I rented a coupla Asian-themed action flicks and figured I’d review ‘em together. Here’s what I watched!
I would have been out-of-my-mind-excited for this were it 1996. Jackie Chan and Arnold Schwarzenegger in the same movie! Is it Christmas?!!! “Iron Mask” (now available on DVD, Blu-ray and VOD) isn’t the first time Arnie and Jackie have appeared on screen together – both were in frequent Adam Sandler collaborator Frank Coraci’s misguided 2004 adaptation of Jules Verne’s “Around the World in 80 Days” as well as the James Cameron-executive produced dietary documentary “The Game Changers” … not to mention “Entertainment Tonight” coverage anytime a Planet Hollywood opened in the ‘90s.
“Iron Mask” begins terribly, gets entertaining for a while, coasts on crud for a bit and concludes strongly. Chan and Schwarzenegger actually have an awesome fight sequence fairly early on that’s worth the price of admission alone … then they promptly disappear until the finale. The crux of the plot concerns cartographer and scientist Jonathan Green (Guy Ritchie and Matthew Vaughn regular Jason Flemyng) being released from a prison overseen by Arnie’s James Hook. Green’s been dispatched by Peter the Great (Yuri Kolokolnikov of “The Americans” and “Game of Thrones”) to map the Russian Far East. Green travels to China alongside Cheng Lan (Yao Xingtong), who he thinks is a guy. Turns out he’s not only a she – she’s also a Princess. It also turns out Peter’s a prisoner too (he’s sporting the titular “Iron Mask”) and his celly is Lan’s father Master (Chan). Peter busts out of the clink and teams with Green’s fiancée Miss Dudley (Anna Churina) and a motley crew of pirates fronted by Captain (Martin Klebba, who essayed a similar role in the “Pirates of the Caribbean” pictures) to assist Green and Lan in overthrowing Witch (Ma Li), who’s assumed Lan’s identity and ruled over her people tyrannically.
“Iron Mask” is one weird-ass movie. It has more production companies and producers involved than I even know existed. The late Rutger Hauer pops up for literally 30 seconds. Charles Dance appears for a minute and a half – maybe two? (“Last Action Hero” reunion!) I’m not entirely sure who this picture was made for? It’s too boring for children and too childish for adults. Wait, I know … it was made for foreign audiences! It was obviously shot in or post-converted to 3D as shit kept getting shoved in my face, but the Blu-ray I rented wasn’t presented in that format. I did dig Witch’s minions who give off a combined vibe of Thunder, Rain and Lightning from “Big Trouble in Little China,” Super Shredder from “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze” and The Mountain from “Game of Thrones.” The proceedings have a strange “Power Rangers” only historical bent to them. “Iron Mask” AKA “Journey to China: The Mystery of Iron Mask” AKA “Viy 2: Journey to China” is a sequel to the 2014 Russian movie “Viy” AKA “Forbidden Empire” AKA “Forbidden Kingdom” (no, not the Chan/Jet Li joint from 2008), which I didn’t even know existed prior to watching this one. That movie was directed by Oleg Stepchenko, who returns for this installment. “Iron Mask” has more Russian and Chinese money and influence in it than an American presidential election does. Just because I couldn’t totally makes heads or tails out of it doesn’t mean it wasn’t at least mildly enjoyable.
Train to Busan Presents: Peninsula:
Many folks have ripped on “Train to Busan Presents: Peninsula” (now available on 4K UHD, Blu-ray, DVD, VOD and streaming on Shudder in early 2021) for not having the claustrophobic thrills nor emotional heft of its predecessor … guilty on all counts. What “Peninsula” does have however is greater scope and more/better action (car chases and gunfights as opposed to hand-to-hand combat). I loved “Train to Busan.” I like “Peninsula.”
Despite being co-written and directed by the first picture’s helmer Yeon Sang-ho and being touted as a direct sequel – viewers don’t necessarily need to have seen the first film to enjoy the second – but I’d recommend doing so as it’s the better of the two. We’re still in South Korea, it’s four years later and the only returning characters are the zombies themselves.
South Korean expats living as outcasts in Hong Kong are tasked with returning home to retrieve money for a criminal element. They are led by Jung Seok (Gang Dong-won), a soldier who experienced great loss in the initial outbreak. South Korea has changed greatly since their departure – it’s now a fully post-apocalyptic hellscape. The job hits a snag when it’s thwarted by Sergeant Hwang (Kim Min-jae) and his men, who are just as monstrous as the zombies who’ve wiped out humanity. Jung Seok is able to escape with his life when he’s rescued by a pair of sisters Jooni (Lee Re) and Yu Jin (Lee Ye-won) in an SUV. The girls take him home where he meets their mother Min Jung (Lee Jung-hyun) and grandfather Old Man KIM (Kwon Hae-hyo). Jung Seok teams with the family to infiltrate the military base, retrieve the money and gain passage off the titular peninsula, but they’ll have to get through Captain Seo (Koo Gyo-hwan) in order to achieve their goals.
“Peninsula” isn’t as intimate, quiet or emotionally affecting as its predecessor nor does it have performances as strong as Gong Yoo’s or Ma Dong-seok’s, but that’s not to say the new cast don’t acquit themselves fairly well. Gang Dong-won especially excels with the action choreography. The conclusion caused a coupla tears as opposed to the all-out crybaby shit fit the first one’s ending elicited outta me. “Peninsula” is a “Mad Max”-ified reskinning of “Train to Busan” – you’ll be treated to imagery of a 14-year-old girl drifting an SUV through hundreds of zombies and a gauntlet that’s reminiscent of “Apocalypto” and “Rambo” (2008). There’s plenty of movement, which may or may not move you.