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New on Blu-ray: Chick Flick, Action Flick

From Patricia Clarkson to Sammo Hung

Above: Wu Jing takes out an opponent in "Kill Zone," one of only two films worth picking up on Blu-ray today.

I am going to ignore most of the crap coming out today on Blu-ray so that I can just highlight two worthy releases: “Cairo Time” and “Kill Zone” (a.k.a. “SPL”).

Looking at this week’s new releases is pretty depressing. You can choose amongst the following: Cruise and Cameron in “Knight and Day” (the cleverest thing about the movie is spelling Night with a “K”); Nic Cage going for Hollywood money again in “Sorcerer’s Apprentice” (vaguely inspired by Disney’s “Fantasia”); dumb romantic comedy in “Going the Distance;” and the aptly titled “Vampires Suck,” which proves that Rifftrax is still the only way to watch “Twilight.” Then there’s the crass commercialism of re-releasing “Meet the Parents” and “Meet the Fockers” with “$10 movie cash to see ‘Little Fockers.’” Even the older titles being released are bad. I mean does anyone really want to own “The Wiz” on Blu-ray? Even with Diana Ross and Michael Jackson in it this film stinks, and Sidney Lumet (a master of New York realism) had to be the absolute worst choice to adapt the Broadway play to the screen.

Patricia Clarkson and Alexander Siddig star in "Cairo Time"

IFC

Above: Patricia Clarkson and Alexander Siddig star in "Cairo Time"

So with all these painful reminders of how bad Hollywood filmmaking can be I had to dig deep to find anything to recommend and I almost came up dry. But I finally uncovered two gems. Let me start with the more recent film, “Cairo Time.” This small indie film is a lovely showcase for Patricia Clarkson, one of our finest contemporary actresses.

In “Cairo Time” she plays Juliette Grant, a woman who arrives in the Egyptian capital to meet her husband, a UN official. Her husband is detained by his work in Gaza so she ends up under the care of Tareq (Alexander Siddig), a retired cop who had once worked for her husband. Juliette is something of a displaced person. She has nothing really to do as she waits for her husband and the customs of this Muslim country are quite foreign to her. Initially all she gets of Cairo are the lovely travelogue views from her elegant hotel room. But Tareq gets her out of her hotel and also a little bit out of her shell. The film finds a place between the old women’s pictures of the 40s and the chick flicks of more recent times. It's a throwback to the understated simplicity of films such as the British romance "A Brief Encounter." "Cairo Time" is a delicate romance that is played out with grace and subtlety. Clarkson makes this one a keeper.

Donnie Yen and Simon Yam in "Kill Zone."

Dragon Dynasty

Above: Donnie Yen and Simon Yam in "Kill Zone."

On the complete opposite end of the spectrum is the macho Hong Kong actioner, “Kill Zone,” which came out in Asia in 2005 under the name of “SPL.” (The original Chinese title “Sha Po Lang (SPL)” refers to three stars in Chinese astrology that can represent Power, Destruction, and Greed – forces that can come together in one person, and can be good or bad… depending on how the stars line up.) This is a classic mano-a-mano style police thriller starring the legendary Sammo Hung and heir apparent Donnie Yen, and with veteran Simon Yam and newbie Wu Jing thrown in for good measure. It’s a rather typical police drama storyline pitting cops against a powerful crime lord but the twist is Hung plays the baddie.

The great Sammo Hung in "Kill Zone."

Dragon Dynasty

Above: The great Sammo Hung in "Kill Zone."

Director Wilson Yip takes a distinctly old-school approach to this crime drama about cops in pursuit of the ruthless Po (Hung). Po’s nemesis is cop Chan (Yam), who’s been diagnosed with a terminal illness after unsuccessfully chasing Po for three years. (You gotta love how Hong Kong action films often pile on the melodrama!) Next in line to take over the case is Ma (Yen) who’s got a reputation for both violence and honesty. But Ma soon discovers that sometimes the line between cop and criminal is a thin, blurry one.

Video

"Kill Zone" Fight

Above: Donnie Yen takes on Wu Jing in "Kill Zone."

Yip invests the film with some grit and edge, and finds chemistry among his stars. Like Jet Li, Wu Jing (who plays Po’s henchman) is a champion of wushu fighting, a fast and furious style of martial arts that’s especially cinematic. So the fights with Wu, and the one between Wu and Yen are some of the best in recent years. And the always great Hung is still surprisingly spry for his age and size. So his final showdown with Yen is spectacular fun. Yen’s fight choreography is kick-ass, eschewing wire work for flamboyant, breathtakingly fast hand to hand (or hand to sword to baton to whatever) combat. This is a must-have for any Asian action fan.

So there you have it, a very affordable week of Blu-ray releases.

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