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simon_booth

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185 reviews in total 
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0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Shallow, generic but entertaining thriller, 25 May 2012
6/10

OK, I admit it... I'm a whore. And not just because I have sex for money, but because I can never resist putting out for a movie about cops. But I know I'm not the only one . Really there's nothing cheaper or easier as a plot device than making your main character(s) cops or killers. It's far easier to imagine an interesting story for a cop than it is for a computer programmer or telemarketer, despite the fact that the audience is more likely to be in such a job. I'd love to compare the statistics for occupation distribution and life expectancy between real world and movie world, just to see how much our entertainment misrepresents our lives. Not that I'd have it any other way - the reason cops and killers are such movie clichés is because they make good movie material, after all.

This Is Law / Out of Justice is a cop movie, pure and simple and with no pretensions to be anything else. It almost feels like part of a series, it's all so comfortable and familiar. And in a way it is - part of the universal series of movies about cops on the trail of a mysterious killer. Different characters, different locations, but ultimately the same as half the movies and TV serials ever made.

This time around, we get two groups of cops - a pair of homicide detectives and a group known as STF, which I deduce to be Special Task Force. Both groups end up on the same case, when a series of bodies turn up with a signature - a tarot card left with the corpse. The connection between the victims seems to be that they are all criminals who have somehow evaded punishment by the law. The vigilante aspect coupled with the killer's self promotion via his own website means that he has quite a cult following. But law is law, and our cops have to find out who he really is and stop him doing it again.

The basic familiarity of the situation means that the movie can leap into its complicated storyline without wasting too much time setting the scene. We meet the characters, we follow some detective work, we let the story unfold. The plot is pretty complicated - we get a lot of plot twists and turns and details... enough to quite overwhelm my poor little brain I must say. The number of characters brought into the case is high, and I always felt like I was playing catch-up with who was who and what they were up to. It felt like I was meant to know more than I did about what was going on. Not to the extent that I was ever lost or overly confused, but enough to mean I was never in any danger of anticipating the way things were going to develop. This takes some of the fun out of a mystery, naturally.

However, that's not problem enough to stop This Is Law being entertaining. During the course of the movie we get a bit of action, a bit of suspense, a bit of character development and meaningful dialogue and even a hint of romance (and some gratuitous nudity!). All the things that make it easier to make a cop movie interesting than movies about hairdressers or gardeners. The characters are good, the action exciting, the romance unnecessary and the 'police procedure' doubtless wildly inaccurate. In other words it's an enjoyable movie about cops on the trail of a killer.

This Is Law is largely interchangeable with thousands of other movies, and there are certainly better movies even within the genre. However, it hits all the right notes that make a cop movie enjoyable, and provides adequate entertainment throughout. I'm sure that 3 days from now I won't remember the first thing about it, but for this evening at least it kept me quite happy and fulfilled.

0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
should have been so much better, 24 May 2012
6/10

The film opens with a narration explaining that by 2007 Thailand will have 2 women for every man, and by 2017 it could be 4:1. It doesn't explain *why* this is the case... since gender isn't a hereditary attribute (except in the sense you either get your mother's or your father's, I suppose!). However, if we accept the claim, then it is clear that the laws of economics dictate one thing: men will take mistresses! In fact, taking a mistress is already considered quite normal in Thailand and several other Asian cultures (perhaps because Buddhism never proclaimed on the subject of adultery), which is why a film like BULLET WIVES is only likely to come from Asia.

The (high) concept in a nutshell: Many men have mistresses, and when the "First Wife" dies the mistress is "promoted" to full wife status. The mistresses form a society to encourage this promotion, so the wives form a society to help protect each other. At the start of the film, the mistresses murder two prominent members of the First Wives Society to try and provoke them into a war where the mistresses can take over. The logic seems flawed since a mistress that becomes a wife, she would automatically become the enemy of her own society, but this is conveniently ignored for the purposes of the film :P I have to say that it's one of the best concepts for a film I've ever heard, because it's really just a good excuse to have lots of gorgeous women engaging in stylised action scenes that pay homage to John Woo, The Matrix, Kill Bill and especially indie sci-fi yawner Equilibrium. And if you get caught drooling, you always have the excuse that you were just fascinated by the feminist themes the film raises :P Unfortunately, as wonderful as BULLET WIVES is in concept, equally dire is it in execution. It's visually very slick, with great cinematography and production design, but it is woefully amateurish in other respects - the acting is awful, the editing is worse and the sound recording is especially poor! It's not often you can point to the sound recordist as the person that really let the film down, but BULLET WIVES is a great counter-example that shows what a good job the vast majority of sound recordists actually do. In fact, nobody on the production team seems to have thought through the issues involved in making a sync-sound film: namely that the microphone will pick up background noise, and multiple microphones in a scene will pick up *different* background noises! When you have dialogue between somebody inside and somebody in a doorway, and the sound of the ocean cuts in and out depending on who is speaking, you have to wonder how the film got all the way to a DVD release without somebody suggesting they just redub the dialogue in the studio.

It's also one of the only films I can think of that has "uncomfortable silences" in it - pauses in the dialogue that are so unnatural we begin squirming a little. I don't know if one should blame the actors, director or editor for the problem - but somebody along the line should have realised there was a problem and taken measures to correct it. Since most of the cast are models with little to no acting experience, it seems unfair to blame them, so I guess the buck stops with the director (who also co-edited!). I assume he comes from a music video or advertising background, since he has a great grasp of making attractive women look cool and not much else - so maybe it's unfair to blame him too! Since much of the film's short running time (about 75 minutes) is taken up with the girls posing or engaging in stylised shoot-outs, the flaws with the acting, editing and sound can at least partially be overlooked. It's clear that the "Gun Kata" scenes from EQUILIBRIUM were a big influence on the action, with several sequences being almost directly lifted from it, but the stylisation is pushed even further, to almost abstract levels. "Stylised" seems like too weak a word to describe the action in fact, which is choreographed and filmed more like a dance than even John Woo's lauded scenes of gunplay. The finale actually intercuts a ballroom tango with the shootout to make it clear that this is intentional. Whether it's effective or not is likely to be a matter of taste... if you're basically watching the film because you love to see beautiful women posing with weapons, you will likely be satisfied :) If you're looking for anything resembling realism or danger, you certainly will not! Basically the film should be treated as an exercise in style, with an extremely facile comment to make on mistress culture in Thailand... expressed eloquently on more than occasion as "Mistresses suck!". The wife and mistress societies are called "First Class Wives International" and "Economy Class Wives International", respectively, to make sure we understand what side the film stands on. However, the position is undermined a little by the fact the mistresses' society does have the better looking members overall :P (whoops, you didn't hear me say that). The "lead" mistress is the stunning model Methinee Kingpayome, and as a male reviewer it's hard to watch the film and not feel that mistresses have something going for them :P Which is essentially how I feel about BULLET WIVES... it's a film with such gaping technical flaws nobody could sincerely call it "good", but it does certainly offer some guilty pleasures (for the eyes if not the brain), and is short enough to be tolerated whilst they are consumed :) With a more competent team behind the camera though, it could and should have been so much better!

Recommended, 22 May 2012
9/10

I had believed that I had seen this film on a lousy cropped + dubbed DVD some years ago and found it not deserving of the affection/adoration with which it is usually discussed. However, the film seemed so wholly unfamiliar when I watched it tonight that I think I may simply not have seen it before at all - I can't believe that widescreen + original language/subtitles would make _that_ much difference. Then again, my memory is very poor! Regardless, it seems I've finally found my Sonny Chiba groove, and can completely see why this film is loved and revered. It's as ultra-violent, nasty, sleazy a piece of 70's karate-sploitation as you're ever going to see! Chiba plays Tsurugi, a merciless karate master whose moral stance is at best ambiguous - the baddest of asses, if ever an ass was bad! He is quite happy to kill for money, but his real wish seems simply to fight an opponent of equal skill and bloodthirstiness. He volunteers to protect a wealthy heiress, though whether his real motive is to steal her money is never quite resolved. Once the bad guys start sending their karate masters to kill him it's a moot point, though, as he's much more interested in maiming and mutilating them! The film was made only a year or so after Bruce Lee's death, and it's clear that Chiba was being offered as the Japanese replacement for him - but unlike many abortive attempts by the HK studios to produce a "new Bruce Lee", Toei realised from the start that imitation wasn't the right approach... Chiba is in many ways an "anti-Bruce"... rugged, mean, visceral and brutal. He's definitely not a "hero" in any traditional sense... he even warns the heiress' family that he may be worse than the people he's going to protect her from.

The film is action packed pretty much from the beginning to the end, with a small army of goons apparently willing to throw themselves on Chiba's lack of mercy - which he rewards with a whole lot of bone cracking, eye gouging and body part ripping violence. Chiba's style is distinctive, and the fights have a rawness that is quite different from the kung fu films of the day. Much of it seems to be full-contact, with Chiba hitting pretty hard. The film piles on the gore gleefully and gruesomely, though obviously the special effects look dated today.

The film delivers all that fans of trashy, violent exploitation might be looking for except perhaps for nudity - conspicuously absent given the trends of the times... perhaps they didn't want to distract people's attention. It's easy to see why Chiba became an international icon, and why the film is regarded as a classic of its genre.

Highly (but selectively) recommended!

5 out of 5 people found the following review useful:
Better than it ought to be, 13 May 2012
7/10

A team of military special forces are escorting a scientist and his family in the Middle East when they are ambushed by terrorists, intent on taking the scientist's work on a genetically engineered super-strain of smallpox and using it for their own private financial gain. One of the operatives receives a bullet in the head, but declines to stay in hospital to recuperate, instead heading off to Malaysia to look for his estranged father and the brother he never knew he had. As luck would have it, this course of action brings him back in contact and indeed conflict with the terrorists.

Hong Kong does not typically do hi-tech action thrillers very well, and terrorists seeking super-viruses is certainly a red flag when it comes to a Hong Kong movie. The smarter Hong Kong's scriptwriters try to make their characters sound, the dumber they usually come across, and this is no exception. Additionally, credibility-stretching coincidences are rarely a hallmark of a well-written script. One incredible coincidence which becomes the centre-piece of the story, exploring how the effects of random probability or the hand of fate can transform a person's life, can make for an interesting story and film. When your hi-tech action thriller introduces at least 3 unbelievable coincidences in an attempt to make your story about super-viruses seem more coherent, you should probably realise you've taken the wrong track.

In short, the script for The Viral Factor is a mess... ridiculously, eyeball rollingly so, really. The annoying thing is that it's all quite unnecessary... at its heart there is a story of two estranged brothers that have found themselves on opposite sides of the law, but who have to cooperate to protect their family and see if they can find forgiveness and redemption. The implausible coincidences don't really add anything to that scenario, and the whole terrorists with super-viruses aspect is basically not needed, too. They're plot devices that speak of a weak writer, one who feels that the simple motivations of family, love, guilt and redemption just aren't enough to engage the viewer... when in fact they're the only parts of the script that do.

Somehow, the glaring flaws in the story do not derail The Viral Factor nearly as much as you feel they ought to. The writing is awful, but pretty much everything else about the film is good. Dante Lam's direction is strong, the performances from Jay Chou and Nic Tse are good, visuals and production values are excellent and the action scenes are top calibre. Some individual scenes are well written and executed, and there is generally a lot to like about the film. Generally, the further the whole 'Viral Factor' aspect is pushed into the background, the more engaging and enjoyable the film is - and for much of the running time it is indeed relegated to the background.

If Lam had had the confidence to just excise all the hi-tech espionage type fluff and focus on the emotional core of the story, he could have made a great film here... though admittedly he'd have robbed himself of some excuses for staging some quite remarkable action scenes (though I'm sure he'd have found a way). As it is, I guess he can take some credit for managing to produce a pretty solid film despite the self-imposed handicap of a ridiculous script.

4 out of 7 people found the following review useful:
Enjoyable battle of wits, 26 April 2012
8/10

Tells the story of The Banquet at Hongmen, an event that marked the transition from the Qin Dynasty to the Han Dynasty in Chinese history.

Liu Bang and Xiang Yu are leaders of insurgent forces who work together to defeat the last remnants of Qin forces, but then each set their eyes on becoming emperor of the new dynasty. They both turn to their respective strategists, Zhang Liang and Fan Zeng, for advice. The advisors each formulate plans in an attempt to ensure their sponsor's success over the other, and engage in a battle of wits and cunning to achieve victory over their opponent. The opposing forces both put their plans into action starting at a banquet at the Hongmen Gate. Whose cunning will prove to be greater, whose foresight will be longer? Who will emerge victorious in the end? White Vengeance is a gorgeous production of suitably epic proportions, built around a well written script that succeeds in bringing these historical events and characters to life. The battle of wits, cunning and bravado makes for a great story, and the cast have been well chosen to fill their roles. Anthony Wong is particularly good as the aging, blind strategist, but the show is nearly stolen by Jordan Chan in a supporting role that gives the film two of its most memorable scenes. The presence of Liu Yi-Fei, whose face is surely the strongest argument for the existence of God that man has conceived, is of course most welcome.

The film has a number of battle scenes, which are generally very well executed. CGI is obviously used to make the massive armies seem truly massive, but is mostly eschewed for any close-up combat situations, with good old-fashioned people and the occasional wire, and just the occasional bit of CGI when somebody needs a sword, arrow or spear to go through them without alarming the film's insurance company unduly. This makes for some highly satisfying scenes of combat and carnage.

It's the dialogue and the characters that make the film though. Unfortunately, things do get a bit derailed towards the end with some scenes that are simply overcooked, and performances that lose their subtlety and break the illusion that we really are witnessing events as they unfurled. It's a shame, but the flaws aren't sufficient to undo the good work that comes before them.

Recommended.

2 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
If you liked Black Mask 2..., 26 April 2012
3/10

A group of circus performers are accidentally exposed to Japanese biochemicals from the World War II when looking for gold, and rapidly become super-strong but horribly disfigured mutants... all except for simpleton wannabe knife thrower Sunny (Aaron Kwok), who gets the strength without the hideousness due to... some reason or other.

The ugly mutants go on a rampage in Hong Kong, using their super-strength to rob, murder and generally get up to mischief, whilst after a brief spell being horribly fat, young Sunny becomes a have-a-go hero and strikes up a relationship with beautiful reporter Angel (Shu Qi).

It takes a special kind of person to watch Black Mask 2 and conclude "the world needs more films like that!", or to think "Terence Yin is an actor", or indeed to think "Benny Chan is a talented writer and director". I really can't imagine who would believe the latter, other than Benny himself, but he does keep getting quite large budgets to work with so unless his rich grandmother is financing them I guess he's somehow managed to convince others of it. To be fair, his films have mostly been successful - though largely due to Jackie Chan apparently being one of those who believe in Benny's ability enough to submit to his direction on multiple occasions.

City Under Siege, or as it's called in the UK "Assassin: City Under Siege" (for absolutely no discernible reason - perhaps somebody's brain melted after watching the film, and they decided that randomly following words and concepts after each other was the new normal) is truly a bad film. It's terribly written, terribly directed, and for the most part terribly acted. Things start off full of cheese and poorly plotted, and just get worse from there. By the end there's barely a scene goes by without invoking responses of "Why are they doing that?", "What were they trying to achieve?", "Didn't they think this through for even a moment?" and "wow, that was some really poor acting right there". Poor Aaron Kwok, who has worked diligently to develop some degree of respectability as an actor despite all the early evidence that it was not a talent that came naturally to him, seems to have regressed 20 years overnight, or is just woefully miscast and mishandled. This is probably his worst ever performance. Shu Qi, another one who struggled to achieve credibility after debuting and being summarily dismissed as a ditzy airhead only fit for soft porn roles, also flounders in a role that to be fair gives her precious little to work with. Ngai Sing, who generally fares well enough when he's used properly - i.e. required to look somewhat stoic and serious and kick somebody's ass - is the worst victim of miscasting and a director who can't handle his actors. His overacting becomes truly painful to watch as more and more layers of latex and makeup are applied to his mutating body, until you just feel pity for the guy.

The only cast members who come off at all well are Wu Jing and Zhang Jing-Chu, who perhaps benefit from being allowed to speak Mandarin or something. They are the only cast members who seem to fit their characters, and get a few (a very few) scenes where there seems to be some plausibility in their characters and emotions. Oh, and they get to kick plenty of ass.

The one thing that Benny Chan does unquestionably know how to do is stage some big action set pieces, and this is where City Under Siege scores a few points. Having Ngai Sing & Wu Jing go toe to toe is clearly a good idea, as that is what they are good at. The super-strong mutant angle gives the choreographers Ma Yuk Sing and Nicky Li a good excuse to show off their wirework, but they also remember to have some more grounded action where the performers get to show off their skills. The staging of the fights is quite imaginative and dramatic, though I couldn't fully enjoy the final showdown in and around traffic because I couldn't stop thinking "Why the hell are people still driving along normally when all this is going on around them?", largely because by that point I'd decided that the most fun that could be extracted from the film was probably by going into snarky critic mode and picking it to pieces... a task which, unfortunately, offers absolutely no challenge.

Oddly, bad as it is, watching City Under Siege has had the entirely unexpected effect of making me want to watch Black Mask 2 again... probably just to remind myself how bad it is, and to confirm that CUS is not quite _that_ bad. Perhaps it's just the timely reminder that you have to watch something truly dreadful every so often to remind yourself that overall, most films aren't really that bad.

25 out of 32 people found the following review useful:
Tsui Hark favours special effects over character and plot again, 21 April 2012
5/10

Tsui Hark goes back to the well to draw fresh inspiration, returning once more to King Hu's classic Dragon Gate Inn - which he already remade rather wonderfully in 1992. The story is given a fresh set of details to flesh it out, but the basic skeleton remains the same - evil eunuchs, patriotic rebels and independent forces of uncertain allegiance all converge on the eponymous inn, where identities are masked and secrets concealed until a game of wits allows the various parties to ascertain where they all stand - and exactly whose ass they need to kick.

This is not the first time that Tsui Hark has convinced himself that what one of his classic films really needed was an update with loads of CGI - witness Legend of Zu in 2001, an exercise which failed to convince anybody else of that viewpoint. This time he has an extra decade of Chinese experience in CGI to draw on though, and what's more... now he can do it in 3D! Well, I will have to take the internet's word for that, 'cause I watched in boring old 2D (albeit HD). Can he convince us this time that computer graphics are the tool he's been waiting for all along to truly unleash his imagination? No, he can't. Aside from a few impressive moments, the CGI still looks rather fake, and fails to impress or engage as well as the low-budget special effects (wires, clever camera work) that made the 1992 film such an impressive spectacle. Furthermore, he seems to have failed to note the main factor that caused Legend of Zu to rank so much lower in fans' hearts than its 1983 predecessor... all the special effects in the world won't engage an audience if they don't get involved in the story. Well-defined, likable (or hateable, where appropriate) characters whose fates we actually care about will encourage us to forgive any weaknesses in the special effects, but the converse is rarely true. Flying Swords of Dragon Gate fails to deliver on characters, and fails to develop the plot. The film begins by introducing the political intrigues of the court and the rival factions of the Eunuchs, then fails to provide any particular relevance to this detail. Jet Li plays a rebel who we assume to be patriotic, but doesn't actually offer any explanation whatsoever as to as his motivations, his particular plights, or much of a character at all (though he gets more than most). Various groups are introduced, and brought together at the inn, then the film sort of flounders for a little bit before everybody just sort of decides its time to start fighting. The sense of intrigue, the subtle details, the game of wits as these master fighters out-smart and out-guess each other... the actual meat of King Hu's original film, in other words... pretty much replaced by 'hey, one of the good guys happens to look exactly like the chief bad guy!'.

Oh well, Jet Li's on hand, so at least there must be some spectacular action, right? Oh yeah, I forgot... he got old. There are some nicely choreographed action scenes in places, but with too much reliance on CGI of mixed effectiveness.

Maybe I'm viewing the older films with a touch of rose-tinting, or maybe I'm just getting old and tHe KidZ will see the many virtues of the latest attempt to improve a classic that I'm missing. It probably did look quite spectacular in 3D-capable cinemas... but I am yet to be convinced that that can ever take the place of a well written script, or a director who still remembers that he has human actors on set somewhere, and that getting a great performance out of them is probably the most important of his job.

18 out of 26 people found the following review useful:
Bad film, amazing action, 18 December 2010
7/10

A group of fighters are selected, via competition, to go to Hollywood for a project... or that's what they believe. In fact, after winning they are drugged and kidnapped, and forced to fight for their lives in a contest staged for the benefit of some extremely wealthy gamblers.

Bangkok Knockout is a terrible film by most standards - i.e. the story is dumb and the acting is terrible. It does, however, have some of the most extraordinary action scenes ever filmed. The cast are mostly stuntmen and fighters, and the film showcases a range of different styles and techniques going head to head. The level of physical virtuosity on display is amazing, and the scenes are brutal - fights are full contact, and stunts are outrageously dangerous.

For lovers of action cinema it's a must-see... everybody else should probably skip it.

Don (2006/I)
2 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
Quite poor, 6 September 2008
4/10

The problem with remaking a classic film is that chances are you're going to make it worse, and be judged more harshly than you would if you made a new film. The remake of DON would be mediocre even if it wasn't being compared to one of the most entertaining films of all time. We already more or less know the story, and the new twists that are added to keep it fresh make little or no sense. SRK pales next to Amitabh's multifaceted performance, and the sheer cheesy fun of the original is mostly absent. The sub-par music is the final nail in the coffin. Only the action is better done here (though Malaysia makes a beautiful setting).

Next time try remaking a really bad film, then you might at least get credit for improving it!

Triangle (2007)
6 out of 7 people found the following review useful:
As messy as you'd expect, 22 April 2008
5/10

A novel idea, originating in Tsui Hark I believe, to make a film based on the old game of incremental story-telling, passing the baton between 3 of Hong Kong's (once) top directors (they should have swapped Johnnie To for John Woo and called it "The Victims of Jean-Claude Van-Damme Rehabilitation Project"). The result is, sadly, almost as incoherent as a nay-sayer might expect it to be.

The first third of the film (Tsui) is kind of scatter-shot, throwing ideas out there for the other directors to pick up on, centred around a heist movie setup with 3 main protagonists (Simon Yam, Louis Koo and Sun Hong-Lei) - setting up a triangle that clearly hints where he really wants the movie to go. This section does suffer from that amphetamine-high lack of focus that sometimes afflicts Tsui Hark when he has too many ideas for a movie, and can't decide which ones are really important.

Ringo Lam takes over just before 30 minutes in, and the mood shifts - he evidently wants to create a psychological horror instead of a crime movie, and shifts the focus more to the characters played by Kelly Lin and Gordon Lam. This part is eerie and oblique, a little surreal at times but much more focused.

Then Johnnie To comes in for the final act, and decides that the film should really be... a farce! Perhaps it's his way of commenting on the baby he has been left holding. Every character that's been introduced so far is brought back into play, along with a couple of new ones (notably Lam Suet), and the plot plays itself out in an elaborate comedy of errors hinged upon a series of entirely implausible coincidences. The finale is a gun battle vaguely reminiscent of those in THE MISSION or EXODUS, but with a more comical coating. It's a bit Shakespearean, but falls short of The Bard's wit.

The shifting of tones, and the diverting focus of the narrative, is exactly the sort of problem you'd expect a movie with three directors and three script-writing teams to have. Perhaps that was the point, and each director deliberately took the movie into their own favourite territory when they took the reins. I guess that's how it usually happens when people play the game amongst themselves (I forget the name of it, never really saw the appeal), but they perhaps failed to factor in that the game is more fun for the people playing it than for somebody who simply gets handed the end result. The production process may be interesting to talk or think about, but probably makes for a less enjoyable film than a more conventional collaboration would have.

I did enjoy Ringo Lam's section though - hopefully it's a sign he's going to be doing more work in Hong Kong again!


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