Sunday, July 31, 2011

KCR: Shaolin (2011, Movie, Martial Arts, China)

Shaolin monasteryImage by inspbylife via FlickrShaolin, i.e. "New Shaolin Temple" is a 2011 movie starring Andy Lau as a man who seeks redemption. As a deputy of one of the warlords, he holds absolute power over all in the city... in the land next to the Shaolin Temple. He has the guns, he has the soldiers. When he tried to kill his boss, his subordinate decided to kill them both. He barely escaped, but his daughter died, and after a bit of self exploration, he chose to become a monk and trained as Shaolin. When his subordinate, now "general", decided to steal Chinese treasure and sell them to some foreigners for weapons. Can the Shaolin monks save the population, and defeat the evil warlord?

The movie is heavy on redemption, and the meaning of zen and all that. There are some funny moments, as you know when Jackie Chan's involved. Who knew cooking can be used as kung fu? There's a ton of sacrifice, tons of backstabbing, and so on. Evil is truly evil... but there is redemption. Really.

Shaolin vs. guns? There will be a lot of death, but the Shaolin give more than they get, that's for sure. Still, bring knives and sticks to a gunfight? Hmmm...

Still, it's worth watching. Really.

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KCR: The Lost Bladesman (movie, China)

A Guan Yu idol holding the guandao in the righ...Image via WikipediaThe Lost Bladesman is a movie about the ancient China's top bladesman Guan Yu, who simply had too much honor for his time, and therefore is sometimes had his honor used against him by the likes of Cao Cao. This movie gave a very interesting portrayal of this ligendary figure, who did not exactly die a good death, but he did die in battle, and was honored forever, as a part of Chinese legend.

The movie... is interesting, as Guan Yu (who is also known as Guan Gong, or Guan Yun Chang) is usually not given much detail, other than he is a VERY good martial artist with his signature weapon, the blade that now bears his name, the Guan Dao. It is basically a staff with a hard point on one end and a very sharp blade on the other end. It is a heavy weapon that requires a real master to wield well.

The plot itself gave a lot of insights into this legend's life... fictional of course. It claims he may be a secret admirer of his godbrother's wife, and again, he was used by Cao Cao for his purposes.

The movie starts with a huge state burial... of Guan Yu. That's right, this is a bookend beginning and ending. In the middle is his life... starting with him as a prisoner of Cao Cao, and ends with his... sort of... hmmm. let's just say... permanent retirement. In between, he's... too good for himself. Either he's on their side, or he's someone too dangerous to be kept alive. It's basically escaping from one ambush to another, and some wars in between. It's a tragedy of a great guy who gets used by others.


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KCR: Red Cliff (Movie, War, China)

Red Cliff (film)Image via Wikipedia
Red Cliff, international version poster
Red Cliff is a movie version of "Battle of Red Cliff", a war between Cao Cao and the "rebels" that was a part of "Romance of Three Kingdoms". This is a war movie, and it's a John Woo production, so you can expect some odd angle fires, explosions, and people flying through the air and all that. Yes, in ancient China and all that.

They picked the biggest names that are somewhat known in the west and gave them top billing, but they are not necessarily the lead actors. On the other hand, this is an ensemble movie, and even the international version is over two hours long. (The Chinese version, in two parts is even longer.)

The movie managed to cram in many of the plot points from the novel, such as borrow 10000 arrows, borrow east wind, fire ship attack, and much more. Those who know Chinese myth should find this movie a lot of fun. Those who don't know Chinese myth can enjoy the action sequences and the various tricks and strategems employed, as well as the nice costumes and martial arts.

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Monday, July 25, 2011

KCR: Future X-Cops (scifi / Hong Kong / movie)

Figure of Andy Lau taken at Madame Tussauds Ho...Image via WikipediaFuture X-Cops is one of those shameless Hong Kong "homage" movies that manage to demonstrate how bigger budget doesn't add to creativity.

Premise: after his wife was killed protecting a VIP against half-machine assassins, this cop must don a mechanical body and go back in time to prevent the assassination of the VIP, who is critical to Earth's future. However, two of the assassins are there, and they have a showdown.

The society depicted was futuristic looking... though it's hardly utopia. Regular cops have no firepower against these half-machine assassins who are obviously inspired by various comic book villains, such as Dr. Octopus (from Spiderman), and others. I mean, bat wings, prehensile tail, lobster claw... heh.

The fights are obviously CGI ish and way too choreographed. How they managed to convince Andy Lau to do the lead role, I have no idea. The plot is pieced together from various major movies, like Time Cop, Black Mask 2, even a few bits from Asimov's stories (about the girl who didn't know she's a robot). Add bits from Jurassic park (hide and seek in the kitchen), Matrix (sky duel between the hero and villain), and a few bits from Superman (bad guy keep using innocent civilians to distract the hero), and you get a feeling that this is a chop suey of a movie.

And yes, Big S (i.e. Barbie Hsu) is the leading lady. Hmmm... Okay...

May be worth watching once.

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Monday, July 11, 2011

KCR: Deep Sound Channel (novel, submarine)

Submarine control surfacesImage via WikipediaJoe Buff's submarine novels have an interesting premise, but somehow doesn't quite delivers the same punch as novels by Michael DiMercurio or even Charles D. Taylor. The characters are flat, and the battles tend to go hyper-technical. They are fine if you dig the genre.

Premise: Extremists in both South Africa and Germany have staged simultaneous coup and created this unholy alliance... the new Axis Powers known as the Berlin-Boer Axis. With a bit of help from a "neutral" Russia in the form of nukes, the sea is now the hunting grounds of the latest submarines... ceramic-hulled undersea invisible monsters armed with tactical nuclear torpedoes and cruise missiles. No warships can survive, not even the vaunted American carrier battle group. New Axis powers wielded several such supersubs, and the Americans and the Brits have a few as well. In this world of ultimate hide-and-seek, one mistake will be your last...

USS Challenger, America's supersub, and its captain LtCmdr Fuller, has a special assignment: Apparently South Africa is about to make a breakthrough to tap some very rare undersea lifeform that is nearly the ideal biological weapon. Fuller must take his ship and a team of Navy SEALS, along with a South African scientist, and take out the research lab before the research can be completed. In their way is the South African supersub, the Vooertrekker... and some very formidable South African defenses...

As explained before, the characters are almost cliche. Fuller was a former SEAL, really? And he's going to accompany the team going in? Then the battle gets hypertechnical... ever heard of sonal lensing? About how certain events BEND soundwaves?

Still, the battles can get exciting once the action picks up, and this nightmare scenario can work a bit... if you really leave your brain turned off a bit. Read one and see if you like it. Joe Buff have a whole series of these novels starring the same crew.

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Saturday, July 9, 2011

KCR: The Intruders (novel) by Stephen Coonts

Cover of "The INTRUDERS"Cover of The INTRUDERSThe Intruders continues the career of Stephen Coonts' favorite character, Jake "Cool Hands" Grafton. After end of Vietnam War, Grafton was assigned to a carrier mainly training jarheads (US Marines) flying Intruders, and he's paired up with a marine, and together, they have all sorts of adventures on and off the carrier. It ends with an encounter against a bunch of pirates.

This is more of an adventure novel than a military novel, as there isn't much fighting. However, Coonts knows his carrier ops, and this has more stories about carrier ops, shore leave, and stuff, plus the jokes, the friendly joshing between Navy and Marines, and more.

If you read Flight of the Intruder, you should also read The Intruders.

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KCR: Rambo (2008)

Cover of "Rambo (Widescreen Edition)"Cover of Rambo (Widescreen Edition)Rambo 4 is a good wrap-up of the John Rambo lore. It gave the character much needed humanity, about believing in something, Trivia on IMDB said that "Live for nothing, or die for something" became a battle cry for the real Karen rebels, and Stallone is quite proud to have contributed that.

Premise: John Rambo is in Thailand, working the "simple life" as a snake hunter and boatman, no questions asked. One day, he got a request from a Missionary Group to take them into Burma / Myanmar, to help the Karen villages. He was successful. After he left, the village was attacked and razed government troops, with the missionaries dead or captured, and all occupants killed or fled into the jungle. The Missionary leader came to seek Rambo for help: a group of mercenaries will go back to find what happened to the missionaries, and needs his help. He agreed...

The movie is quite slow at the beginning, but there is some tension, as the boat tries to sneak into Burma, past the river patrols and the pirates. The attack sequences are brutal and thus, excellent, rivaling "Saving Private Ryan" in intensity of Omaha beach sequence. You can almost feel the mortar rounds dropping and guns firing. And it all builds up to the big fight at the end, and the conclusion.

Problem? Let's just say there's a ton of body count... 236 kills as counted on IMDB, mostly at the end. Also, some of the battle tactics makes little sense. Why hit the patrol boat with the rocket after everybody onboard is toast? It has only one flame-thrower (very short range) and one HMG any way. Once the sniper took out the HMG gunner, the boat is no threat. Also, what's with the 50-cal sniper rifle? It's in there because it looked cool, but a smaller rifle would have made much more sense. At least with the huge rifle you can pretend the body will be flung back 10 ft without a head.

Still, it's heck fun to watch if you dig this type of movie.

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KCR: Equilibrium (movie)

Film poster for EquilibriumImage via WikipediaEquilibrium is either a prophetic cautionary tale warning of a dystopia without emotion, or one of the most silly but cool looking movies ever made. It is actually both, and thus, you'll either love or hate this movie. There is no in between.

The Premise: John Preston, a Grammaton Cleric, is tasked by the government to hunt down sense offenders... people who choose to not take their daily dose drug to dampen their feelings, and destroy all remaining tokens that evoke strong feelings, such as art, music, poetry, and so on. When he accidentally missed a dose of his own medicine, he realized the world may not be as he saw it before. One transgression lead to another, and soon, Preston is about to make the unthinkable choice... go up against Father, the leader of all...

In the strictest sense, Equilibrium is not comparable to the Matrix, but rather, is more akin to Orwell's 1984 brought to life, with thought-police using lethal force to enforce order, and how one man can make a difference... if he had been trained in this special martial arts called gun-kata.

And that's the biggest schtick in the movie: gun-kata. The idea is by analyzing the close-quarters engagements, you can synthesize a series of moves that combines dodging and counter-attack that will significantly enhance your chances of survival. The director, Kurt Wimmer, had one idea on what it should look like. Unfortunately,  his martial arts advisor for this movie had a very different idea. The result is a style that doesn't quite mesh, but sure is heck cool to look at.

The plot points can get rather silly, as Preston's transformation starts and accelerates. The problem mainly is the trigger to "cross the Rubicon", so to speak, is just plain silly. Let's just say the instigator is a puppy.

Still, worth watching at least once, then check out the spiritual successor, Ultraviolet.

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KCR: Jump Pay / The Lucky 13th (novel, scifi, war, Rick Shelley)

Rick Shelley has quite a few books out, concentrating on three series: the Mercenary series, the Lucky 13th series, and Special Ops Squad series. This is a part of the "Lucky 13th" series.

The premise: 13th Spaceborne Assault Team, i.e. the Lucky 13th, was called upon to spearhead a huge invasion of the enemy arsenal planet. The enemy is building up troops and equipment for an assault and a Pearl-Harbor-style pre-emptive strike will be needed to destroy most of the arsenal. The action flicks from airborne assault using newly deployed grav belts, to recon squads doing hit and fade on enemy positions, to assault howitzer crews pumping out shells on enemy positions, and aerial fighter "Wasps" dogfighting and performing close-support on the troops, and the commander trying to make sense of the chaos, the war jumps from perspective to perspective, almost too fast to keep up.

Indeed, that is the main problem I have with the series: the action just keep flicking so fast that you have a hard time keeping up. As a result, you don't really get attached to any of the characters. They feel like cliches: the hard sergeant, the dumb rookie, the contemplative lieutenant, the colonel who have to choose between duty and not spending his soldiers needlessly. The enemy have no faces, no motivation. They are simply the bad guy. The weapons described makes little sense even though they sound quite futuristic. What happened to grenades? Or tanks? Or light armor?

Or as someone else puts it, this is like Hammer's Slammers, except it makes much less sense.

Rating: borrow it from a library and see if you like the style. I don't.

EDIT: apparently Mr. Shelley died in 2001

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Wednesday, July 6, 2011

KCR: Attack of the Seawolf (novel, submarine)

Cover of "Attack of the Seawolf"Cover of Attack of the SeawolfMichael DiMercurio is a former submariner who manage to combine his intimate knowledge of the systems in a sub and submarine warfare, along with a sense of geopolitics, into a series of novels that rivals Tom Clancy on excitement (but not the spy stuff). In Attack of the Seawolf, US have a submarine showdown with China.

The premise: China had fallen into civil war, and US decided to gather some intelligence by sending in USS Tampa, a 688-class submarine, and listen to the radio traffic. Unfortunately, they had been discovered, attacked, and captured by the Red Chinese Navy (i.e. not the rebels). US response is to send in USS Seawolf, commanded by Admiral Michael Pacino, with one squad of US Navy SEALs, was sent in as a rescue mission. They will go in, liberate the crew, recover the officers, and escape Chinese Waters. Or at least, that was the plan. In between them is the entire Chinese Eastern Fleet, plus the PLA Naval Air Arm and the PLA Naval Infantry. But Pacino is used to doing the impossible and the suicidal...

The plot is a little bit cliche, with the Chinese being sadistic commies (with orders to execute prisoners if rescuers come), and Americans handicapped by a lousy rules of engagement. However, the combat is fast and furious, and in the end Seawolf really *does* sank most of the Chinese Eastern Fleet, albeit in a far more logical manner than in Tom Clancy's SSN (see below for review). The ending is a major surprise.

All in all, if you like submarine novels, Attack of the Seawolf is probably one of the better Michael DiMercurio novels. His other novels are a bit too much on the fanciful side, IMHO. This one is about the most realistic, and thus, the most enjoyable for the military buff.

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Tuesday, July 5, 2011

KCR: Mechwarrior / Initiation To War (novel)

MechWarrior (video game series)Image via WikipediaInitiation to War is part of ROC's Battletech novel lineup, this one being in a more "personal" Mechwarrior line. The book itself is a bit too slow, and the main guy is just a little too lucky, and too much of a cliche at points. However, the mech fights are good, and overall it's an okay read.

For those of you who don't know what Battletech and Mechwarrior is... Battletech is a book about 31st Century. Humans have settled most of the planets, but virtually continuous war, now mainly done with walking tanks called "battlemechs", have pretty much ruined the entire galaxy. The factions are varied, the intrigue and assassination are frequent. Add pirates and mercenaries, and you have a grand universe where almost anything can happen. Mechwarrior are the pilots of these walking tanks, and they are considered elite.  The game had been running for 25 years, and the universe is so vast it has assumed its own life.

In this book, the planet Epsilon Eridani is having a bit of civil war, instigated by outside forces, and a new recruit, Tybalt Kelly, newly minted mechwarrior (okay, mechwarrior in training) is in the middle of it. The problem with the book is pacing. There is very little tension until the war starts, which is about half way into the book. There is very little tension. Things just happen, and you barely care. The kid has a father who don't approve of his career choice, and has a teammate who is a bully. Other teammates are far more sympathetic. Add a hardcase commander and the cliche is complete, esp. when multiple females fall for the "hero". The tech wants a piece of him, he wants a piece of fellow mechwarrior Sam(antha), and when Sam was lot on a campaign Duke's daughter went to bed with him as sort of consolation for saving her. **** me.  The fighting is described pretty well, but the technical details sometimes break the pattern, and the end is basically one lucky shot after another.

While this book ain't bad, it ain't that good either.

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Monday, July 4, 2011

KCR: Tron Legacy (scifi, and yes, I was late)

The redesigned Light cycle as featured in the ...Image via WikipediaYes, I missed Tron Legacy. In fact, I missed the original Tron as well.

For a sequel to a film made almost 30 years ago, the movie looks absolutely amazing, even by today's standards. The original featured state of the art graphics for its day, and the idea of a world within the computer completely independent of our own has since been redone by a dozen films, including the Matrix trilogy, and in a certain level, by Inception.

The plot is relatively simple: Sam Flynn, son of Kevin Flynn, investigates the old arcade, and was zapped into the virtual world inside the machine created by his father. As Flynn discovered the rules in this virtual world, he encountered "Clu", a program that look just like his father, and later, his father, Kevin Flynn himself, and a program called Quorra, Sam Flynn wants to take his father home, when he learned the stakes of his failure to go back through the portal. Because Clu has a plan for all the "users" of the system...

The modern graphics are absolutely amazing, as the virtual world, previously only somewhat visualized in the original Tron, is now fully realized, by combining CGI with live action, and a LOT of post-processing. Disc combat is now far more stylized yet deadlier, and scenes that evoke "remake" of the original are now much better. The light cycle races are brilliant, and the lightjet dogfight is beautiful, if a bit cliche.

The plot is a bit formulaic, but the plot points and complications are laid out brilliantly, and character growth feels natural, nothing too forced here. My problem mainly is how much power Kevin Flynn has over the grid himself, as it seem to be wildly inconsistent. Also, about crossing over.. seem to violate conservation of mass. :)

All in all, Tron Legacy is a beautiful sequel / homage to the original, while making a ton of sense standing by itself. You don't need to know the original to enjoy this one.

Definitely watch it at least once.

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Sunday, July 3, 2011

KCR: Memorial Day (novel, terrorism)

U.S. troops in AfghanistanImage via WikipediaMemorial Day is another Mitch Rapp novel by Vince Flynn, and its premise is chilling enough to make you wish that Mitch Rapp is real. With enough twists and turns, Memorial Day is a tout thriller if a bit formulaic.

Premise: Mitch Rapp is hunting Al-Qaeda with US troops in Afghanistan, and their raid turned up something very serious... evidence that a nuke is being smuggled into the US by bad guys. With a bit of help from Rapp, a team successfully intercepted the nuke, and everyone relaxed... Except Rapp, as he knew that the bad guy must have a backup plan, and indeed, they do. A second nuke is being smuggled through Mexican border. When a truck driver was found dead due to radiation poisoning, Rapp is relentless in chasing down the leads. The obvious target is the Memorial Day Parade...

Vince Flynn have a knack in portraying the power plays in Washington as politicians maneuver without regard to their consequences, and how real "heroes" such as Rapp are there to save the politicians when they screw up. This book is no exception. The hunt is intense and even though it is somewhat formulaic it is still a great read.

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Saturday, July 2, 2011

KCR: Mission of Honor (scifi, war)

Mission of HonorImage via WikipediaMission of Honor, book 12 in "Honorverse" by David Weber, is the proper Honor Harrington novel, as the war between the Republic of Haven and Star Kingdom of Manticore is about to come to an end, but enemies are moving against both sides, and other players are joining in.

In War of Honor (Book 10), Honor Harrington have barely averted disaster by winning the Battle of Manticore, where the Havenite forces decided to gamble the future on a single dice throw: direct attack on the home star system of Manticore, and it was barely beat off, at a heavy price.

In this book, Admiral Honor Harrington was sent with a fleet to let the Havenites know that there is no hope for victory, but to preserve as much honor as possible on both sides. However, the Solarian League may be waking up, as powers within, manipulated by Manpower / Mesa, may be about to annex some planets near Manticore and precipitate another war. When Mesa unveiled their secret weapon against Manticore, causing tremendous casualties, in a true Pearl-Harbor style surprise hit-and-run attack, the tables are again turned, and Manticore will find a most unlikely ally...

The problem again, as with all David Weber "honorverse" books, is that this book will give you attention deficit disorder, as you jump from one group of people to another, then another. If Tom Clancy were writing space opera, it'd be something like this. The problem is David Weber then gets wordy as the characters discuss every thought and related thoughts with each other and that's just grating at time.

Still, the major plot advances in this book will give you a cliffhanger that will have you clamoring for the next book, as the various threads are starting to come together.

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