Be Kind

Everything Everywhere All at Once is a top contender for weirdest movie ever made. The directing duo Daniels was previously responsible for the equally bizarre Swiss Army Man. Everything Everywhere All at Once is just as independent, but it became a surprise hit for A24. The movie seemed to come out of nowhere, even with the Rosso Brothers attached as producers. I didn’t officially become interested until people started comparing it more favorably to Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. Can you believe it’s more strange than a movie with “Strange” in the title? The multiverse is a concept that’s been continuously exploited in the last few years. Everything from Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse to Rick and Morty. It’s hard to believe Daniels had their multiverse idea before either were released.

Everything Everywhere All at Once has already been called one of the greatest movies ever made, but I’ll be that one person who doesn’t completely understand why. It does check a lot of boxes in modern Hollywood. Everything Everywhere All at Once is told in 3 parts of the title. Everything is almost indistinguishable from a foreign film. Though intended for Jackie Chan, the lead works better with Michelle Yeoh as a struggling Chinese-American mother and wife who owns a laundromat. Evelyn Quan Wang feels like the biggest role of her career since she’s asked to do things I never expected to see from her. At first I didn’t recognize the actor playing Evelyn’s goofy husband Waymond, but that’s Short Round himself Ke Huy Quan making an unexpected comeback.

Can’t say I was surprised to see James Hong as Evelyn’s disapproving father since he’s literally in everything. You don’t have to be Asian to appreciate the movie, but I still can’t relate to a strained mother-daughter relationship. Newcomer Stephanie Hsu not so surprisingly plays Evelyn’s lesbian daughter Joy seeking acceptance. The few non-Asian cast members include Jenny Slate as a “Dog Mom” and Jamie Lee Curtis as an IRS inspector auditing the Wangs. All the multiverse stuff comes out of nowhere, but feels very reminiscent of The Matrix. Mostly because people from an “Alphaverse” are able to verse-jump in order to tap into other versions of themselves throughout the multiverse by doing something unusual. The unusual actions push the R rating a little too far into gross-out territory.

Evelyn discovers her full potential by tapping into a universe where she has badass martial arts skills. She uses it to fight the surprise villain Jobu Tupaki with limitless power who wants to destroy the multiverse. Evelyn tapping into too many universes is what leads to Everywhere. Everything Everywhere All at Once is a swirl of genres that does take advantage of the creative possibilities of a multiverse. But to avoid spoilers, I’m only going to say random things out of context. Googly eyes, movie star, racoon, Ratatouille, hot dog, fingers, rocks, piñata, anime, and everything bagel. I know the ending makes a majority of people cry, but I’m not crazy about the nihilistic tone. The message to “Be kind” does kind of save it. All at Once resolves every conflict no matter how absurd. Everything Everywhere All at Once isn’t always for me, but I can commend its commitment to originality.

Everything Everywhere All at Once

Evelyn does kung fu

Flawless Victory

Mortal Kombat (2021) got over a 2 decade absence from the big screen. While the 1995 Mortal Kombat was campy fun, the 1997 Annihilation was one of the worst movies ever made. The video game franchise remained incredibly popular when the reboot was stuck in development hell. When the 2021 movie was finally announced, my brother and I made sure to play Mortal Kombat (2011). Although it was simultaneously streamed on HBO Max, we saw it in theaters among like-minded fans. I’m not a diehard fan, but I do have more expectations. Since every game’s fatalities got progressively more violent, it was nice to know the movie would actually be R rated. It also meant a lower budget which is obvious when the movie doesn’t even include the titular tournament. Earthrealm or Outworld rarely feel grand despite the literal gods and monsters on display.

Costumes are grittier, but a little too detailed for my liking. Specifically the armoured look given to Scorpion and Sub-Zero. The movie begins with their bitter rivalry centuries in the past. Despite having the iconic catchphrase “Get over here!,” Scorpion and Sub-Zero speak Chinese and Japanese respectively. Mortal Kombat (2021) includes many important characters, but makes the idiotic decision to omit characters for the sake of being PC. Fan favorite Hollywood actor Johnny Cage is left out to leave room for Lewis Tan as original Asian American character Cole Young. There are literally dozens of characters on their roster yet they chose to make something up. I absolutely hate anything having to do with the character. Kitana is also left out, but Sonya Blade fills the void. She has a kind of pointless arc where she has to prove herself as a champion. Despite their attempt to keep the story Asian focused, Australian mercenary Kano is still the biggest scene stealer.

Former Jimmy Olsen Mehcad Brooks got jacked to play Jax and Raiden actor Tadanobu Asano already had experience with a thunder god. They could’ve once again made Liu Kang the star, but he spends more time training the others with Kung Lao’s help. Shang Tsu isn’t the imposing force he should be, but he gets the job done. His motley crew of enemy opponents consists of Mileena, Nitara, Reiko, Kabal, and Goro. The latter is obviously CGI, but the four-armed monster loses his menace when he has to fight Cole in a barn. The climax captures the spirit of the game, but there’s too much emphasis on Arcana. Scorpion and Sub-Zero have their final dual, but Scorpion’s revenge was done a lot better in the much more faithful hyper violent animated movie of the same name. The movie finishes with serious sequel baiting for an uncast Johnny Cage. Mortal Kombat (2021) is far from a “FATALITY,” but it’s barely a “FLAWLESS VICTORY” either.

Mortal Kombat

Liu Kang and Kung Lao ready to fight

Reboot of: Mortal Kombat (1995)

You Break My Record, Now I Break You

Bloodsport gave the “Muscles from Brussels” his big break. Jean-Claude Van Damme put all of his splits, high kicks, and tricks on display for the first time in this cheesy 80’s fighting flick. Bloodsport is a cult favorite that I was inspired to watch thanks to constant exposure to martial arts. Plus I haven’t seen enough action movies starring Van Damme. It doesn’t really matter how good of an actor he is. Frank Dux is a presumably Belgian soldier who learned ninjitsu from a wise sensei and uses it in a deadly Hong Kong fighting competition known as Kumite.

It sounds far fetched, but Frank Dux is a real person who claims everything in the movie is true. Frank’s only other conflicts are a pair of bumbling CID agents who want him back when he goes AWOL. The respectable Norman Burton and Forest Whitaker play the agents. The hulking Donald Gibb plays fellow American fighter Ray Jackson who befriends him and Leah Ayres plays the blonde reporter Janice who starts a last minute relationship with him.

Obviously the rest of the story isn’t as important as what happens in the Kumite. Bloodsport even popularized mixed martial arts. All fights are pretty awesome and accompanied by cheesy songs like “Fight to Survive.” Van Damme is crazy over-the-top, but not as crazy as his psychopathic rival Chong Li played by famous buff martial artist Bolo Yeung. Chong fights dirty until Frank gains the upper hand without having to see him. Bloodsport is badass.

Bloodsport

Frank Dux vs. Chong Li

Neither Silent, Nor Deadly

Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins is a blatant disregard for everything the silent ninja stands for. After the unexpected success of Bumblebee, a Snake Eyes prequel didn’t sound like a bad idea from Hasbro. He is the most popular G.I. Joe character after all. The problem is the franchise never having a strong foundation. However bad they may be, at least Transformers is relatively consistent. G.I. Joe only has 2 loosely connected live-action movies. Rather than follow a mysterious badass silent ninja with a cool black outfit, this Snake Eyes gladly shows his face, won’t shut up, and only wears his iconic suit for 24 seconds at the very end. Only true G.I. Joe fans will understand how wrong that is. It’s one of many reasons I think the movie bombed. The Pandemic notwithstanding.

Snake Eyes answers so many questions that nobody asked. His name came from a pair of dice, he learned to fight in a Japanese ninja clan, and no explanation is given for any of his other defining traits. Even though Ray Park was a perfectly capable martial artist, Henry Golding was probably cast to keep the cast mostly Asian. Most cast members are also martial artists. Even though director Robert Schwentke settles for intense shaky cam action. Making all ninja fights feel generic no matter who performs them. Snake Eyes is kind of a jerk with no personality seeking revenge for his father. G.I. Joe and Cobra Command practically come out of nowhere with only a handful of members present.

Storm Shadow is equally misused with Andrew Koji looking like a complete pushover named Tommy. He’s the heir to the Arashikage clan who’s more friend than foe. Until he randomly calls himself Storm Shadow at the very end. Baroness is a lot better with the appropriately foreign Úrsula Corberó in the part. A red haired Samara Weaving is also perfect as Scarlett, but she feels just as wasted in such a small part. Way more attention is given to original female ninja/love interest Akiko. Raid star Iko Uwais and 300 star Peter Mensah are present as Hard Master and Blind Master respectively, but their tests feel basic. Snakes Eyes must take a bowl of water, have a vision, and survive a pit of giant CGI snakes. The latter test embraces the supernatural element of the toy franchise. Yet a forgettable villain stealing a magical explosive jewel still comes out of nowhere. By the time Snake Eyes gains his ninja suit, I honestly felt nothing for what that meant. Snake Eyes is a reboot, a spin-off, and an origin story that nobody asked for.

Snake Eyes

Snake Eyes gears up

Horizontal, Vertical (水平垂直)

The Grandmaster is the more stylized approach to the Ip Man story. Although it’s a bit confusing, two seperate Ip Man movies were in production around 2008. A 2008 franchise starting one starring Donnie Yen and a 2013 standalone one starring Tony Leung Chiu-wai. I’ll always prefer Ip Man, but The Grandmaster did make me curious. I remember when it was nominated for 2 Oscars. Best Cinematography for Hong Kong director Wong Kar-wai’s beautiful, mostly slow motion backdrops. Best Costume Design for its decades long period setting.

Unlike Ip Man, The Grandmaster severely condenses his life. To the point that many events are explained in narration and/or text. There’s not too much focus on his wife or children, the Second Sino-Japanese War is quick, Ip Man’s Wing Chun martial arts school is in the background, and Bruce Lee is just a boy who appears close to the end. So the movie’s biggest strength is action. Most of it focused on Grandmaster Ip Man teaching the importance of martial arts. There are fights in the rain, in the snow, and by a train.

A conflict between the South and the North leads to him facing many grandmasters. Those fights are much more close quarters. Tony Leung is fine as Ip Man, but we don’t really get to know him. He’s more distinguishable by his white fedora. A lot of the focus actually switches to Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon actress Zhang Ziyi as Gong Er. She’s a Northern rival and possible mistress with a journey that takes up most of the film’s climax. The Grandmaster is artful, but not my preferred way to experience Ip Man.

The Grandmaster

Ip Man vs. Gong Er

The Student Becomes the Master (学生成为主人)

Ip Man 4: The Finale gave Grandmaster Ip Man a dignified send off. It was only a matter of time before this mostly biographical martial arts franchise came to an end. Donnie Yen returned one final time and gave it his all. After losing his wife, Ip Man is diagnosed with cancer in 1964. He fights through the pain and deliverers some of his fiercest Wing Chun. Danny Chan is a lot more prominent as Bruce Lee, but the movie still isn’t about him. Though he does have an awesome fight scene complete with nunchucks.

Lee invites Ip Man to San Francisco where most of the film takes place. So expect way more English than you’d expect from a Chinese production. The central theme is “father’s and their children.” Ip Man has a strained relationship with his son, but he still goes to America to find him a school. Tai Chi master Mr. Wan of the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association appears to be the villain, but this franchise always leads me astray. The real enemy is discrimination. Something Wan’s daughter Yonah faces from an annoying rival cheerleader.

Ip Man takes her under his wing and defends their way of life. He fights Chinese masters, school bullies, and a racist drill instructor. Lee’s student Hartman is a US Marine who’s Chinese kung fu is mocked by the karate proficient Barton Geddes played by martial artist Scott Atkins. Ip Man defeats his brash sensi when he comes to Chinatown, then teaches Geddes a brutal lesson. Ip Man 4 never loses sight of what’s important with a genuinely heartfelt tribute to Ip Man’s finest moments. Ending with world famous Bruce Lee at his grandmaster’s funeral. Ip Man 4: The Finale is an honorable end.

5. Ip Man 4

Ip Man prepares to fight

Preceded by: Ip Man 3

Another Master’s Path (另一个大师之路)

Master Z: Ip Man Legacy is a fine detour from the Ip Man story. Although produced by Donnie Yen, Master Z is all about rival Wing Chun master Cheung Tin-chi. He may be based on a real martial artist, but the story is more or less fictional. Max Zhang made such an impression in Ip Man 3, that he was given his own spin-off. One more concerned with stylized action than story. Not that Cheung isn’t an interesting martial artist who wants to put that life behind him.

He’s just trying to be a good father, but Cheung is roped into the violent world of organized crime. Something that brings him in contact with the lovely Julia, her business owning brother, and opium addicted friend. Both triads are ran by major celebrities. Martial arts legend Michelle Yeoh seems to be the villain, but Ms. Kwan is trying to legitimize her business. It’s really her brother making trouble in an illegal drug ring. Dave Bautista himself plays syndicate leader/restaurant owner Owen Davidson. Tony Jaa is also involved as a mysterious hired assassin.

Since action is more emphasized, all players get impressively over-the-top fights. Cheung faces several men on neon signs, fights with the surprisingly proficient Julia, matches skills with Yeoh, and has a brutal scuffle with Bautista. In the end, the real enemy is the increasingly annoying dirty cops controlled by the British. Master Z doesn’t add much to the Ip Man legacy, but awesome action is usually enough for me.

4. Master Z Ip Man Legacy

Cheung Tin-chi vs. Tso Ngan Kwan

Spin-Off of: Ip Man 3

Master vs. Master (大师对大师)

Ip Man 3 is probably the weakest in the franchise by default. Ip Man got so popular at this point, that telling a genuinely authentic biopic was no longer a top priority. Ip Man 3 is far more stylized with a PG-13 rating instead of the usual R. Several Ip Man movies sprang up between the second film’s release and Donnie Yen wasn’t keen on returning. Even though the Grandmaster of Wing Chun had so much story left to tell. Although it now takes place in 1959, I’m not sure how much of the movie is factually accurate anymore. Ip Man 3 deals with rising crime in Hong Kong.

The Chinese police officer from the second movie returns to assist Ip Man when a greedy foreign developer seeks his son’s school. You know you’ve achieved international fame when Mike Tyson himself wants to play the villain. It’s a little jarring, but Tyson’s boxing/martial arts match with Ip Man is a highlight. The rest of the action is on par with the previous films. Though it does seem to take more time to get to the cooler fights. Ip Man once again takes on over 10 thugs and has a close quarters fight in an elevator. Bruce Lee was originally a priority for Ip Man 3, but he’s still mostly a cameo whom Ip Man neither accepts, nor denies.

Fun fact: Danny Chan actually previously played Bruce Lee in a biographical Chinese TV series. The main theme is Ip Man’s relationship with his family. The most genuine part of the movie is Ip Man losing his wife. So his final obstacle ends up being a martial artist similar to himself. Based on Sum Nung, Zhang Jin effectively plays Ip Man’s friendly Wing Chun rival and fellow struggling father Cheung Tin-chi. They ultimately fight in an epic match to prove whose Wing Chun is superior. Zhang is so memorable that he ended up getting his own spin-off. Ip Man 3 does go more for style, but its substance isn’t without merit.

3. Ip Man 3

Ip Man vs. Cheung Tin-chi

Preceded by: Ip Man 2 & Followed by: Ip Man 4: The Finale

The Grandmaster’s Legend (宗师的传奇)

Ip Man 2 continues the legend of the grandmaster with a sequel that plays to the strengths of the original. The mostly true story of Master Ip Man was meant to focus on his famous tutelage of Bruce Lee, but it was too soon for that. Instead, Ip Man 2 closely follows Ip Man’s family after they’ve survived the Japanese occupation of Foshan. Although less grim than the first movie, Ip Man 2 has far greater character drama. While at the same time increasing the martial arts action tenfold. Fortunately Donnie Yen is excellent at conveying both.

Ip Man 2 begins in 1950 Hong Kong where Ip Man takes care of his pregnant wife and struggles to open his own school for Wing Chun. His most eager student is the impulsive Leung who slowly learns the importance of kung fu. The only other returning characters are his savior Chow becoming a sad beggar and his former rival Jin turning his life around. Fighting is still the star of the franchise with even more awesome fights between expert martial artists. Ip Man teaches his potential students a lesson and defends himself against a horde of rival students.

Fellow martial arts legend Sammo Hung plays Master Hung. Although presented as the villain, Hung is just a struggling family man with a big ego. Their best fight is on an unstable table top. The true enemy is British colonialism. The final act practically turns into Rocky IV with an East meets West boxing match between English speaking foreign devils. Hung and Ip Man separately face the brash Twister played by English stuntman Darren Shahlavi. Their ring matches are intense, but Ip Man prevails and offers a message of peace. Only a last minute scene alludes to the future with a 10 year old Bruce Lee confidently seeking Ip Man’s training. Ip Man 2 ups the stakes and increases the excitement.

2. Ip Man 2

Ip Man vs. The Twister

Preceded by: Ip Man & Followed by: Ip Man 3

The Great Master (伟大的大师)

Ip Man is an awesome display of masterful martial arts action. Just as influential as Bruce Lee is the man who taught him. Master Ip Man (or Yip Man) was a Chinese martial arts grandmaster of Wing Chun. Many Hong Kong filmmakers wanted to make a biopic, but the 2008 Ip Man beat them all to the finish line. I’ve heard of Ip Man, but foreign films are rarely on my radar. It was really a co-worker of mine who encouraged me to watch it. Ip Man was so cool that I had to backtrack just to experience the Bruce Lee collection. Only then did I fully appreciate the original master. Expert martial artist Donnie Yen is an absolute spectacle as Master Ip Man. He’s both humble and fierce when he needs to be.

Although based on a true story, Ip Man is meant to be a stylized kung fu flick. The beginning is a lot lighter with Ip Man as a wealthy family man who accepts challenges behind closed doors. His wife Cheung Wing-sing is depicted along with their son Ip Chun. We also meet Ip Man’s close friend Chow who owns a cotton mill, bickering brothers Lin & Yaun, and police officer Li. All of whom respect Foshan martial arts and Ip Man’s coveted skills. A sudden dark turn brings Ip Man into the practically colorless reality of the 1937 Second Sino-Japanese War. His family faces great hardships, but Wing Chun isn’t as useless as he thinks.

Action is the real star of the movie. Ip Man fights with precision strength, rapid punches, and effective kicks. The first duel between local master Liu is a perfect opener. The second duel between cocky martial artist Jin is humorous, but he does return to bully Foshan later on. Leading to Ip Man training cotton mill employees to defend themselves. The true enemy is the ruthless martial arts obsessed Japanese General Miura and his more sadistic second-in-command. Ip Man defends the Chinese people in a final public duel against Miura, but easily the best fight is Ip Man confidentially defeating 10 men in a dojo. Ip Man hints at the grandmasters later life and Bruce Lee, but the movie is just as accomplished with his action-packed early years.

Ip Man

Ip Man prepares to fight

Followed by: Ip Man 2