Movie Review Library - K

Home / Latest Reviews / Review Library
Now Playing / Coming Soon / BLOG / Top 20 Lists
Hong Kong Cinema!Film Fests / FAQ / Favorite Links

Make sure you see the Latest Video Reviews page as well!

K-19: The Widowmaker (2002)
Starring: Harrison Ford, Liam Neeson
Director: Kathryn Bigelow
Plot: At the height of the Cold War, a decorated Soviet Navy captain is caught between saving his crew and performing his duty when the maiden voyage of Russia's new nuclear submarine becomes plagued with technical problems.
Review: Based on real events that have only recently come to light, K-19: The Widowmaker is a rather talky, long-winded thriller that intersperses action / suspense sequences with seeming disarray. For sure, it's an interesting subject for a movie and the fact that this is for the most part historically true gives it an added punch. It's also something of a curiosity seeing the flip-side view of the Cold War, and kudos must go the all involved for striving for some sense of realism. Thanks to some fine good submarine production values and details, for the most part it succeeds well enough. The cinematography and camera work (without talking of the filmmaking techniques) want to remind us that this is a sort of Russian Das Boot, but without the adequate grittiness and poignant drama this is more Das Boot light. Director Bigelow (After Dark, Blue Steel) carries off an engaging tale with aplomb and should be commended for her stretch, but even her skills can't help the fact that the script gets a bit leaden and overly long. There are moments, especially when the nuclear accident happens, when the film revs up the tension, but somehow it just can't manage to keep it there. Evidently, a tighter pacing would have done wonders for the film. The script also tries to make us care for these people and their sacrifices, but by keeping these one-dimensional characters at arm's length (and never really fleshing them out), it never quite reaches the dramatic impact it's looking for. Ford and Neeson are fine as captain and first mate who almost come to blows over their disagreements, but it's hard to see them as anything other than actors playing roles. Their use of disconcerting, ridiculous accents doesn't help matters, either. The final weepy scene as the old ship mates reunite after Glasnost is pure American melodrama; it's rather unnecessary and makes for a false emotional closing. In the end, K-19: The Widowmaker is a fine fact-based submarine thriller and does bring a refreshing light on the goings-on behind the Iron Curtain, but no matter the good intentions it can't help remain a Hollywood product.
Drama: 5/10

Kaena: The Prophecy (France - 2004)
Starring: Kirsten Dunst, Richard Harris, Anjelica Huston
Directors: Chris Delaporte, Pascal Pinon
Plot: Driven out of her village by an angry priest, a rebellious young girl living in the roots of a huge tree between worlds is saved by the sole survivor of an alien race who aids her in seeking out a mysterious egg-like machine beyond the clouds.
Review: The CGI sci-fi fantasy Kaena: The Prophecy is a strange beast indeed. The film reminds one of the French cartoon classic Fantastic Planet as populated by H. R. Giger creatures all to a plot that would be at home as a Japanese anime, plus a dash of New Age mysticism and a big-breasted heroine more common to the adult comics like Heavy Metal than your typical family fare. If that mix sounds ambitious, well it is, but for the most part it works as a geek fantasy. Created by game designers, the animation looks like it was made as a string of video-game cinematics more than film in mind, with human characters that look like dolls and a very rough-looking world to surround them - sticking to dark sepia tones and shadows makes it hard to see what's going on, especially when the animators try to show-off their mastery of the reflective 3D effect. It's obvious lots of effort went into the visuals as some of the sequences are spectacular and hyper-kinetic but others are just plain confusing. After seeing what was possible with computer animation with the stunning Final Fantasy it's a bit of a letdown, but it might be an unfair comparison considering the production's probable budget restrictions. On the plus side, the opening sequence is grand, giving it all an epic feel and, even if the story soon becomes rather trite and familiar after 15 confusing minutes, there are enough dynamic chases around the giant tree roots, fabulous creatures, and stalwart SF themes to keep it from being boring. Throwing in some familiar names for the voice acting like Dunst, Harris and Huston makes it a bit more respectable, too. All that said, audiences willing to forgive its forgettable plot and now-primitive graphics might get a kick out of this fast-paced and entirely watchable adventure yarn. 
Entertainment: 6/10

The Karate Kid (2010)
Starring: Jaden Smith, Jackie Chan, Taraji P. Henson
Director: Harald Zwart
Plot: Forced to relocate to Beijing with his single mother and facing bullying in his new school, a young American boy is taught kung fu by the most improbable master - his building's handy man.
Review: A remake of the popular 80's teen drama created as a vehicle for Will Smith's son Jaden, the new Karate Kid may have been a box office success, but it doesn't hold a candle to the original, a movie that older audiences remember fondly - it may not have aged well but it had heart, something sorely missing here. Though moving the events to China does provide some shots of a far more exotic locale than Detroit, the new story keeps the basic elements of the original tale intact - boy gets bullied, boy gets teacher, boy kicks ass. Thank globalization, perhaps, but the original pairing of Italian kid Ralph Macchio and aging Asian worker Pat Morita in the 1980's seemed to allow for a more interesting, un expected pairing than does Smith and Chan in 2010. Still, if the dialogue is flat, at least the rather silly training sequences are fun to watch, showing the only real chemistry between the two leads. The direction by Zwart (Agent Cody Banks, The Pink Panther 2) is workmanlike but knows to put its two leads in the forefront. Surprisingly, he also allows for a languorous exposition to set up the young boy's frustrations at being uprooted and eventually bullied, taking loads of opportunities to immerse one with a young American's impression of China. Unfortunately, the second-rate script also never misses a cliché, the emotions feel shallow, and the pacing ends up just making the film dull instead of dramatic. Which comes to the downright biggest failure of the film: Jaden Smith. Oh, he has the attitude, the right moves and his performance could have been worse (no, really) but the script was clearly written for an older actor, and it doesn't sit right with the petite Smith. The love story between the 12-year old and a young Chinese violinist feels forced (what, love at first sight?) and then feels icky, what with a ham-fisted flirtation. And when it reaches its climax in a fighting tournament, the predictable result is simply ludicrous. Thankfully, legendary martial artist and all-around entertainer Jackie Chan couldn't have been better cast as the kung-fu mentor (Chan even gets an action sequence beating off a gang of bullies - bonus!) and he breathes some life to the role - either that, or his fans are just happy to see him in just about any movie. Somehow this new Karate Kid has hit a chord with mainstream audiences, and it's occasionally endearing and never too insulting. It's faint praise, but perhaps that's enough for any Hollywood drama thrown into the summer season.
Entertainment: 5/10

Karmina (Quebec - 1996)
Starring: Isabelle Cyr, Robert Brouillette, Yves Pelletier
Director: Gabriel Pelletier
Plot: A young vampire escapes an arranged marriage and comes to her estranged Quebec aunt hoping to experience human love, but her fiancé is intent on getting her back.
Review: Created as a parody of vampire films, Karmina is a blend of goofy horror film and romantic comedy. The elements for a great spoof are all in place here, and it tries hard to be entertaining, but by following the most predictable path every time and playing it safe with both its romantic and undead themes, it doesn't rise above being another piece of fluff. The production and direction are ably done, with some decent attention to the look of the film and winks at past genre classics, including the good use of a low budget. There are the occasional dead moments, but the script is mostly lively and there are enough clever bits and funny moments (including a "remote control" boxing match between two ancient vampires), along with appropriately over-the-top acting from the vampire cast, to make this a pleasant enough diversion.
Comedy: 5/10

Kate & Leopold (2001)
Starring: Meg Ryan, Hugh Jackman, Liev Schreiber
Director: James Mangold
Plot: A dashing young 19th-century Duke ends up following a time-traveller into modern-day New York where he falls for a woman obsessed with her upcoming promotion to company vice-president.
Review: The filmmakers behind Kate & Leopold have tried for something different, perhaps, but this feels like a neat high-concept premise that just doesn't have anything else going for it. It starts off with a fine opening sequence, and sure, suspension of disbelief is usually required for the whole genre, but with the gaping plot holes and laissez-faire attitude, this ends up worse than most. The story seems adrift; there are some occasional interesting moments, but these are quickly passed on in favor of a predictable plot and mainstream conventions (the fish-out-of-water jokes, the commentary on working women, etc). The main problem, though, is that we can't quite figure out the real attraction between the two main characters here and, heck, the two leads have no chemistry together either, something that's the kiss of death for any romantic comedy. Jackman can play the suave gentleman charmer with his eyes closed, and that's what he seems to have done here; he's just fine in the role, but none of this material deserves anything better than that Ryan, however, is getting a little too old for the charming waif bit (a role she's beaten to death), and her eternally perky mood and pouty lips is bound to get on audiences' nerves. The supporting cast, usually the ones to get the most laughs, are mostly just obnoxious or irrelevant; the exception is Schreiber, a good actor who is slumming it here. There are too many cookie-cutter clichés and not enough laughs or tender moments to make this worthwhile, and that's too bad because Kate & Leopold could have been more than just passingly cute.
Entertainment: 4/10

Keeping the Faith (2000)
Starring: Edward Norton, Ben Stiller, Jenna Elfman
Director: Edward Norton
Plot: Two best friends, one a rabbi the other a priest, have their lives turned upside-down when they both fall in love with a childhood friend who's come back to the city to work as a high-powered executive.
Review: Keeping the Faith is just what a good comedy should be: charming, often amusing, and full of laugh-out-loud moments. True, the story idea seems like a great start for a bar joke, but this movie offers a lot more here than just a religious gags (though there are some good ones). The very heart of the film is a story about faith, religion, and friendship. Sure its presented like a version of "theology lite" but the film's way of handling these topics make them more accessible without getting into the complex issues. It's still lends food for thought, but not in any overbearing manner. There are a lot of romantic-genre clichés in here as well, of course, but they only add to the story instead of "being" the story. Even more than the romantic aspects of the film, it's the strange relationships that binds the three friends together that makes the film interesting and so enjoyable. It also helps that the three leads have great chemistry together. Some of it may feel a little generic, sure, but this first effort by Norton as director is a charming, lighthearted and thoroughly enjoyable romantic comedy.
Comedy: 8/10

Kick-Ass (2010)
Starring: Aaron Johnson, Nicolas Cage, Chloe Grace Moretz
Director: Matthew Vaughn
Plot: An unnoticed high schooler decides one day to become a super-hero despite his lack of powers or skills, and finds himself getting into more trouble than he can handle when he gets mixed up with a father-daughter duo out for revenge.
Review: A no-holds-barred, outside-the-Hollywood-system live-action adaptation of the graphic novel series from Mark Millar (of Wanted fame) and John Romita Jr., Kick-Ass lives up to its name and comes off like a Tarantino-inspired version of Spider-Man; intense, ultraviolent and darkly humorous. Or perhaps that should be The Dark Knight meets Superbad. Whatever, managing to find the right balance between realism and lunacy even as the script dives into multiple sub-plots, director Vaughn's (Layer Cake) first foray into the genre is a fine mix of comic-book clichés, secret identities, arch-villains, teenage angst, slapstick, colorful pop visuals and (of course) over-the-top action - and it's bloody good fun. The added dimensions to the characters makes the story work, and the cast is just right, too: As the titular character, Johnson defines the dorky, underdog comic-book geek. As the film's only true hero - despite his lack of powers, training or common sense - his transformation from ordinary to super is awkward, painful and prone to more ups and downs than you can shake a stick at. He's got more guts than brains, perhaps, but you can't help but root for him to survive another day. A creepy Cage fits in perfectly to the role of the revenge-driven ex-cop whose obsession with getting back to the villain who killed his wife has him meting out shotgun-blasting justice in a bat-suit with his young daughter in tow. As the precocious daughter, Moretz steals the show as the deadly, swearing, pony-tailed 11-year old Hit Girl whose The Matrix-level skills make short work of any criminal encounter. If there's a message in all of this, it will escape move viewers - other, perhaps, than follow your dreams and they may not get you where you expect, or that our internet-driven society is a bizarre one. And that's OK; what matters is that as a daring, entertaining send up of the too-serious super-hero genre, Kick-Ass delivers the goods.
Entertainment: 8/10

Kids From Shaolin 2, The (China - 1983)
Starring: Jet Li, Chia Hui Liu
Director: Xinyan Zhang
Plot: Two rivaling families, one with only sons and the other with only daughters, finally gang up to defeat a band of evil marauders. All the while, the sons are trying desperately to get their father and uncle married off but are confounded at every step by the daughters' paranoid father.
Review: The Kids From Shaolin is the movie that put martial-arts star Jet Li in the spotlight. As usual the plot is an excuse for good martial-arts set pieces with a lot of good-natured comedy thrown in. Not nearly as sophisticated as later Jet Li releases such as Once Upon a Time in China, but a lot of fun.
Action: 7/10
Entertainment: 7/10

Kikujiro (2000)
Starring: Takeshi Kitano, Yusuke Sekiguchi, Kayoko Kishimoto
Director: Takeshi Kitano
Plot: A rather simple-minded ex-gangster takes a neighboring woman's grandson on a trek through the countryside to find the boy's long departed mother.
Review: After his much-acclaimed Fireworks comes this low-key drama, yet another feather in writer / director / actor "Beat" Takeshi's cap. The whole story revolves around these two very different characters and the people they come into contact with. The relationship between the boy and the man evolves from that of forced guardian, to comrade, to father-figure, to friend in a manner that is never forced. In fact, the question of who is the child and who is the guardian even blurs occasionally. The situations, sometimes harsh and violent, occur in our world, but the events are portrayed as a child's recollection, indeed almost as a fantasy, all the more so when the boy dreams revealing a colorful theatrical dance that put his feelings into perspective. Takeshi himself does a wonderful job in portraying this socially inept, violent, but soft-hearted character, and the supporting cast is just as good. Enjoyable, inventive, and heart-warming, Kikujiro is a pleasant road-trip movie from one of Japan's favorite entertainers.
Drama: 8/10

Kill Bill Vol. 1 (2003)
Starring: Uma Thurman, Lucy Liu, Vivica A. Fox
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Plot: Attacked on her wedding day and left for dead, a female assassin wakes from a four year coma and swears revenge on her ex-partners and their leader, Bill.
Review: After a six-year hiatus, the 90's enfant-terrible director unleashes a dream project, his two-part Kill Bill. Mix in some old-style Bruce Lee kung-fu, modern-day Hong Kong wire-fu, Japanese exploitation and samurai films, Blaxploitation flicks and the inventiveness of Pulp Fiction, and what you get is one of the most exhilarating, visually stunning, kick-ass action flicks of the decade. From the very opening scene (which feels straight out from Tarantino's Reservoir Dogs), we know we're in good hands. Two minutes later when the first fight between two female assassins ensues we're left impressed. And it only gets better from there. From the chapter-based narrative, to the anime-style origin of Liu's Japanese underworld boss, it's an inventive ride into pop culture. Tarantino loves genre films, and it's obvious here: there are dozens upon dozens of winks and references to different flicks and shows, from the unexpected opening line credit to Uma's yellow gym outfit (from Bruce Lee's The Game of Death), to the groovy soundtrack, and more. The film's climactic battle, a wondrous, excessive half-hour gush of blood-letting, severed limbs, and intricately choreographed sword-fighting, is quite simply a tour-de-force. Add to this some slick cinematography, inventive style changes, and dynamic camera work and you've got a real winner. The star cast, including a wonderful Thurman, Liu and yes, Darryl Hannah with a patch, don't stretch their acting chops, but they look great. For fans, there's also a myriad of smaller roles by popular faces, including Sonny Chiba, the original Street Fighter. The real star, however, is writer / director Tarantino himself who gets a chance to bring all his favorite movies into one big glorious undertaking. Those who can enjoy such exuberant excess, definite black humor, and a penchant for ultra-violence will lap this up, and come out light-headed. Even at almost two hours, the film feels short and the cliffhanger ending ensures that we'll have to wait for the next installment to get the whole story. If there's one surprise, it's that the filmmaker's usually scintillating dialogue only makes rare appearances. This aside, both as an homage to '70s action flicks and a slick re-creation of the genre, Kill Bill Vol. 1 is simply damn entertaining.
Entertainment: 9/10

Kill Bill Vol. 2 (2004)
Starring: Uma Thurman, David Carradine, Darryl Hannah
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Plot: Attacked on her wedding day and left for dead, a former female assassin wakes from a four year coma and swears revenge on her ex-partners and their leader, Bill.
Review: Nowhere near as exuberant as the first installment, writer / director Tarantino (Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction) has toned down much of the delicious excess found in the first film yet has provided something just as rich in Kill Bill Vol. 2 - just very different in terms of story-telling. Where Vol. 1 was short on plot and big on violent, Vol. 2 fills out the missing details on the story and its participants. One way is the training sequence flashback - in faded, grainy film stock - as a great homage to the tacky, old-style kung-fu flicks from the 70's. There's also the homage to the spaghetti western, where short drags of perfect desert stillness (and major close-ups) are peppered by abrupt violence. Yet, apart from the terrific, bloody sword-fight within a tiny trailer against Darryl Hannah's one-eyed killer (the action highlight of the film) there are but a few action sequences to be had, including the impeccably choreographed (and all too abrupt) finale against Bill himself. The pace changes constantly, as does the choice of visual look for the film, but it works wonderfully here. Despite the slower pace and amount of dialogue it's all so intriguing and consistently engaging that the movie actually feels exceedingly short. It's all in the script, of course; the outcome may be predictable, but the events and re-actions never are and that's one of the things that make this so enjoyable. For one, Tarantino's knack for great dialogue, something mostly absent from Vol. 1, is in full force this time around. For two, the characters, and especially The Bride, are given real substance, each going against expectations. Of course, this is a Tarantino film and those caught unaware may find the whole affair mean-spirited or perverse (including a claustrophobic sequence in the dark, buried alive, among other things). Yet the director seems to have embodied a real sense of pathos and emotional depth in his ending - an added surprise. Thurman comes off perfectly in the role: she's equal parts bad-ass killer and vulnerable human being, showing a surprising physical dexterity as well as emotional range required. Carradine downplays his martial arts abilities and gets a chance to really act - here he comes out more than just a villain but as a loving father and a spurned lover while always retaining that hint of danger in his swagger. All said, Kill Bill Vol. 2 is a very different beast from its predecessor: it's still a revenge thriller but one that's more mature and complex. Those looking for more of the Asian wannabe gore-fest of Vol. 1 may be disappointed, but all those who love movies for movies sake will get a real treat.
Entertainment: 8/10

Killers (2010)
Starring: Ashton Kutcher, Katherine Heigl, Tom Selleck
Director: Robert Luketic
Plot: An insecure career woman still bound to her parents falls in love and marries the man of her dreams, only to realize he was an ex-CIA assassin when their neighbors - contract killers undercover for years - decide to take him out.
Review: An innocuous, mostly inoffensive action / comedy, Killers was made with the same cookie-cutter mold as The Bounty Hunter and countless other recent efforts meant to grab cash from non-discerning viewers. These modestly-budgeted, low-risk efforts seem to be the bread-and-butter of Hollywood: a blend of low-brow humor, easy-to-chew plot, self-conscious narrative and lots of hysterics. Some laid-back, pedestrian directing by Luketic (who did a better job at comic timing with Legally Blonde and drama with 21) doesn't help an already derivative, so-so script, but there's enough entertainment value to hold attention and get a few laughs. Sure, none of this really holds water, the humor is often forced, and the ending defies logic, but - somehow - it still manages to keep one's attention, even through the tepid action bits, tame and uninteresting even by comparison to standard TV. Thank the solid comic chemistry between Kushter and Heigl who infuse the film with enough verve to keep the light-hearted fare watchable; both of whom should definitely be working with material that delivers better than sitcom-level dialogue. Predictable, silly and completely forgettable, Killers is entertaining enough as a time-waster. Take that for what you will.
Entertainment: 5/10

Kindergarten Cop (1990)
Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Penelope Ann Miller, Pamela Reed
Director: Ivan Reitman
Plot: When his female partner gets sick, a tough city cop is forced to go undercover as a kindergarten teacher to get close to a drug kingpin's child but soon realizes he's in over his head dealing with the young charges.
Review: Another "high-concept" comedy affair from Hollywood, Kindergarten Cop is a light, amusing comedy for those knowing what to expect. The main selling point, of course, is seeing Schwarzenegger's transition to comedy. It may not be quite a stretch for the actor, but he does manage to play against his tough-guy image to great comic effect. The movie's best moments feature the imposing cop trying to control a classroom full of young kids to little effect. Here the comedy elements come out to be quite delightful thanks to a great cast of children actors and a script that plays to its lead's strengths and his surprising warmth. Those looking for some big-muscled action will be very disappointed as the crime elements are rather tame and bland compared to the star's previous features, and in fact only show up to provide a very anti-climactic showdown during the last few minutes of the film. On the same point, though the concept sounds like perfect family fare, there's a certain viciousness in the beginning and ending scenes that may make parents think twice. Though not up to his classics like Ghostbusters, director Reitman knows mainstream comedy, and here he's in good form. There's nothing particularly memorable in all these shenanigans perhaps, but the playfulness and obvious silliness of the set up, and the disparity between the life of a hard-nosed cop and the one he's forced to lead as a teacher is really milked to good effect. There's not much else to recommend the film, but for those looking for some light-hearted Hollywood comedy, Kindergarten Cop might be just the ticket.
Comedy: 6/10

The King and I (1956)
Starring: Deborah Kerr, Yul Brynner
Director: Walter Lang
Plot: In the mid-19th century, a widowed English woman comes to Siam to teach the King's many children and clashes with the strange customs and rules of the royal palace and its master.
Review: Extravagant production, lavish sets, beautiful silk costumes - everything exclaims big-budget musical and with the inclusion of some classic tunes including "Getting to Know You" and "Shall We Dance?", The King and I is a great adaptation of one of Rodgers and Hammerstein's best work. Unfortunately, the film owes too much to the stage, and the acting, musical numbers and staging are much too theatrical. Brynner's performance which actually won him an Oscar (made most famous for his uttering of "etc., etc. etc. and so forth"), comes out as over the top and ridiculous, a fate that Kerr thankfully avoids. More a sign of the times it was made than the times it portrays, the story of The King and I, loosely based on real events, is full of cultural elitism, showing the English teacher as a "civilized" influence against the oppressing and naive Siamese culture. Mind you, nobody watches a '50s musical for the acting or for the relevance of the story, and in the pageantry, colors, and musical numbers (especially the fantastic, inventive Siamese-inspired version of Uncle Tom's Cabin), The King and I delivers, though it does occasionally comes out a little bland. Recently remade as a pure drama, Anna and the King.
Entertainment: 6/10

The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters (2007)
Director: Seth Gordon
With: Steve Wiebe, Billy Mitchell, Walter Day
Plot: A documentary crew follows the exploits of Mike Wiebe, a humble video game player who wants to take on the title from the reigning Donkey Kong record-score holder.
Review: The first surprise in The King of Kong, a documentary following the confrontation between the world's two best Donkey Kong players, is that people are still playing the old arcade games of their youth - and taking the game (and the competition for high score) so seriously. The second, and better, surprise is that the movie is engaging, affecting and surprisingly candid; a film that has all the stuff you'd expect from a sports drama: rivalry, rebounds and social drama. It's a strange, disconcerting window into the geek world of competitive video gaming, a world where top scores in Pac Man, Centipede and others rule. In this world, Donkey Kong is the ultimate battleground for these "athletes" vying for superiority, recognition and bragging rights as the "best in the world". Tagged as the "Gamer of the Century", successful, slick-haired showboat Billy Mitchell has owned many of these classic games' high scores for 20 years. When his throne is threatened, he and his cohorts - an odd butch of eccentrics and nerds, self-proclaimed world guardians of these video scores - put the pressure on the would-be usurper, a modest, likable family man with an effacing personality whose sole aspiration is to be the best in just one thing. Sure, first-time director Gordon pushes the editing and footage to enhance the drama of this disparity, and it's quickly clear who we should be rooting for. It's all been caught on camera, and the inherent humor is ever present, but the filmmakers know enough never fall into mockery of their subjects, no matter how easy it may seem. In doing so, the film makes it into a surprisingly effective David and Goliath tale, a metaphor for the American Dream and what it takes to get there. Seeing these men in their early 40's taking it all so seriously, is scary enough, and the film makes it clear that for some this is an obsession, or worse, a matter of self-worth. Just as sad for Wiebe's young son, heard in the background of his father's record-breaking video-tape of a Kong game played in their garage, screaming for his dad to stop playing Kong and pay attention to him. With such a setup the final showdown is a dramatic let-down, as the two never go head-to-head, but the point has been made: The King of Kong is a slice of Americana commentary hidden away in a comic portrait of a geek world.
Documentary: 8/10

*Classic* King Kong (1933)
Starring: Fay Wray, Bruce Cabot, Robert Armstrong
Directors: Merian C. Cooper, Ernest B. Schoedsack
Plot: Stumbling upon an uncharted island, a movie crew must face prehistoric dangers to save their leading lady from a giant gorilla who has taken a shine to her.
Review: A revolution in both storytelling and special effects, King Kong has become the high mark on which all monster movies have been compared to since. Every aspect of the film raised the bar for early Hollywood blockbusters, from the score to the technical effects. The film was created as serious entertainment, full of ominous portents and an atmospheric set-up, and the beauty-and-the-beast drama is surprisingly convincing thanks in no small part to Fay Wray's performance, one that cemented her place in movie history. Sure, the dialogue is mostly corny and the acting theatrical, but there's definite magic here that still manages to capture the imagination. Indeed, that original sense of wonder and danger is still intact, especially once the amazingly expressive Kong makes his appearance. It also helps that the film moves along with great efficiency thanks to some solid editing and fluid action. And there's a stunning amount of adventure for your nickel, from the rescue attempt through the impenetrable jungle and Kong's fights with dinosaurs and giant snakes, to the unforgettable, roaring climax on top of the Empire State Building against the US Air Force, one of Hollywood cinema's most iconic images. The stop-motion creature and dual-screen effects were nothing short of miraculous at the time of the film's release and though they obviously look primitive 70 years later, they still hold up well. A classic monster picture that broke all the rules, King Kong is a cinematic experience that still grabs the attention and proves that good films never age.
Entertainment: 8/10

King Kong (1976)
Starring: Jeff Bridges, Charles Grodin, Jessica Lange
Director: John Guillermin
Plot: While searching for oil on an uncharted island, an oil executive and his crew come upon a giant gorilla who falls for a sexy young shipwreck survivor and ends up terrorizing Manhattan.
Review: King Kong - the big budgeted, modernized remake of the 1933 classic - is a familiar story of beauty and the beast which proved to be a certified blockbuster, but it's one that hasn't aged well - if it ever was good to begin with. Audiences looking for camp-classic cheesiness will be thrilled: the dialogue is terrible, the acting laughable, and the script so plodding it's a must to fast-forward. Yes, this is a product of the 70's with its talky scenes, long-winded set-up, misogynist attitude, and uncaring social themes. The production values are pretty good, and the cinematography is better than the film deserves. As for the effects, they were claimed to be state-of-the-art upon its release but they look terribly fake, especially the man-in-an-ape-suit sequences that are nowhere near convincing - the Japanese did it way better with Godzilla. Even the long-awaited climactic rampage through New York is lacking, and the final battle atop the then-new Twin Towers is devoid of energy. Apart from Kong (who gets off barely), all the characters are rather unsympathetic, from the floozy wannabe starlet and the hippie scientist to the capitalist jerk played to excess by Grodin. Lange, in her first role, was obviously picked for her looks and for being game to be undressed by a mechanical monkey hand - a far cry from the Academy nominee she would become. As for Bridges, he tries hard to keep it all serious but it's an uphill battle with this material. Worse, Bridges and Kong's relationship to Lange seems to be based solely on lust, and is utterly confounding. The filmmakers spend lots of time showing off the sexual attraction both hairy and hairless apes have for her, providing some cheap thrills for the young teens, but makes little sense - then again, that could be said for the rest of the film, too. In the end, there's little redeeming value to be found here except, perhaps, the curiosity of seeing a soon-to-be great actress in what amounts to an expensive exploitation film. If you want to watch a King Kong flick, stick to the original which was not only better paced and more interesting, it was also more compelling.
Entertainment: 3/10


King Kong (2005)
Starring: Naomi Watts, Adrien Brody, Jack Black
Director: Peter Jackson
Plot: Stumbling upon an uncharted island, a movie crew must face prehistoric dangers to save their leading lady from a giant gorilla who has taken a shine to her.
Review: Who would have thought that King Kong - the classic B&W creature feature already remade as a laughable, campy 70's feature - could be modernized and recreated into such a magnificent epic. Much as he did in his acclaimed The Lord of the Rings adaptation, director Jackson has given us a rich cinematic tale that will take audiences away into a different era and a dangerous, mysterious world. At over three hours (twice as long as the original) there are moments of self-indulgence, bits that could have been done without (including a monstrous bugs scene), but it's all so lovingly captured that none of it ever becomes tedious. The production values are also fantastic, and everything is presented on a grand scale, from the sublime recreation of New York City circa 1933 to the luscious, dusk-colored vistas of the jungle. There's comedy, pathos, thrills and real drama in this immaculate homage and the original 1933 version has expanded on the "beauty and the beast" friendship. Where he's most padded the film is in the thrilling - if a tad overlong - CGI-laden action sequences that have been executed in a way that could only have been dreamed of back then. There's a thundering dinosaur stampede, a thrilling battle between gorilla and T-Rexes, and a well-orchestrated rampage in New York that will make fans of the original giggle with glee. And wait until you see the climax on top of the Empire State Building! More than the action, however, the film seems interested in getting a strong emotional response out of its audience, and for that both female and CGI leads had to be convincing - and they are: Watts is simply radiant and her performance, full of sadness, carries the movie through its many quiet moments; as for Kong - finally makes an appearance, an hour in - he's a marvel to behold, the exquisite computer animation managing to create a believable character, a frightening, incredibly expressive and lonely beast. In the hands of these capable filmmakers what could have been a silly relationship between woman and ape takes on the aspects of a truly heart-felt, tragic romance. As for the two male leads, Brody is fine, if never getting a real chance to prove his mettle, but Black's comic abilities are distracting when he's required to be serious. Clever, vividly realized, and nothing less than spectacular this King Kong captures the imagination and lives up to its moniker as the Eighth Wonder of the World.
Entertainment: 9/10

King of the Children (China - 1987)
Starring: Chen Shaohua, Xie Yuan, Yang Xuewen
Director: Chen Kaige
Plot: Assigned by the Communist government to relocate and teach Chinese to children from the poor Yunnan province, a labourer with a low high school education uses unorthodox and unapproved methods to teach his students. 
Review: Director Chen Kaige (Farewell My Concubine) has produced a fine, almost nostalgic look at a place, a time, and a society we know little about. Using the classroom as its stage, it is an allegorical indictment of the Chinese Cultural Revolution of the 60's and 70's, where an impersonal government played with the lives of its people to disastrous results. But it is not a film on oppression; instead the film captures the social dynamics, the warmth of these people, most of whom are peasants, as they cope with everyday life. One wonders if these scenes were even rehearsed, it feels so natural! The atmospheric cinematography definitely helps the film as well, with frequent shots of the beautiful Chinese mountainsides covered in mist capturing the majesty reminiscent of popular Chinese landscape paintings. In the end, King of the Children seems almost timeless, and imbued with a mystical quality that makes it a pleasure to partake.
Drama: 8/10

The King is Dancing (Le Roi Danse) (France - 2000) 
Starring: Benoit Magimel, Boris Terral, Tcheky Karyo 
Director: Gerard Corbiau
Plot: A gifted, brash Italian composer becomes the court musician for the young Louis XIV, helping the French king's ambition to immortalize himself in the Arts and revitalize the country.
Review: The King is Dancing may be another in a long line of extravagant French period pieces, but thanks to director Corbiau (Farinelli) it's one that's more intriguing than the norm. The relationship between the king and the composer is the main focus of the film, from their conspirational camaraderie to their eventual falling out. But there are other interesting elements that add to the film's historical significance, from the king's appointment of Molière to create plays that would mock the values of his secular cohorts, to his cultural aspirations for his country, to the power the Arts had over the reign. Of course, there's also plenty of court intrigue and political manipulations, as the young king must face the conservative factions that surround his mother. Director Corbiau creates here another lavish period drama on the topic of music, with a fine script, sumptuous decors, refined costumes, and an attention to the minute details of the performances. Louis XIV enjoyed music and dancing, himself performing for the court, and the film's best moments are the lavish sequences of royal entertainment, with its refined choreography and brilliant exhibition. Despite a subject that might have been stuffy and banal, the film flows easily with just the right amount of humor, pathos, character development and "significance" to make for a lively production. Though the acting tends occasionally to the theatrical, the three leads are nonetheless superb and help accept some of the more melodramatic moments. Thanks to some wonderful production values and some solid acting, The King is Dancing is a film that deserves a second look.
Drama: 7/10

King Arthur (2004)
Starring: Clive Owen, Keira Knightley, Ioan Gruffudd
Director: Antoine Fuqua
Plot: In the last days of the Roman Empire's hold on the British Isles, a lone soldier and his knights are forced on a final quest to protect the future Pope which forces them to come face to face with the Saxon hordes.
Review: King Arthur, the latest big-budget epic to jump on the Gladiator band-wagon has the right intentions, but ends up being a sloppy, tedious and derivative mess. This isn't even a marginal retelling of the famous 15th century stories. Gone is all sense of mystery, the classic Arthur-Guinevere-Lancelot romantic triangle (in fact, the hint of romance comes off as absurd), the magic of Merlin, and even the grand quest for the Holy Grail. The only things that remain of the mythology are the character names and (for some odd reason) the round table. The film turns all this rich material into a brutally realistic tale about the end of the Roman Empire and the Saxon invasion. It's an interesting take on a little-known historical period, if not the legend, but to say this is "historically accurate" is highly inappropriate. Yet even forgetting its titular legend, the film fails to reach audiences even on an emotional or intellectual level. Though aptly executed, the opening and closing battles are long and repetitive and aren't really very exciting or up to its cinematic predecessors, going so far as feeling almost cartoonish. To be fair, there is one highlight, an exciting sequence when the Knights fight a battle of wits against the Saxon army over a frozen lake - filled with tension, it's a scene that seems at odds with the rest of the film. Thanks to some great cinematography that's too intensely awash in greens the land looks lush and the film glorious, but despite the obvious money that went into it, the production itself feels rather cheap and unfinished with a narrative and execution that reminds one of dated '50s Hollywood period epics. Director Fuqua has only made a single film worthy of note (that's Training Day) and has since shown that he just doesn't have the storytelling sense required for this or any genre. He does imagery well, but he just isn't comfortable with story and actors. As such, the cast seems to have little direction and just isn't convincing, which is a disservice to both leads who really do try their best with the bland material and awkward dialogue. As a final afront, the ending wedding scene feels tacked on and forced, but then so does most of the film. Though it remains watchable, this leaden King Arthur is lackluster at best.
Entertainment: 4/10


The Kingdom (2007)
Starring: Jamie Foxx, Jennifer Garner, Chris Cooper
Director: Peter Berg
Plot: A crack team of four FBI agents blackmail their way into a local Saudi Arabia investigation involving the vicious, deadly boming of an American compound.
Review: In terms of dramatic or thematic content, The Kingdom is more like Syriana-lite; audiences entering the film expecting a lesson on foreign policy, or a diatribe on US interference in the Middle-East, will be disappointed. However, those only expecting a mainstream action thriller with some added social / political context and exotic locale thrown in to the mix - a sort of veneer of the actual complexity at play - will be pleasantly surprised to get an effective vehicle with some added smarts. Though it tries too hard to stay middle-of-the-road in its political message (despite a greet historical intro), there's no denying the energy shown on the intense action sequences, and the breathless climactic act as the investigators shoot their way, commando-style, into the terrorist enclave to save of their own is worth the entire film. Director Berg (Friday Night Lights) balances all the satisfying action, CSI-like procedurals and cultural clash into a slick, gritty product that's thoroughly engaging, even as it cuts dramatic or logical corners. The script can't really escape the usual American jingoism, of course, and some familiar genre requirements, but thankfully there's no silly twist. The able cast may not be very convincing in their one-note roles as FBI experts but they make great movie characters - the cool leader (Foxx), the savvy explosives expert (a dynamic Cooper), the sexy but firm forensics doc (Garner) and the (unfortunately required for the course) wise-cracking analyst (Jason Bateman). Though the "good guys" win, there's no catharsis in the downer ending, an ending showing that we're not that different after all, and that the cycle of violence is not about to end. Sure, this is all a post-9/11 retribution fantasy, much like Rambo was for the Vietnam war, but this slight swerve into more serious issues beyond the usual action fare coming out of Hollywood makes The Kingdom special enough to merit a look.
Entertainment: 7/10

Kingdom of Heaven (2005)
Starring: Orlando Bloom, Eva Green, Jeremy Irons
Director: Ridley Scott
Plot: At the height of the Crusades in the 12th Century, a young blacksmith discovers his Noble lineage and travels to Christian-occupied Jerusalem where he gives an oath to protect the multi-cultural city from Muslim invasion.
Review: Recounting one short period of the long-running Crusades, the sumptuous-looking, shallow Kingdom of Heaven is a historical epic made to measure for audience consumption that delivers the thrills, but not the smarts required. Much like his own Gladiator, it's another well-conceived affair from director Scott (Blade Runner, Black Hawk Down), impeccably presented, visually spectacular, and always professionally shot. It also helps that the period details are superb, as is the set design, costumes and the exotic vistas bring us to another world. The warfare sequences are justifiably spectacular and there are some inventive moments that keep things interesting, especially the climactic siege of Jerusalem. Unfortunately, following the most recent bevy of similar CGI-enhanced battles from Troy to Lord of the Rings audiences now expect impressively-staged battles and huge deployments, and there's nothing really new brought to the table here. The real downside to all this remains the script, or perhaps the editing of the film: hell-bent on providing an entertaining, easy-to-digest summer blockbuster, the soul of the picture has somehow been lost. The setting is ripe for an exploration of the political and religious intrigue of such a place and time, yet what we get is only a shallow view of the dilemmas and forces at play - who were the Templars? what were the Christians' intentions in Jerusalem? what was the history behind the occupation? Even the message Scott intends to foist on audiences - the inherent parallel of current American policies in the Middle East versus those of European Christians of the past - is diluted in a politically correct mire: the Arabs are noble, the Christians are despicable, all the ethnic groups in Jerusalem manage to be united after a single speech. The acting, the character interactions and sentiments also feels too contemporary, and the characters are far too stereotypical (the holier-than-thou hero, the despicable war-monger villains), making this feel like a simpleton's guide to the era. Even the minor romantic interludes between Knight and Princess is an unnecessary distraction that adds nothing to the story or the characters. To be fair, the cast is quite competent, with stony-faced leading man Bloom looking the part if nothing else. Of note are Irons and Liam Neeson who bring an added depth to their personas and lift their scenes with true pathos. Thankfully, the workmanship involved still shines through, and - if one can't really take any of it seriously - the narrative remains mostly engaging throughout. All told, Kingdom of Heaven is another wonderful technical accomplishment from director Scott that's just great to look at - it's just too bad the script doesn't take any chances beyond the most basic Hollywood storytelling clichés.
Entertainment: 7/10

Kingdom of Heaven: Extended Director's Cut (2005)
Starring: Orlando Bloom, Eva Green, Jeremy Irons
Director: Ridley Scott
Plot: At the height of the Crusades in the 12th Century, a young blacksmith discovers his Noble lineage and travels to Christian-occupied Jerusalem where he gives an oath to protect the multi-cultural city from Muslim invasion.
Review: The extended "director's cut" of the grand, epic Crusades tale Kingdom of Heaven provides 40 minutes of additional story / footage that was excised from the original theatrical version to cut the running time, and it's a revelation. It now provides more political underpinning and explanation, additional sub-plots and backstory that gives the film much needed dramatic and sentimental impact to the events that unfold. With more definition and substance to the what and why behind all the film's great battles and pageantry, it makes for a much better film, one that truly takes us to a different time and place. What was a good starter about the politics, history of the region and the difficulties to get two cultures to meet in peace has become an excellent one. Even the parallels with current affairs is much more pronounced, and much more prominent. In terms of Scott's body of work, this version easily ranks to the level of Gladiator, and its unfortunate this cut wasn't originally shown as it would have definitely gathered some well-deserved Oscar nominations. Even for audiences who have already seen the film, this extended / original cut is a must.
Drama: 8/10

The King's Speech (2010)
Starring: Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush, Helena Bonham Carter, Guy Pearce
Director: Tom Hooper
Plot: The future King George VI struggles to overcome a terrible childhood stutter with the help of an eccentric speech therapist just as England prepares to go to war against Nazi Germany.
Review: A period drama based on real-life events, The King's Speech is the kind of modestly-budgeted British drama that you'd expect from the BBC and that screams "Oscar bait". Indeed, it seems to have all the right ingredients for it, for good and bad. The tale, based on the diaries of Lionel Logue (the actual therapist), gives depth and sentiment to a relationship with a King, which has its own audience (see The Queen). For one, the no-nonsense directing from Hooper is stiff and lacks pizzazz, but captures the right amount of decorum required of its subject. For two, the capable art direction and sets are well detailed, if uninspired. Third, the supporting cast is filled with classy actors from Bonham Carter and Guy Pearce to Michael Gambon, and it's a pity each is forced into seeming caricatures of their real selves to drive the point of the film. And finally - and most importantly - there's Firth and Rush. Wouldn't you know it - the two get together and in no time at all we're caught up in the dueling off-and-on relationship of Colin Firth - in an enthralling, truly Oscar-worthy performance - as the Royal Monarch struggling to overcome a psychological handicap and his lower class Australian speech therapist, played to easy perfection by Geoffrey Rush. The film is at its best when focusing on their sessions and their growing, unlikely friendship, yet flounders somewhat when setting up and detailing the political background that allowed the Prince to ascend to the throne. The portrait of the stodgy, aloof royal family makes its isolated, vulnerable central character all the more sympathetic, and the demands from government and public alike highlights the velvet cage he's caught inside of. The final act, as the King prepares to deliver his most important speech to the nation, is riveting indeed and ends the film on a high note. For all that, The King's Speech is odds-on favorite to win Best Picture; it may not deserve the honor, but it's a worthy nominee.
Drama: 7/10

Kinsey (2004)
Starring: Liam Neeson, Laura Linney, Peter Sarsgaard
Director: Bill Condon
Plot: A biology teacher specializing in insects creates a sensation in 1940's America when he embarks in a research to expose the sexual mores of the human animal to be compiled in book form.
Review: Based on the life of researcher Alfred Kinsey and the efforts leading to his ground-breaking work "Sexual Behavior in the Human Male", Kinsey explores both the man behind the phenomenon and society's mores of the time. A pioneer in the area of human sexuality research in a time where the subject was so taboo as to be unspoken and sorely misunderstood, Kinsey shook up society with his statistical approach to sexual behavior. The logic behind it, and the realization of the research itself as thousands of people are interviewed about the most intimate details, is engagingly done, a montage that explains the arduous process. Though the story remains mostly a series of highlights of his life, director Condon, who came to acclaim with his terrific drama Gods and Monsters, exposes the essence of another eccentric with subtlety and energy. He captures the fascination, drive and developing obsession of a scientist ahead of his time while allowing for some of his subject's very human failings. Though it's an obvious dramatized biography (one that side-steps many accusations regarding the methods used and data collected), the film also takes the opportunity to uncover the constant clash between science and morality; though some of the naiveté of the population in regards to sex might seem quaint to our modern perceptions, some of it is still a bit shocking, and all the more so to an unsuspecting American society. As Kinsey, Neeson does another great, multi-faceted performance and he is a standout here, providing a convincing turn to a difficult character. The rest of the cast, supporting and otherwise, is also just right, especially Sarsgaard as Kinsey's loyal assistant. As a window into a not-so-bygone era, Kinsey is an eye-opening document that has parallels in our own modern society; add to this Neeson in the lead and it becomes satisfying drama as well.
Drama: 7/10

Kippur (2000)
Starring: Liron Levo, Tomer Russo, Uri Ran Klauzner
Director: Amos Gitai
Plot: An Israeli reservist finds himself part of a helicopter-based medical rescue team enduring the horrors of the front lines during the Yom Kippur war of 1973.
Review: Based on actual events and experiences lived by director Gitai himself, Kippur is an anti-war movie by one of Israel's most internationally popular liberal voices. The film starts off with a very artistic and colorful beginning, as two lovers roll around white bed sheets amid o mixture of fresh multi-colored paints. Then it proceeds to introduce its two naive protagonists, young men full of ideals, who quickly realize that the conflict has turned everything into chaos. There is no exposition to be had apart from some bits and pieces of normal conversation. There's also no oratory, no acts of sheer heroism, no gung-ho camaraderie, nor any emotional flip-flops, as if the whole exercise is to show that even terror can be replaced by an overwhelming fatigue. Though Gitai keeps away from intimate portrayals and keeps the camera at a certain distance from his subjects, the actual suffering in the field is kept as the focus of attention. Beautifully filmed and technically well-executed, it captures the horror and helplessness of the front lines. But we already know that war is Hell, and that it's all meaningless, a theme Gitai tries to reinforce for what appears to be interminable scenes, making for a narrative that gets way too repetitive and (far worse) even boring. It may be realistic, but does it help put the point across any better? Unfortunately, no: it just feels redundant, something that isn't helped by Gitai's favored method of shooting long takes without dialogue. Still, if Kippur isn't quite an anti-war movie and never pronounces itself on the problems of the region, it is a vivid depiction of human beings dealing with the conflict as best they can.
Drama: 5/10

Kiss of the Dragon (2001)
Starring: Jet Li, Bridget Fonda, Tcheky Karyo
Director: Chris Nahon
Plot: A Beijing detective assigned to a case in Paris is framed for murder by a French inspector and ends up fighting against a conspiracy of dirty cops and drug-runners while trying to save an American prostitute who was witness to the killing.
Review: After a disappointing first foray into American films in Romeo Must Die, famed Hong Kong superstar Jet Li finally makes the breakout film that fans were expecting of him with Kiss of the Dragon - and it took a French director and French producer / screenwriter Luc Besson to make it happen. The story is rather clichéd and lacks any kind of surprise, but what's there is quite stylishly done and runs along nicely, with a loose plot that sees everyone running around an exotic looking Paris a lot and evidences Besson's penchant for sob stories as embodied in Fonda's effective hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold role. More importantly, the action is fast, brutal, and often spectacularly staged, putting Li's considerable skills to great use, be it fighting one-on-one against vicious, skilled opponents or pummeling a whole class of martial arts students. Gone are most of the extended wire-fu fights replaced by an efficient, well-choreographed and still inventive display of martial artistry thanks to the talents of another HK stalwart, Corey Yuen. As an added bonus, the film gives just enough screen time to prove that, even with his limited English, Li has definite charm and screen presence. Rounding out the leads is Karyo, giving a terrific scene-stealing, over-the-top performance as the violent dirty Paris inspector who is as ready to deliver some witty banter as he is of pounding someone to a bloody pulp. There isn't anything too original in here, but for a well-done, entertaining action flick Kiss of the Dragon is a must for veteran fans of Jet Li and for action aficionados as well.
Entertainment: 7/10

A Knight's Tale (2001)
Starring: Heath Ledger, Paul Bettany, Shannyn Sossamon
Director: Brian Helgeland
Plot: After the death of his master, a young squire puts up the charade of nobility, makes his reputation in jousting tournaments, and falls for a higher-class lass but must first defeat a new nemesis.
Review: With A Knight's Tale writer / director Helgelan (Payback) shows he knows how to push the right buttons in this a Cinderfella fairy-tale, a Medieval re-invention of the action film. All seriousness is thrown by the way-side, making it as much a comedy as an adventure flick, and it being intentionally anachronistic to the extreme at times (scenes of audiences doing the wave, clapping to Queen song "We Will Rock You", dancing to '80s tunes, etc.) only adds to the tongue-in-cheek fun. The production values are first-rate, if a little too clean and slick for the period, and the array of shining armor and magnificent horses racing at each other amidst the colorful pageantry makes for quite a show. Indeed, the many jousting scenes are rousing and energetic, if repetitive, and the glaring soundtrack readily puts us into the mood. Having a charming, handsome protagonist such as Ledger helps, of course, as does the amusing collection of characters, most notably the raunchy Bettany interpretation of Geoffrey Chaucer, the real-life bard, going along for the ride. There is the occasional melodrama to pad things up a bit, but there's nothing very original or memorable here, and the character interaction is clichéd and banal which is quite disappointing from the screenwriter of L.A. Confidential. Where it really fails, however, is in the romantic tangle: there's no chemistry between the leads, and the obvious modern PC attitudes just doesn't work here. Much of this could have been trimmed to make the film much more efficient in its thrills and adventures. Still, it's all pretty shallow stuff, but for summer entertainment, A Knight's Tale is a fun, fanciful change to the typical period or action flick.
Entertainment: 6/10

Knock Off (1998)
Starring: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Rob Schneider, Lela Rochon
Director: Tsui Hark
Plot: A playboy jean maker and self-proclaimed knock-off king suddenly finds himself in the middle of a dangerous plot involving the CIA, ex-KGB terrorists and miniature bombs.
Review: Partnering Van Damme and Sorvino may have seemed like a good idea (think Rush Hour), but it just doesn't work here. Tsui Hark (Peking Opera Blues, Once Upon a Time in China) is not on top of his usual form either, giving us a film that may have been a lot more entertaining if it had, in fact, been an HK production. Lots of money was spent on explosions, true, but the action seems forced. The action sequences are decent enough and Van Damme still kicks up a storm, but the silliness of the plot and situations, and the terrible acting by all involved, just makes the rest of the film hard to watch or swallow. The only good thing of the film is seeing HK actor Michael Wong as the tough Hong Kong cop. It's unfortunate, but Knock-Off ends up being just that: a bad knock-off of good Hong Kong films.
Action: 6/10
Entertainment: 3/10

K-Pax (2001)
Starring: Kevin Spacey, Jeff Bridges, Alfre Woodard
Director: Iain Softley
Plot: An institution psychiatrist is baffled and fascinated by a new patient who convincingly claims to be from another planet and who has managed to convince the other inmates.
Review: Director Softley, who more than proved himself with Wings of the Dove, takes a step back with this light-hearted melodrama that is more a showcase for its lead actors than a layered story on human characters. Part Starman, part One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest without the actual drama, the premise here is an intriguing one, having also been the basis of a 1986 Argentinean film Man Facing Southeast, with the story remaining ambiguous in its revelations and even in its ending, keeping us intrigued as to the mystery of Prot's true identity - friendly alien or disturbed patient? The script moves along well enough, is amusing enough and, though there are moments that drag on and others that feel preachy or uninspired, does manage to raise some interesting points along the way. Spacey, in a performance that doesn't really stretch his acting abilities, is still a joy to watch, stoic, innocent, with a witty banter and repartee that often brings a chuckle. Bridges has a less rewarding role, playing the straight man of the duo as he did in The Fisher King, but comes off as affable as always. The inmates are all of the rather friendly variety, and the quick way in which they are treated and cured by the Christ-like Prot smacks of the ridiculous and the condescending. Still, this is really a two-character movie, with the rest of the supporting cast acting more as filler to outline the story's theme of family unity. K-Pax is not a great film, perhaps, but with Spacey in fine form and some zippy dialogue, it will bring a smile to anyone's face.
Entertainment / Drama: 6/10

Kung Fu Hustle (Hong Kong - 2004)
Starring: Stephen Chow, Tsang Kang Cheong, Lola Huo
Director: Stephen Chow
Plot: While trying to bully the residents of an impoverished housing complex an aspiring gangster pretending to be a member of a notorious criminal organization gets into more trouble than he can handle when his victims show off some extraordinary martial powers.
Review: In what seems to be an insane combination, Kung Fu Hustle channels the Shaw Brothers, Buster Keaton, West Side Story and The Matrix into a film that delivers spell-binding action, riotous comedy and sentimentality in one improbable jumble of spectacular mirth. Where else could you see vicious mob types cruelly take on their enemies and then break into improbable dance routines replete with all the trappings of the best musical numbers? Writer / director / comic actor Chow has become a true superstar following the popularity of the SFX-laden sports comedy Shaolin Soccer, and here he ups the bar another notch. The visuals are terrific, the direction is slick, and the production values are simply top-notch making it a real showcase for modern Hong Kong films. The comedy may not be as evident as his previous efforts, but the spellbinding blend of martial arts, wire-work and computer animation - choreographed by fight masters Sammo Hung and Yuen Woo Ping - makes for some brilliant fantasy action. In fact, it's even more inventive, better staged and more high-flying than The Matrix Reloaded, the last high-point for this kind of fantasy wire-fu fare. Though the star, Chow doesn't really take center stage until the second half, allowing his cast of martial-arts veterans of the 1970's to impress a new generation of film-goers with their martial abilities. When Chow does appear, his amusing transformation from bumbling street hustler to a Bruce Lee with Neo-like abilities works magnificently. For sure, the plot is merely an excuse for the filmmakers to create a live-action Looney Tunes comedy whose thrilling set-pieces brings all the best moments of past HK flicks into the 21st century but with such imaginative fare, who can blame them? Frantic, funny, and immensely enjoyable Kung Fu Hustle is hands down the best action movie of the year. 
Entertainment: 9/10


Kung Fu Panda (2008)
Starring: Jack Black, Dustin Hoffman, Angelina Jolie
Directors: Mark Osborne, John Stevenson
Plot: A lazy, overweight Panda is unwittingly chosen to be trained in the martial arts to protect the Valley from a terrible, devastating enemy.
Review: As high-concept pitches go, Kung Fu Panda must have been an easy sell: mix in the usual computer-animated animals with the exotic allure of classic kung fu films and voila! Funny thing is, it's one of the most energetic CGI comedies to come out in a long time. Sure, the plot of the every-geek getting a chance at his dream isn't anything new, nor is the morality play of being true to one's self, nor is the familiar training-to-face-an-implacable-enemy plot. Yet it all gels together into an enjoyable, high-spirited affair thanks to a solid script and dialogue, some good-looking, finely stylized animation, a good dose of family-friendly comedy and a concentrated approach to the material. In fact, it's clear the filmmakers have a love for those beloved Hong Kong kung fu flicks of old, especially the ones by Jackie Chan and Stephen Chow, where comedy and superb martial arts choreography go hand in hand; that they manage to make it happen on screen with animated animals no less is the most pleasant of surprises. Be it during Po's valiant, but terrible, attempt at ingratiating himself to his expert teammates or his complete failure in the arduous trainings, the humor is perfectly suited. And as the action bits go, they're all loads of fun. A shame that apart from the inimitable Black as the face-stuffing panda (a role and material well suited to his approach), the rest of the A-list voice cast (including Jolie, Lucy Liu, Seth Rogen and - in appreciation for his craft - Chan himself) aren't very notable. The one exception is Hoffman as the not-so-Yoda-like Master who's at his wits end attempting to teach our couch-potato hero. Still, that's a minor quibble as the hilarious, climactic battle royale comes to a close on a goofy looking Po. This one's a keeper.
Entertainment: 8/10

Kung Fu Panda 2 (2011) 
Voices: Jack Black, Angelina Jolie, Gary Oldman
Director: Jennifer Yuh
Plot: Having joined a team of kung fu masters, a panda finds himself confronting a power-hungry peacock bent on conquering China, a peacock that may have clues as to the fate of his parents.
Review: Where the first movie was immersed in the martial arts lore of 70's kung fu films, along with the great training sequences, Kung Fu Panda 2 trades it all for more recent Hong Kong action fare, distilling the more popular elements of the original and gift-wrapping it in a non-stop action extravaganza. This new adventure finds our panda hero at ease with his newfound fame, friends and abilities, but seeking his roots - the plot involves the emotional angst of adoption, a quest for identity and inner peace; that's lots of material to cover, but interspersed as it is among the large, action set pieces, the drama gets lost. Indeed, it feels like a sequel; the impetus is for more grandiose villains (a vicious peacock aptly voiced by Gary Oldman), bigger stakes (the takeover of China and the end of kung fu) and more frenetic combat. The freshness and innocence that made the original such a success is less evident but, thankfully, the film is as slick and as polished an effort as can be made by a team of screenwriters, and with loads of action and story ideas, there's nary a dull moment. The computer animation is excellent, colorful and fluid; the fight choreography is strong and dynamic, and there's much more of it, culminating in a noteworthy battle against an army of invading ships armed with canons. The laughs once again come from the antics and behavior of our rotund hero; though it's now expected, the humor that comes from the naiveté of its protagonist is still at the forefront, and is perfectly captured by Jack Black's buoyant voice acting; his panda is both well-intentioned, talented and ridiculous. The supporting cast from the first film are back, but the Furious Five get short-changed this time around, and only Jolie's tigress gets any significant lines. Still, if it's just not quite as memorable - or re-watchable - as the original, Kung Fu Panda 2 is a very entertaining installment in the franchise.
Entertainment: 7/10

Home / Latest Reviews / Review Library
Now Playing / Coming Soon / BLOG / Top 20 Lists
Hong Kong Cinema!Film Fests / FAQ / Favorite Links