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Chu long ma liu (1979)
Great action - Beware of name mix-up
Lo Mar's "Monkey Kung Fu" does not have much of a story but the action and performance by martial arts choreographer Tony Ching Siu-Tung ("House of Flying Daggers", "Chinese Ghost Story") is absolutely amazing. His athletic stunts, wireless jumps and kicks are a joy to behold. The new Shaw Brothers DVD is the best deal to watch this incredible action.
However, it seems there is a little mix-up in the names and the user comments of the film. The time I'm writing this, the IMDb picture shows "Monkey Kung Fu" aka. "Monkey Fist, Floating Snake", a vastly inferior movie. But the cast refers to the Shaw film, which is also listed as "Stroke of Death" (1980) - its alternative title.
"Monkey Kung Fu" by Lo Mars starring Ching Siu-Tung tells of a small time crook who gets sentenced to prison. He meets a one-eyed master in the cell who gives him a mysterious object. Ching breaks out of prison with another guy and searches for the answer to the riddle which will lead him to "Gibbon Fist Clan"'s kung-fu technique.
Tokyo 10+01 (2003)
Huge disappointment from the director of "Uzumaki"
"Tokyo 10+01" comes from director Higuchinsky who brought us the imaginative and entertaining "Uzumaki". That makes it all the more surprising and disappointing that the action flick is such a mess. It starts out with 11 people in an unknown room (shades of "Cube") and quickly turns into a parody/hommage of Kinji Fukasakus "Battle Royale" with a couple of ideas from the German TV movie "Das Millionenspiel" thrown in for good measure. The result is an embarrassing piece of film: The story has no power, no sense, no timing, no anything. It just moves along for only 70 minutes and still manages to bore. And the twists at the end are so bad, the film even manages to have an anti-climactic ending.
It's neither funny nor gory, neither suspenseful nor witty. So at least you could expect it to be stylish coming from the guy who did "Uzumaki", right? No. Its look is utterly cheap. The digital technology makes the sets look like remains from "Battlefield Earth" and the camera tricks (zooms, blood on the lens etc.) are both childish and annoying. I don't get how Higuchinsky could have done this. What did he try to do? Low-Budget-Trash? Some sort of guerilla film making? Whatever he tried, the result is a disaster. If you loved "Uzumaki" like I did, avoid this film at all cost or the name Higuchinsky will fall a lot in your esteem. It's a bore-fest that looks like it's shot by an amateur. Or in short: Crap!
Donggabnaegi gwawoehagi (2003)
Sweet Korean comedy
A really sweet movie that has some similarities to the 2001-hit "My Sassy Girl" but is able to enchant most of the time. The biggest applause should go to the two leads. Ha-Neul Kim is both sweet and quirky, Sang-woo Kwon is both attractive and rebellious. The chemistry between the two is very good.
Director Kyeong-hyeong Kim uses some CG-inserts to pepper up the visuals and also offers impressive fight scenes in which Sang-woo Kwon can shine. I liked him a lot better here than in the highly overrated "Volcano High". And that boy has a future - those looks, those fight techniques, and a romantic lead. Not bad.
Well, I can make it short: Nice film. My rating: 7/10
Phra apai mani (2002)
Visually impressive "hardcore"-fantasy
"Phra-apai-mani" by Chalart Sriwanda is an adaptation of the literary classic "Soondhornpoo" by poet Sunthon Phu (1786-1855) - sorry if my spelling is wrong. It uses a lot of CGI, but for once that is not so bad. Thai fantasy and horror pictures often use too much CGI and make them rather funny than impressive. One example would be "Kunpan: Legend of the War Lord" (2002), another "The Trek" (2002) or "Krasue: Demonic Beauty" (2002). "Phra-apai-mani" uses even more digital imagery than those two, but since we're completely in a fantasy world, I have no problems with that.
We are presented a world in which sea witches reign, in which a flute enchants tigers, in which Kings lead bloody wars. What I'm actually reminded about is the work of Ray Harryhausen in his Greek history movies. The effects in "Phra-apai-mani" are never as good as in a a Harryhausen film, but I accepted the heavy CGI stuff because I accepted this world as a fantasy world. A world where such creatures dwell. And hey, I have never seen a sea which, so if she's a huge creature in front of a blue screen with lots of CG-weapons, what do I care. At least this film tries to go all the way and show us creatures, show us strange worlds and places, I as a fantasy- and sci-fi-fan can appreciate that.
That said, the film is not for everyone. Of course you have to be a fantasy fan because this is hardcore fantasy. Also, you should be able to accept this visual style which relies so much on CGI. Try to remember how you felt watching "Final Fantasy". Not that this film would come close to the CG-work in that one, but it's the same effort you as a viewer have to make in order to enter this strange world and appreciate the motion picture. It might never get into any film book about important fantasy work, but the Thai film "Phra-apai-mani" is worth a look. I've already seen more than a hundred Thai films and I enjoyed this one more than I enjoyed most other CG-heavy pics from Thailand.
My rating: 7/10
Another misfire from one of the most overrated horror directors ever.
I don't like Dario Argento. But while "Suspiria" or "Profondo Rosso" are at least fun to watch, "Inferno" is one big insult to storytelling. Fans tell me I have to ignore logic and plot and focus on the imagery, the style and the atmosphere - but what are images if not connected by something? Nothing more than ... well, images. There truly are some nice images in this film. There's even a nice atmosphere in certain scenes, but the overall effect is nauseating.
I made it through the film however. Argento has a way to lure the viewer into believing he's telling something (which he's not) - but at the end, everything truly falls apart. Everything. I don't like the ending of "Suspiria", I hate the endings of "Opera" and "Non ho sonno", but this one is truly an ending to just loathe. It destroyed everything I even remotely liked about the film. Genius? No, just plain bad screenwriting. Dario Argento cannot write a coherent screenplay to save his life. Some love him for that, I don't. Yes, many of his films are a visual treat (the "Suspiria"-scene on the plaza with the blind man and his dog is amazing!), but ultimately a huge letdown.
This boring film, I'd rate 3/10
Mr. and Mrs. Iyer (2002)
Heartfelt, poetic and deeply moving.
I love this film. It might further enhance the Western clichee of the uprising-ridden India as another reviewer states, but actually, that's beside the point: This film is a fairy tale. The voice over at the beginning tells of "a little red and white bus" ... and you're already in the fairy tale world. There is always danger in a fairy tale and I'll focus on that later, but criticising the film for not portraying real situations is like accusing "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" for inaccurate portrayal of lilliputians ...
The film is actually quite close to films by Mani Rathnam who also takes a politically hot topic and connects it with a personal drama (good example: "Kannathil Muthamittal"). With Rathnam, the focus always seems to shift more to the political side of this dual idea, whereas in "Mr. and Mrs. Iyer", the focus is more on the personal aspect. In this punctual uprising of extremist Hindus, the two leading characters discover how they themselves fall victim to distrust and prejudice. It seems an easy target to criticise the conservative Brahman woman's ideals, but the film doesn't do it harmful. In the end, the woman still is who she was before, but she opened up - especially opened up her heart.
And this is what the film is all about: Heart. It oozes love in so many scenes. The violence takes over for a couple of scenes, but then the film returns to the topic of love. There are incredible scenes that you won't easily forget: The "couple" in a diner telling their fictional story of their honeymoon, the fooling around in the woods in the morning, the killing of a man right in front of their window, the last night they spend together when she takes his hand to comfort herself. These are all very subtle but convincing scenes that don't primarily assault the woman's Brahman principles but tries to expand them. Again: It's a fairy tale and in this fairy tale world which is ridden by real-life violence, a woman and a man come closer - emotionally. Not with sex or a common way of love. It's a very heartfelt sort of love you don't usually see in movies. It felt extremely sincere to me - and the just cracked my heart.
"Mr. and Mrs. Iyer" is not your typical Bollywood movie because it's rather short, has no songs, no stars and is rather subtle. But it works on so many level. It is a cry for peace and unity - something Indians do so well since they live in the biggest democracy in the world. There are so many people in this country who still believe in living together and this is visible in many of their films. This is one, Mani Rathnams "Bombay" is another. Also, the film is a tribute to deeply felt and sincere love, a love that is more touching than many love stories I've seen before. I know the film is not fully realistic and of course there are a couple of problems that I have with the film. But if a film is this charmingly acted and poetically directed, I'd cannot but defend it and recommend it to you. Such a beautiful film.
A suspenseful thriller with hints of "Seven" and "Silence of the Lambs"
"H" tells the story of two cops who encounter a series of gruesome murders. The victims were pregnant women - which leads the duo to a young killer who awaits his death penalty. Is another killer copying his crimes? Did the guy order someone to to it?
There are many clues that connect the film to "Silence of the Lambs" (imprisoned killer, cops hoping for help from the killer), but as the story progresses, there are more connections to "Seven": It's gritty, it has a serial killer who has some John-Doe-mannerisms. The female cop is the Morgan Freeman character, the impulsive male cop is Brad Pitt. Even the ending (no spoiler!) fits this line of thinking because of what happens to the "Pitt"-cop. This is vague enough so it won't spoil anything for you.
Because this ending is not what you might expect. The final reel of the film leaves the path of its American predecessors and follows an Asian film I'll mention below. Before that, I'll conclude that "H" is a suspenseful, gory, gritty, well acted thriller which is strongly directed by newcomer Jong-hyuk Lee. It steals a lot from other movies but better well stolen than badly invented.
My rating: 8/10
And now some spoiler: The film in the end resembles the Japanese thriller "The Hypnosist" - this also explains that the "H" of the title doesn't stand for heroin or something else you might have expected, but for hypnosis. The end credits even see the "H" move to the left and reveal the "full title". It's a nice twist for a nice film. But again: This ain't new, "The Hypnosist" or Kiyoshi Kurosawas "Cure" come to mind.
Nothing you haven't seen before
The Korean military drama "Blue" borrows heavily from "Top Gun" and "Le grand bleu" and tells the story of two Korean Navy divers who fall for the same woman and struggle with their hard duty.
The film is well done technically but I wasn't too much impressed by the story. It takes a couple of turns too many. The last hour is the only part of the film that seems to focus on one specific adventure. It's the only coherent part of the movie - the rest is all over the place. It's a love story, a film about friendship, a boot camp movie, a military thriller, a diving adventure - and much more. That doesn't mean it's a richly themed film but only one that doesn't seem to know where to go. As I mentioned, the film gets tighter towards the end and gets into a kind of "Abyss"-routine. It's pretty solid in that part.
The characters are OK, the actors playing them are good (the most famous face being Eun-Kyung Shin from "My Wife is a Gangster") and the technical aspects of "Blue" are solid. The movie overall is average due to its lack of storytelling focus. It's far from a bad film but a surprisingly uninvolving one due to the problems mentioned above.
I'd rate it 6/10
Darna! Ang pagbabalik (1994)
A less convincing entry into the Darna superhero series
Darna is the Philippines' answer to America's "Wonder Woman". She has been created by Mars Ravelo in the 50's and has appeared in many comics and films. "Darna: The Return" is one of the weaker entries into the series. Watched by a Westerner, the film comes across as campy fun this side of "Xena" or "Supergirl". Perhaps someone from the Philippines might see more in the film - mainly because Darna is considered a national heroine of highest proportions. I however had to laugh a little too many times.
The effects are of course sloppy but I wouldn't mind that. The story is ridiculous which I minded more. The music (a sort of midi-superhero-score) is laughable and a lot of the dialogue is pure trash. Actually this is perfect "Mystery Science Theatre 3000" material. I don't want to be too harsh because it's obvious that the resources for the film were limited. That doesn't change the final rating: 4 out of 10 - mainly for the trash value. But, alas, it's still a lot better than the directing team's terrible "Unfaithful Wife 2". If you want to see a good film by the directors Galaga & Reyes, stick to "Ang Kabit ni Mrs. Montero", a version of D.H. Lawrence's "Lady Chatterley's Lover" ...
Ren pi deng long (1982)
Didn't do it for me.
"Human Lanterns" mixes Wuxia-style martial arts and horror in a cultish but ultimately disappointing manner. The fights are well staged and surprisingly good for such a campy movie, but the horror elements felt way out of place. And they are far from scary.
The acting is over the top, the plot is weak and the direction awkward. I know that many think of this film as a cult movie, but this only proved to me that many times cult does not equal class. Personally, I'd rather rate this trash - an interesting mix but an ultimately disappointing view.