Film Review: Double Team (1997)

Also known as: The Colony
Release Date: April 4th, 1997
Directed by: Tsui Hark
Written by: Don Jakoby, Paul Mones
Music by: Gary Chang
Cast: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Dennis Rodman, Paul Freeman, Mickey Rourke

Mandalay Entertainment, Film Workshop, Columbia Pictures, 93 Minutes

Review:

“Offense gets the glory.” – Jack Quinn, “But defense wins the game.” – Yaz

This film came out just as Jean-Claude Van Damme was spiraling down into the lowest part of his career. His vehicles kept getting worse thanks to atrocious scripts and low box office turnouts. He’d soon be downgraded to having his films come out as “straight to video” releases where he’d remain until resurrecting his career with JCVD. This probably isn’t the worst film he’s done but it’s certainly pretty well down in the murky barrel.

This was also a starring vehicle for Dennis Rodman, who was a part of the Chicago Bulls second threepeat team when this was made and released. Rodman was a sports celebrity superstar but even his involvement couldn’t elevate this film into anything worthwhile. Granted, two decades later, it has become some weird novelty movie that happens to have Dennis Rodman and Jean-Claude Van Damme in it.

The film also stars Mickey Rourke and Paul Freeman. I feel bad for them being subjected to this massive turd but it’s directed by Tsui Hark, which on paper, makes this lineup of talent seem pretty damn good. Hark, a massive director in Hong Kong, just couldn’t cut the mustard in the United States but that’s probably because he aligned himself with the sinking ship that was Van Damme, as his two American films, both featured the actor. But maybe he was trying to follow John Woo’s lead, as that approach worked for him.

Double Team is a really hard movie to sit through, even at 90 minutes or so. It’s got deplorable editing, a script that would be better used as lining in a chicken coop, a nervous and awkward Dennis Rodman, Van Damme looking bored, Mickey Rourke looking depressed and Paul Freeman just looking around with a face that says, “WTF am I doing here?!”

Dennis Rodman’s acting career never took off and he followed this up with an even worse movie called Simon Sez. Switch out Jean-Claude Van Damme for Dane Cook and you can see how bad that film was.

Double Team is a pretty big offender and should be thrown into movie jail, if such a place exists. As is customary with pictures this bad, it must be run through the Cinespiria Shitometer. The results read, “Type 7 Stool: Watery, no solid pieces. Entirely Liquid.”

Rating: 3/10
Pairs well with: Not much, really… but I’d recommend watching it with Rodman’s other “classic” Simon Sez, if you want to torture yourself.

Film Review: The Killer (1989)

Release Date: July 6th, 1989 (Hong Kong)
Directed by: John Woo
Written by: John Woo
Music by: Lowell Lo
Cast: Chow Yun-fat, Danny Lee, Sally Yeh, Chu Kong, Kenneth Tsang, Shing Fui-On

Film Workshop, 110 Minutes

the-killer-1989Review:

I have been taking an online course in Hing Kong cinema. So of course John Woo would have to be a subject within the course. There are several of his films that are recommended for the section on him but I decided to watch The Killer. It is a film that I have heard a great deal of praise for, over the years. Also, I have seen a dozen or so of his movies but still hadn’t gotten my hands on this one. So I felt the need to rectify that.

The film stars long-time Woo collaborator Chow Yun-fat. He plays Ah Jong, a Triad assassin for fire. Philosophically, he only wants to kill bad men but that ideal is challenged throughout his career and when we meet him, he is a very conflicted man.

His internal battle is then compounded by his accidental injuring of a singer during a shootout in a restaurant. The woman is blinded and he feels tremendous guilt. He then shadows her, as a sort of protector, one night saving her from a couple of rapists. They develop a friendship but Ah Jong doesn’t reveal who he is. He then takes one final job. With the earnings of his final hit, he plans to pay for the woman’s surgery that can hopefully bring back her eyesight.

The mission is a setup however, and we end up seeing the conflicted hitman have to deal with the mess that is his life. Also being chased by a very vigilant cop, Ah Jong must put things right and find peace for his soul. The film climaxes with an awe-inspiring shootout at a church between Ah Jong, the cop and a massive gang of Triad killers.

The Killer, having just seen it once, has become my favorite John Woo movie up to this point. It has a heavy, philosophical plot and while the picture features an immense amount of violence, it also has a hefty helping of tenderness. The film finds itself in conflict, similar to what Ah Jong is going through. Woo perfectly embodies both aspects of this conflict visually and narratively.

Chow Yun-fat and Danny Lee also have the sort of chemistry that you don’t see in these types of films very often. While they have a natural rivalry with one being a criminal and one being a cop, there is a strong buddy connection. The way that connection plays out and evolves throughout the picture is fantastic. Two men from two different walks of life are able to unify, both blurring their own lines for the greater good.

I loved this film and it really made me want to watch more of John Woo’s older Hong Kong work.

Rating: 9/10

Film Review: The Butterfly Murders (1979)

Release Date: July 20th, 1979 (Hong Kong)
Directed by: Tsui Hark
Written by: Lam Chi-ming, Lam Fan
Cast: Lau Siu-ming, Michelle Yim

Seasonal Film Corporation, 88 Minutes

the_butterfly_murdersReview:

The Butterfly Murders has been a pretty elusive movie in the United States. Released in Hong Kong in 1979, it never really had a release in English speaking markets. Strangely, it appeared recently on Amazon Video for free for those with a Prime account.

I had heard about this film in books I’ve read throughout my life and from Hong Kong film fans I’ve known over the years. Most of them had French or German copies and couldn’t really decipher what was happening in the film and had to guess based off of the visuals. The version on Amazon Video is thankfully subtitled in English.

To start, The Butterfly Murders is an interesting picture and it is pretty different from the majority of Hong Kong martial arts films of its era. In fact, even though martial arts exists in the film, it is secondary. The movie follows the path of a mystery and a thriller more than a standard action flick. The change from the norm is refreshing, as I expected a classic Hong Kong action adventure.

The plot sees our heroes venture to an enemy fortress to find that no one is there – it is a ghost town. They soon meet a girl who they quickly discover was hiding in caves under the castle. As the story unfolds, we learn of a swarm of killer butterflies and the film feels as if it is a bit supernatural. It is discovered that there is some sort of conspiracy and the butterflies are controlled by someone. Eventually, we meet an evil assassin clad in impenetrable black armor, who bests the heroes throughout their encounters in the caves and in the castle.

The ending is pretty unexpected but the approach to make this film different than the standard Hong Kong martial arts fare, works well – from beginning to end. This is a very satisfying film and is visually pleasing despite mostly taking place in underground caverns.

The only major complaint, is that the real action doesn’t pick up until 55 minutes into this 88 minute picture. While I appreciate The Butterfly Murders for not being formulaic, it does get a bit slow around the middle.

There are a lot more positives than negatives, however. The direction and the acting are good, the action is top notch for its time and some of the fighting sequences were executed wonderfully.

The Butterfly Murders is a pretty cool film, worth checking out – especially for those who want to see something really unique out of 1970s Hong Kong.

Rating: 6/10