Asian Cinema Scene

Subtitle of the Week: "My kung fu skills aren't too bad, eh?" -- Donnie Yen in Ip Man.

This week's edition of Asian Cinema Scene includes capsule reviews of films that were recently released on DVD in Asia.

Departures Takes Off: Yojiro Takita's drama Departures, the Academy Award winner for Best Foreign-Language Film, was a popular success during its initial run in Japan last fall. It resurged in the wake of the Oscar victory, ascending to the top of the charts. Departures also swept the 32nd Annual Japanese Academy Awards two days before the Oscars. The director's follow-up film, Sanpei the Fisher Boy, is due for release later this month. [Sources: Screen Daily; Japan Times; Toronto J-Film Pow-Wow; Nippon Cinema.]

Ip Man Inspires: Biopics are always better with martial arts, aren't they? Highly respected Wing Chun master Ip Man (Donnie Yen) lives a comfortable life in Fo Shan, China, but after the Japanese invade in 1937, he is reduced to living with his wife and young son in abject poverty. He works humbly alongside his fellow countrymen in a coal factory until he is forced to use his martial arts skills to defend his country's honor against the Japanese.

Teaming again with director Wilson Yip (SPL, Flash Point), Yen is perfectly suited to play the stoic, peaceful man who refused to buckle under to imperial rule. Simon Yam plays a factory owner and Hiroyuki Ikeuchi embodies General Miura. The great Sammo Hung choreographed the action scenes, which are pretty terrific. I don't think it's a spoiler to say that Ip Man eventually counted Bruce Lee among his students. (Trailer embedded below.)

After the jump: Brief looks at Beast Stalker and Legendary Assassin -- plus trailer!

Beast Stalker Bloodies: A dark, tasty kidnapping drama, punctuated by brief bursts of action, forms the melodramatic heart of Dante Lam's Beast Stalker. Nicholas Tse turns in another good performance as Tong, a tough police captain haunted by blood on his hands. When a young girl is kidnapped right under his nose, he refuses to back off the case, even at the pleading of the girl's mother (Zhang Jing Chu), an attorney prosecuting the jailed crime boss who ordered the kidnapping. Nick Cheung plays Hung, the murderous child stealer who has his own emotionally-wrenching back story.

Beast Stalker fits in well with director Lam's earlier, grittier police flicks, like Beast Cops (co-directed with Gordon Chan) and Jiang Hu: The Triad Zone. Extravagant indulgences and all, this is why I love Hong Kong cinema. (Trailer can be watched in February 16 edition of Asian Cinema Scene.)

Legendary Assassin Throws Down: Martial arts star Wu Jing (SPL) makes his directorial debut with this briskly entertaining throwback to 80s Hong Kong B-movies. (Wu shares directing credit with Nicky Li, who, in turn, shares action choreography duties with Jack Wong.) Wu plays Bo, a Mainland Chinese man who travels to one of Hong Kong's outlying islands to kill a criminal kingpin. A typhoon warning strands Bo on the island, along with a vengeance-minded gang of the kingpin's men.

There's nothing particularly new or novel about Legendary Assassin as it brings its cheesy, predictable stew to a boil, but it's hard not to admire the efficient mixture of time-worn ingredients: wire fu, "meet cute" romance, and an extended, rain-soaked finale. With Celina Jade, Alex Fong, Noriko Aoyama, Lam Suet, and a satisfying cameo by Ken Lo. (Trailer embedded below.)