The 2018 New York Asian Film Festival is underway, and we at ComicsVerse will be there to share all our favorites from the fest!

I love action. You love action. Who doesn’t love action movies? Terrible people. That’s who. Two films from the New York Asian Film Festival, THE EMPTY HANDS, and PARADOX, use martial arts in its storytelling. One in a conventional, albeit awesome, way. The other to analyze the relationship between a daughter and her father.

THE EMPTY HANDS 

The Empty Hands
THE EMPTY HANDS. Courtesy of Golden Scene Company Limited

When I was a kid, I played a lot of youth league sports. I was never any good. In fact, I sucked. My lowest moment came in the middle of a soccer game, the sport I was easily the dirt worst at, where a corner kick hit me in the stomach. I had the wind knocked out of me and was publicly humiliated. With a combination of childish rage and petulance, I sat in the middle of the field for the rest of the game. Play resumed around me. THE EMPTY HANDS is about those moments where life kicks your ass. Those moments where you have to decide if you’re going to sit and pout or stand on your own two feet.

The film centers around Mari Hirakawa (Stephy Tang) who trained in karate under the tutelage of her father. She proved herself to be a natural but was roundly defeated in her first tournament. This fractured her love of karate and her relationship with her father. As Mari grew older, she entered into a routine of mediocrity, culminating in being the other woman in an extramarital affair with a local radio DJ (Ryan Lau).

When her father passes, Mari plans to close down the dojo for good but, instead, discovers that she only inherited slightly less than half of the dojo. Her father gave the other half to the enigmatic Chan Kent (Chapman To). This sets Mari down a path of redemption to win the dojo by entering a karate tournament.

Action with a Heart of Gold

To manages to wear both actor and director hats admirably over the course of the film. He keeps the film moving, but the film does occasionally linger on some side characters with little payoff. His character Kent seems to have stepped out of an entirely different film. The brief digression into Kent’s backstory suddenly shifts the film’s genre from aspirational comedy to Hong Kong noir. The shift is jarring but creates an interesting juxtaposition between Kent and Mari. The former sees the dojo as a second home while Mari sees it as the cause of her estrangement from her father.

Stephy Tang as Mari completely steals the movie. She is incredibly charming and endearing as Mari but doesn’t shy away from revealing the messier layers of the character. She conveys vulnerability and pettiness without becoming two-dimensional or unrelatable. Tang is also incredibly convincing in the fight sequences, especially in the Rocky Balboa-esque training montages and final, rousing fight.

Ultimately, THE EMPTY HANDS is a light, crowd-pleaser. It reminds those of us who will never wear championship medals or carry first place trophies that standing up at the end of a beating is its own reward. THE EMPTY HANDS is a celebration of the personal victories that make life worth living.

NYAFF ’17: Interview with Mei-Juin Chen, Director of THE GANGSTER’S DAUGHTER

PARADOX 

Paradox
PARADOX. Courtesy of Well Go USA Entertainment

Years from now, action movie fans will be grateful they were alive when Wilson Yip was making movies. Yip is one of the best action directors working today. He has already cemented his legendary status in his collaborations with Donnie Yen on the IP MAN trilogy. However, he continues to put out dynamite thrillers with key collaborators.

This time, Yip returns to the SPL franchise (better known in America as KILLZONE) with PARADOX. The SPL films are each unconnected, but each promises an unreal amount of ass-kicking before the runtime is over. Yip directed the original starring Donnie Yen but stepped away for its sequel (released in America as KILLZONE 2, helmed by Soi Cheang). Both films feature corruption at the highest levels of government and a few good cops who can bring the bad guys down.

The film’s plot is pretty meat and potato stuff. Hong Kong police officer Lee Chung Chi (Louis Koo) is tearing his way through Thailand to find his missing daughter. Along the way, he teams up with detective Chui Kit (Wu Yue) and Tak (Tony Jaa). They team up to rescue Lee’s daughter from the clutches of an organ harvesting ring led by the villainous Sascha (Chris Collins), who remains sinister even when he rides around in a Jazzy scooter.

Action That’s More Than Worth the Price of Admission

All of the actors equip themselves well with the dark material of the plot and show themselves extremely capable in the fight sequences. Louis Koo, in particular, gives a devastating performance as the haunted father who’s overprotective attitude drove his daughter away. Fans of these films aren’t typically looking for nuanced performances (I include myself in that bunch). However, Koo manages to portray the anguish of his character in between his great stunt work.

Speaking of stunt work, Yip is working this time with frequent collaborator Sammo Hung. While Hung stays behind the camera (after playing the villain in the first SPL film), his stellar choreography is fully on display here. Hung makes great use of Tony Jaa in his “special guest appearance” in the film’s big midpoint action sequence. Jaa is so good in this scene that it’s a shame he was only a “special guest” in the film and not a full-blown lead.

Even though his presence is missed in the film’s conclusion, the final action sequence may be one of the finest, and bloodiest, in Yip’s career as an action filmmaker. While PARADOX may never quite reach the highest of the previous film in the SPL franchise, the work of these two filmmaking giants is worth the price of admission.

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