well as new action star Shi Xiaolong and Jiang Daiyan, who has been anointed to play Ip Man’ most famous student. Filmed in Shanghai, Ip Man 2 is scheduled to open in the summer of 2010. Meanwhile, Donnie is also toiling on both 14 Blades as well as Bodyguards and Assassins.
The former film tells of a Ming Dynasty secret policeman caught between the Imperial Court and the rebels he hunts. Helping him foil an insidious plot hatched by a power-mad eunuch and corrupt court official is beautiful Vicky Zhao Wei (Red Cliff), and the cast also features venerable kung-fu superstar Chen Kuan-tai (Dragon Tiger Gate, The Master) – all under the direction of Daniel Lee, who has made the ridiculous (Dragon Squad) and the sublime (Black Mask).
The latter film has a fascinating history. It started ten years ago and languished in production hell until 2004, when a huge set recreating 1905 Hong Kong was built. But then the film’s financier committed suicide and the project lay fallow until last year, when producer Peter Chan (The Warlords) found it. Now the tale of the men protecting revolutionary Sun Yat-sen from killers will finally be seen. Donnie leads an incredible cast, which includes Simon Yam (Kill Zone), Nicholas Tse (Dragon Tiger Gate), Leon Lai (The Empress & the Warriors), and the gorgeous Michelle Reis (Fong Sai-yuk). Bodyguards and Assassins is set for a holiday 2009 release.
Ironically one of the great on-screen assassins recently passed away. While the name Shing Fui-on may not be familiar, his face would certainly ring a bell for anyone who saw any of his more than three hundred films and TV shows. He was best known, however, as the remorseless, unforgettable villain in John Woo’s The Killer.
Starting his career in the early seventies after a troublesome childhood of crime and hard labor, it wasn’t until the eighties that he hit his stride, appearing beside Brandon Lee in Legacy of Rage, Ti Lung in A Better Tomorrow, Andy Lau in Magic Crystal, Chow Yun-fat in Prison on Fire, Gordon Liu in Tiger on Beat, Jackie Chan in Dragons Forever, Simon Yam in Young and Dangerous, Steven Chow in Legend of the Dragon, and many, many more.
Sadly, he was diagnosed with cancer during the production of Himalaya Singh in 2005, but kept working until a relapse in 2008. He passed away in late August of 2009 at the age of fifty-four. For his many friends and fans, he will be sorely missed.
Dateline America – Magnolia/Magnet is moving in to make wushu waves in both cinemas and your living rooms. They’ve readied a titanic trio of Asian epics to bulge your eyes and blow your minds. Following such challenging and exciting releases as Steven Soderbergh’s The Girlfriend Experience, Bobcat Goldthwait’s black comedy World’s Greatest Dad, and Robert Kenner’s diet-changing documentary Food Inc., Magnolia’s got Tony Jaa’s Ong Bak 2 set to explode across American screens.
Lovingly crafted by Tony Jaa himself, the sequel-in-name-only is basically one long fight scene telling the tale of a young man who must battle the worst criminal killers ancient Thailand has to offer before taking vengeance on the corrupt government that slaughtered his family. Filled with powerful muy thai fighting, the action in Ong Bak 2 is brutally brilliant.
Planning to soon follow are two of the greatest “battlefield-fu” films ever made: John Woo’s epic Red Cliff and the film that won Jet Li hi first “Best Actor” award, The Warlords. Red Cliff is one of the most famous battles in Chinese history while Warlords retells the famous saga of “General Ma’s Assassination,” which was also the basis for “Godfather of the Kung-Fu Film,” Chang Cheh’s ground-breaking Shaw Brothers Studio movie, Blood Brothers (which made superstars of David Chiang, Ti Lung, and Chen Kuan-tai). Takeshi Kaneshiro stars in both films, alongside Tony Leung and Andy Lau, respectively. All three are thrilling eyefuls, and you should keep your full eyes out for them.
The kung-fu world continues to grow by leaps and bounds. Recently The superlative Tai Chi Alchemy celebrated it’s 15th Anniversary in Sedona Arizona. Long known as the event that makes its attendees centered superheroes, this year author and national champion Rick Barrett brought the event to the resplendent 150 acre Mago Retreat Center, where the students basked in the glory of nature and martial arts. To learn more, check out www.taichialchemy.com/TCASedona.html, and maybe get in on TCA 16 in 2010!
Meanwhile, also growing by chops and kicks is the University of Bridgeport’s Martial Arts Degree Program, which has drafted me to co-host their “Image and Reality” course, which contrasts history, humanities, and movies to compare what’s sincere and cinematic in Chinese, Japanese, and Korean martial arts. Check out www.bridgeport.edu/pages/3868.asp for more on that amazing academia.