Tag Archive: Lewis Tan


Review by C.J. Bunce

At one level you know exactly what to expect when you select a movie based on a video game.  Any film worth its production costs needs to bring general audiences into the world, the director and writers need to then build that world, establish heroes, fight battles, provide over-the-top action and effects, and the hero(es) must achieve some kind of goal.  The stakes are high, often the fate of the entire world.  And that rarely leaves room for character development.  Entries include Tomb Raider, Assassin’s Creed, Resident Evil, Warcraft, Monster Hunter, Prince of Persia, Rampage, Sonic the Hedgehog, and a slew of Pokémon movies, and they go back decades to the original concept film Tron, which had a video game at its center that players didn’t get to play until after the movie.  Lesser rated entries include movies like Hitman, Max Payne, Doom, Street Fighter, and In the Name of the King.

This year’s big-budget release Mortal Kombat, both a remake and a reboot and adaptation of a series of martial arts fantasy games going back to 1992, leans heavily into Asian action movie culture.  It arrives in a growing marketplace for API and AAPI films, in a year including Raya and the Last Dragon, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, and Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins.  

So where does Mortal Kombat land in comparison?

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It’s a question that goes back to Doom, if not before:  Why make movie adaptations of video games?  Easy answer:  “Why not?”  Or “easy money.”  So why are so many so lackluster, in story, and often in production values?  The triumphs mark the exceptions, from Tron and Tron: Legacy to the Resident Evil series, and a fine enough effort by Angelina Jolie and Alicia Vikander in two efforts to get a Tomb Raider film series to take hold, for starters.  Then there’s Assassin’s Creed, Warcraft, Street Fighter, Wing Commander, and worse (at least Prince of Persia: Sands of Time had some fun in it).  Often listed among the worst of them all is 1995’s Mortal Kombat, a film that couldn’t be saved even by casting Cary Hiroyuki-Tagawa as the charismatic villain or casting an ex-Bond girl (Talisa Soto).  It’s those same characters and apparently plot that will get a retry this spring with the big-screen reboot Mortal KombatHowever this movie features leads of the stellar martial arts marvels The Night Comes for Us and Wu Assassins, and the special effects are light years ahead of the prior films.  Check out the first trailer for the movie below.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Start with the obvious comparison: Marvel’s Iron Fist.  If you were disappointed with that series, get ready for what you probably wanted.  It’s called Wu Assassins, and the ten episodes of the new direct-to-Netflix series arrived late this past summer.  Wu Assassins weaves so much into its ten very different chapters of its storytelling, you’ll quickly find it’s not only an American attempt at a wuxia martial arts heroes show–it bends the genre into a supernatural, urban fantasy story with characters on the brink of their unique brand of apocalypse, with several Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Grimm parallels.  And lots of lots of great hand-to-hand fight scenes.  This may not measure up to being the next Buffy or a top Chinese tale like Legend of the Condor Heroes, but as a watch-alike, it far surpasses the Buffy spinoff Angel, as well as most of the Marvel Netflix series.  If Netflix can pull together series like Wu Assassins, especially with absolute writing freedom and without the need to rely on some existing brand like DC or Marvel (or anything Disney), then its future is secured.

The world of Wu Assassins begins in our world today, as we meet Kai Jin, played by 36-year-old Indonesian actor and burgeoning martial arts pro, stuntman, and fight choreographer Iko Uwais.  Kai is a young master chef who wants to own his own food cart in San Francisco’s Chinatown.  This is a Chosen One story, and Kai is introduced to a world where the Chinese philosophy of wuxing is interpreted to rely on human masters of the elements of this world (wood, fire, earth, metal, and water) who can exist both in this realm and a supernatural otherworld.  In the middle of an already difficult life, Kai is tapped as the Wu Assassin and he is told by a bellwether and instructor from the otherworld named Ying Ying, played by Celia Au (Lodge 49, Iron Fist, Gotham), that he must kill the Fire Wu, who just happens to be Kai’s adoptive father, known by most as Uncle Six.  He’s not just any dad, as Uncle Six, played masterfully by the scene stealing Byron Mann (The Expanse, Arrow, Smallville, Dark Angel), is also the head of the Chinese crime family, the Triads.

Kai’s Buffy-esque band of friends includes a restaurant owner named Jenny Wah (Li Jun Li, The Exorcist, Quantico), her drug-adled brother Tommy (Lawrence Kao, Sleepy Hollow, The Walking Dead), and Kai’s oldest friend Lu Xin (Lewis Tan, Iron Fist, Deadpool 2), who is a suave up-and-coming thief of high-end cars.  Spliced into the story is a San Francisco cop played by The Vikings queen Katheryn Winnick, a badass on a motorcycle who knows her own street fighting and inadvertently witnesses the magic of the otherworld while undercover trying to bust gang activity at China Basin.  These lead characters are just the beginning, as the series packs in a few seasons’ worth of ideas, and all of it is great fun.

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