FIGHTING SPIRIT FILM FESTIVAL
The first of hopefully many such festivals to come, The Fighting Spirit Film Festival was held at the O2 Arena in London. The Festival's director, Soo Cole, had wanted to present a programme which would satisfy seasoned martial arts film fans and newbies alike, and I think she's been largely successful in that regard. The Festival, co-produced by Fighters Inc, consisted of three main features: Kung Fu Panda 3, Drunken Master and Ip Man 3. There were also five short documentary fims and seven short fiction films, and in addition to that were live martial arts demonstrations in the main foyer area. You can read our review of Ip Man 3 here and as the festival was being shown on the same day as Eastern Heroes were hosting a Bruce Lee convention, I missed Kung Fu Panda 3 to go watch a documentary on famed Hapkido master, Ing-Sik Whang, who starred opposite both Bruce Lee (The Way of the Dragon) and Jackie Chan (The Young Master)...so here is a run-down of what I did manage to catch at the festival:
First up was a selection of short films, which I shall run through. I've been pretty brief in my summation of these films, partly due to their length but also in the hope that you will seek them out for yourselves:
1000 Londoners - As the title suggests, this is a project to showcase the lives of 1000 people living in London and to show the huge diversity of lifestyles and cultures within our Capital. From this, five short films were shown as they tied into the ethos of the festival: Yanzi, 34th Generation Shaolin Kung Fu master training in Tufnell Park; Alan Lee Travis, a Champion of LDN Wrestling; John Jasinski, a Polish immigrant taking on his first professional cage fight in Whitechapel, Ryan Hart, a pro Street Fighter gamer for Team Dignitas and Paulo Muhongo, Angola's first gold medalist in boxing, now a successful coach. Each of these were less than five minutes long and each provided a fascinating insight into these people's lives. I found the Yanzi film the most striking, shot in black and white and filmed in the most rundown training facility with equipment which really looked like it had been through some serious battles. Special mention must also go to the wrestler Alan Lee Travis's segment, which was almost like a Christopher Guest comedy.
Directed by: Matt Routledge
Starring: Daniel O'Neill
Bangkok Adrenaline's Daniel O'Neil stars as the eponymous fixer, hired to quickly deliver a mysterious briefcase. Some great cinematography and action choreography is on show here, definitely leaving you wanting more of Mr Fixer!
Directed by: Gregory Humphries
Starring: Jane Elsmore, James Unsworth, Linda Louise Duan
Jax Sumarita is a spy having a bad time of it as her spy partners keep mysteriously disappearing. Out of desperation, her bosses hire three actors to pretend to be spies - with disastrous results!
This actually felt like a sketch from the Edinburgh Fringe, a parody of action films with people with little knowledge of actual screen fighting. Considering this, its a shame that the fights go on for as long as they do, as the script is actually quite witty and funny.
Tengu - Birdmen of the Mountains
Directed by: Samuel Smith
Starring: David Cheung, Lauren Clinch, Brandon Ly
Set in Shogun-era Japan, a renegade Samurai, his wife and son try to survive living in the forest, away from civilization. However the forest is also home to a band of bird mask-wearing savages known as Tengu.
For the most part this is an excellent, atmospheric folktale - until the fighting starts, and everything gets lost - the camera work is either too close or too kinetic to give these scenes the clarity they deserve. Everything else about the film works, however, especially the gut-punch ending.
Wrath of God
Directed by: David Newton
Starring: Lawrence Patrick, Olivia Jewson, Ian Pead, Ryan Stuart
A priest must decide whether a young woman is ready to be empowered with the Wrath of God in order to defeat the powers of Darkness.
This plays like a "proof of concept" film, with impressive production design and promising a more fleshed out story than what it can deliver in a short period of time. It certainly has potential.
The Real Target
Directed by: David Cheung
Starring: David Cheung, Yolanda Lynes
The Kung Fu Couple - two masked vigilantes - are having an evening of Netflix and Chill in their London flat, when a small argument develops from a minor bickering to a deadly encounter.
This is a great little film, showcasing two very talented performers. The part with the popcorn in particular is pretty excellent as both use some sly moves to try to prevent the other from eating.
Directed by Ross Boyask
Starring: Cengis Dervis, Cheryl Burniston, Greg Burridge, Ben X Bodecker
A young woman called Jackie is tied to a chair in a basement, beaten and tormented by three attackers. Will she manage to escape to save the ones she loves?
This film has a strong visual style, and probably the hardest hitting fight scenes of all the films shown (as good as the rest are, they are very bloodless affairs!). You will wince with every punch, kick, body slam going here. Cheryl Burniston, who plays Jackie, is a very diminutive figure, especially compared to her attackers but even so you can actually believe that her wits and speed are enough to help her take them on. Not only that but this film contains one of the best about-turns of any film I've seen.
Directed by: Chris Chung
Starring: Aaron Ly, Wai Wong, Alan Low, Bruce Chong, Ling Whye Hang, Jing Lang
A detective, deep in hostile territory, must use all of his martial arts skills to arrest a notorious criminal.
This was the best of the films shown, for me. This film has a humorous slant on the whole martial arts genre but nevertheless its choreographed, shot and edited to perfection. This was accompanied by a short trailer for another film by Chris Chung called Soho Jimbo, and on the strength of that trailer and this short, I cannot wait to see more of his work.
Directed by: Yuen Woo Ping
Starring: Jackie Chan, Siu Tin Yuen, Jang Lee Hwang
This was a special treat for me, a chance to see a Jackie Chan classic on the big screen!
This, along with Snake in the Eagle's Shadow, was the film that helped Jackie step from behind Bruce Lee's shadow for good, developing his own style of film, which relied heavily on his ability for knockabout comedy as well as amazing stunt work and physical ability. In the film, he plays a young version of Wong Fei Hong (the same character Jet Li played in the Once Upon A Time in China film series). Rather than being the upstanding citizen he will eventually become, Jackie subverts the persona into a selfish, arrogant fool who constantly gets into fights and other scrapes. His father eventually has enough and sends him to train with his uncle, known for his cruel and dangerous teaching methods. After getting into one fight he couldn't win however, Wong finally stops resisting and starts learning.
The print was very good, however the version shown was the dubbed version rather than the subtitled one. I expect this was to make the film as accessible to as many people as possible. As it was, the dubbed dialogue was pretty funny and made Jackie's character (called Frankie, even though he's meant to be Wong Fei Hong) seem even more boorish and arrogant.
The training and fight sequences are excellent and its easy to see how this film became such a runaway hit in Hong Kong when it was first released. The physical abilities of Jackie Chan in this film are just amazing - watching him filling buckets with water while hanging upside down, or having to stand in horse-riding stance while balancing cups of boiling water, are simply awesome. And that's all before he learns the style of drunken kung fu boxing!
VERDICT OF THE DAY
With three features that represent different eras and facets of the genre, and the short films showcasing the future talent (especially English talent), the Fighting Spirit Film Festival achieved what it set out to do and I look forward to going to many more in the future.