Reviews written by registered user
|28 reviews in total|
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Everybody was on the edge of their toes when footage of "Iron Fist"
first showed up. In the hearts and minds of many, it would be the
correcting entry for the promising but ultimately disappointing "Luke
Cage" last year. Plagued by a lackluster second half and a laughably
bland, bad, and one-dimensional villain, "Luke Cage" left a bad taste
in the mouth of hardcore enthusiasts who wanted more to do for the
strongest member of the Defenders. This job of cleansing the palate of
the fans would be left in the hands of "Iron Fist". Everybody was
expecting "Iron Fist" to be a slam-bang martial arts filled
extravaganza in the vein of most Hong Kong films of the Golden Age
and/or a Tony Jaa Muay Thai romps wherein there is a minimal and
scrappy story to set-up the non-stop bashing of heads with fists, feet
and elbows. Others also expected a Daredevil-ish take, with a regular
white collar hero takes on criminals on both ends of the law. "Iron
Fist" was ultimately something that they did not see coming: a slow
burn, martial arts romp filled with unpredictable plot points and
In the series, Danny Rand (Jones) comes back from his accidental "exile" in the mystical city of K'un-Lun to his home and place of his family's corporate empire: New York City. To his surprise, the company and his childhood friends turned company heads (Jessica Stroup and Tom Pelphrey) do not acknowledge him (they thought him to be long dead) and his father's business partner (David Wenham) has seemingly passed away. Knowing is something is amiss, Rand pursues a double mission: take back his company and investigate the corruption and illegal ties that it has with an old enemy back in K'un-Lun, who also have plans of their own for the city.
The direction of the episodes in "Iron Fist" contrasts with the expectations of people used to other Netflix/Marvel Shows like "Daredevil" and "Jessica Jones". (They share the same directors like Peter Hoar, Andy Goddard, Stephen Surjik and John Dahl etc.) While the visuals represent those mentioned shows, the script does not. In fact, it transcends the visuals and creates a different experience. This might be jarring for most people, but it is a turn for the better, as they have crafted a story that is an amalgam of a martial arts thriller, corporate drama, family saga and a love story. Despite the hodgepodge, none of the parts are under developed and they actually form part of a cohesive whole. Going back to the direction, the same is controlled and paced and it actually allows the characters to develop. The corporate scenes (and there are many) are nicely handled and are used to supplement the characters' inner turmoil. They are not boring "filler scenes"
The main source of controversy in this series is with regard to the martial arts, or rather the supposed lack of the lead star's prowess in performing the same. There is some truth to that. The action (choreographed by War (2007)'s Brett Chan) is shown to be more reflective of a grounded and semi-realistic style. There are less flashy high kicks here than your Ching Siu-tong/ Tsui Hark epic. Because of this, Finn Jones' movements are easily monitored by demanding fan boys who claim that he is unskilled and unworthy of the role, even more so since Iron Fist is supposed to be the master of martial arts. The truth is that the action performed by Jones is actually varied, ranging from good to mediocre. This is actually a minor miracle, considering that Jones had a limited time to prepare, with only 15 minutes prep time before the fights. But that's the only problem. Most of the fights in the series are quite excellent, from the Hallway fight scene, the Hand Death Match episode versus the Butcher Brothers and other assorted villains, and of course the fight between Rand and Zhou Cheng (Lewis Tan) which starts playful with Rand trying to counter Zhou Cheng's Drunken Style, and ends brutally.
The greatest strength of the series however, is not the action. It is the plot and the dynamic characterization. This added a layer that makes it different from other Netflix / Marvel shows. And who is the better representative for this aspect than the troubled Meachum Family? Their family dynamics keeps us engaged throughout the show. They were developed in a way that you do not know their true motives, which is understandable since their relationship with Danny Rand is intertwined by their corporate interests. They handle the contradiction to its logical conclusion with a lot of unexpected face-heel turns, uncomfortable bonding, and oodles of disturbing violence. Their unpredictability is so apparent that you would be rooting for one member of their family for one episode and then cursing them in the next. This is not due to a botched continuity writing. This is good characterization, something that most superhero films and shows lack.
Overall, an unexpected offering from Marvel and Netflix. Just let Finn Jones practice some more for the second season.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Horror is a word unknown to me nowadays. It is like a passing dream,
partly relived through late night viewings of "The Exorcist" or
something like "Superstition". Although it surrounds our daily life, it
is apparently and relatively hard to relive on celluloid. There are
just too many clichés already, too many tried and tested formulas and
just way damn too many directors/writers who have no respect for the
genre and treat it as the easiest way to grab a quick buck from the
audience. (How do they do this? By throwing more psychos, blood and
"ghost scares" at every chance they get!) In other words, the audience
are already accustomed to the formulas, and they precisely know already
which one would "take effect" and even if it did, they have already
prepared themselves well for it. The genre has been
de-intellectualized, with its current equivalent counterpart being the
"spoof" comedy and the love team romantic comedies that are churned out
at every waking moment. Those movies will make you laugh, they will
make you cry and feel giddy inside for 90 minutes but when you leave
the theater you realize that you have just watched the cinematic
equivalent of junk food; eat a lot and get no nutrients in return. That
is precisely the state of horror movies for the past two decades, and I
personally feel saddened by it. Not that I don't love watching rom-coms
or spoof movies, all I'm saying that the HORROR genre is too NOBLE for
that kind of degradation. For crying out loud, it's a PRIMAL, BASIC and
QUINTESSENTIAL human emotion and this is the way that we attempt to
capture it? Why can't we give it the same "award-winning" treatment
that we give to love stories? Anyway, it is then apparent that we
conclude that it takes REAL TALENT to make us experience that unique
Enter "Noroi: the Curse", a movie that in a first glance resembles the merger of the recent "J-Horror " line of movies (think of "RIngu", "Dark Water", "Kairo", "Chakushin Ari") and the "found footage horror" genre (popularized by "The Last Broadcast" and "The Blair Witch Project" and bastardized and milked to death by "Paranormal Activity" and its sequels and imitators). But after I watched the film I have made my own conclusion that this film manages to transcend both genres, both in terms of viewer's expectations and the inclusion of relatively newer elements. In other words, this film has all the strong points of both sub-genres and none of the cinematic baggage that bog down such movies. For example, the film does not rely purely on GHOSTS, specifically long- haired, shrieking, girl ghosts, for the scares. So then you ask, what really scared me in the film if it wasn't a ghost? The real answer to that question is that I am not really sure and I think that is what makes it even scarier. You naturally feel more disoriented when you don't know what you're up against, and the whole movie realizes that. You never get to fully know the source of the supernatural events, and even if the film does show, it does so in the form of speculative theory, bizarre behavior and a lot of symbols. By the time you get a hint of the truth, something shocking/bad happens and you're glad that you didn't know. Secondly, the film is delightfully unpredictable and it seems that anything could possibly happen. In other J-horror movies, you precisely know when a fake scare is going to appear or you have developed that cinematic instinct of correctly predicting the next place where the just disappeared ghost will appear. In this movie, you never get to experience that moment and in one scene, we get treated the opposite. Have you ever had that feeling in horror movies that the problem seems to have stopped but then the tone of the movie still remains ominous? So many scenes are like that here (I won't mention) that I tried to stop the movie because those scenes came one after the other! Finally, this "found-footage" film is not BORING or VISUALLY DISINTERESTING. In "Paranormal Activity", I just had the urge to sleep. You know it's about an evil ghost so then what? In "Noroi", you are constantly being bombarded with new possible information, and to better reinforce this, we also get to see the viewpoints of the OTHER characters and therefore we get a more convincing power of the power of the evil presence in the movie.
Critics of the film deride the film for its length. But that is actually reinforcing the power of the film. Instead of throwing us a shock per minute, the film takes its time, first establishing the mood through the documentary footage of the main character. It then gets amped up to psychic manifestations, eerie "ghost" footage and then it gets even eerier with a demon ritual etc. Horror is hard to attain in a fast-paced way, and its length get punishing for the viewer because all the stores tension from the first half of the film finally bears its ugly head in the second part. The effect is that when the film is over, you wish that it was a little bit longer so that your brain could adjust to the mingling of horror and reality TV.
I won't spoil the plot here and you can read that from the other reviews. I must say that no other horror film has impressed me as "Noroi". I would also point out the errors in watching a movie like this. If you want to believe that nothing could ever scare you in the movies, then nothing ever will. Horror movies, especially ones like this, require a little suspension of one's guard. (Isn't that the point of watching horror movies? To LET ourselves experience getting scared?)
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Let me start this with the fact that "The Dragon Family" has nothing
plot wise for you. As an 80's era triad movie, it contains all the
basic ingredients; blood brothers, traitor triad among the ranks, death
of loved ones orchestrated by traitor triad and the bloody finale where
traitor triad and friends get their comeuppance. Now, having said that,
why still bother to watch something that you have probably seen in "A
better tomorrow" (1986) or "Flaming Brothers" (1987) or even "Hong Kong
Godfather" (1985)? The answer to that would probably because with every
80's triad movie, the handling of the elements is different. Yes, they
ARE present in the movie, but the way they are handled varies from
director to director. It might be seriously melodramatic (like Woo's "A
better tomorrow") or even contain the remnants of Shaw Brother's method
of intertwining campy dialog with extreme violence (like Lung Wei
Wang's Hong Kong Godfather). Since "The Dragon Family" falls in between
both very influential eras, it contains elements from both the Hong
Kong New Wave and the waning and fading Shaw Brother's style. This fact
is even represented in the cast of the movie; both containing new and
upcoming stars during the 80's like Andy Lau etc. and at the same time
having the old Shaw veterans play the older roles.
Just like the story itself, the acting is okay, meaning nothing to brag about or even to cringe on. Everybody in the movie plays their cookie- cutter roles to the hilt, be it the role of the revenge thirsty son of the fallen "good" triad leader to the money hungry ambitious "traitor" triad. One role worth noting is the one given to pop star Alan Tam Wing- Lun as Alan, the adopted hit man son of the "good" triad family. When we first see him carrying out the hit on one boss, we can't believe they chose HIM to play a hit man. Most of us would remember him before as the wimpy triad in "Tragic Hero" who gets his finger chopped off. Here, he looks like Tom Cruise in "Rain Man". But then the casting is in line with the classic, quintessential proverb, "never judge the book by its cover". In this movie, he fights like a seasoned hit man, efficiently taking down scores of bad guys using guns and martial arts convincingly.
Now let's discuss the action in the movie. The first part may be a little slow, but then when all the crying part is done we are treated to an extended massacre at a funeral. The scene is sudden and shocking and the action here is fast, brutal and bloody. People get shot and stabbed, classic Heroic Bloodshed Mayhem mixed with Martial Arts. (Courtesy of Action Choreographer Gordon Liu) In fact, the action reminded me of the action in "Tiger Cage" and in "She Shoots Straight", beautiful amalgamation of gun and martial arts action. The ending is also worth mentioning. It first starts with a stylish and bloody shootout a la Ringo Lam and ends with a mêlée of martial arts, fencing and lots of sharp and jagged glass. Final Analysis: Acting: Okay, Actors: Okay, Action: Damn Good. What more do you want HK fan?
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Death Wish 2 is even worse than what its title suggests, and that is
something that has never happened to me while I watched its other
sequels. (The absolutely gung-ho 3, the fun 4, the final 5). With
sequences that seems to be at home in movies like "Forced Entry" or "I
Spit on Your Grave", Death Wish 2 is definitely not your ordinary
vigilante movie, dealing with themes and graphic imagery that would
make the newer, cleaner vigilante movies like "Death Sentence" feel
like "Terms Of Endearment".
In Death Wish 2, it's not all about the violence that makes it sick, it's the unhealthy anticipation for it to happen, both referring to the two brutal rapes/murders and the vigilante justice that precedes them. Credit goes to Michael Wimmer for portraying this to the utmost degree, making the calm before the storm as unbearable as the actual storm itself. In here, he beautifully shows us the peaceful and hopeful life that has befallen Paul Kersey (Bronson) ever since the events of the first film; he now has a new job in Los Angeles, his daughter has shown signs of recovery from her trauma in the first film and of course there's the obligatory love interest (Jill Ireland Who Else?). All of that is destroyed when a group of totally immoral, evil, horny, violent and downright nasty punks (one of them being Laurence Fishburne) do a nasty house invasion, with Bronson's Latina housemaid being the first victim. Needless to say, she becomes the subject of as-nasty-as "I Spit on your grave" gang-rape. Not long after, the daughter gets it too, with the aggravating fact that the gang engage in the rape of a mentally retarded woman. She then gets an even nastier fate; she gets brutally impaled on a fence spikes while trying to escape them.
Now you wonder why I had to go further in describing the sordid details of the movie. The simple answer to that question is that is it those scenes that serve as the engine of the entire juggernaut of a movie, the driving force behind all the well deserved-vigilante killings. If the first one tried to shy away from the cause of Kersey's outrage, here it splashes it on your unbelieving face. But to my great surprise the effect of these events seem less on Kersey himself. Instead of going down on his knees and trashing on the floor, he remains calm, stoic and as determined to kill. And where does that leave the viewer? Taking the emotional brunt not experienced by Kersey, they silently cheer him on as he proceeds to brutally wipe out the gang responsible.
Like what I said above, this is the Death Wish that fully indulges itself in the cathartic need of the people to dish out vengeance on people who deserve it. This film succeeds because it is very successful in creating that need and reinforcing it at the same time with the acts of brutality found in the second part of the film.
I also said that it is immorally thrilling because of the entire nature of the film itself. The rapes are presented in a graphic and voyeuristic manner that while some people might turn their eyes from it, some will be confused as to whether they will enjoy it or not. If anything, it adds to the bleak nature of the film, a crude way of making the viewers participants in the atrocities.
Overall, a great cross of a vigilante thriller and an exploitation movie. Only thing that mars this movie is its attempt in making a romantic angle. But then again it fails in the movie, a clear indication that viewers came to see the rapes and the muggings and Charles Bronson killing those responsible one by one.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Almost every review that I have encountered about the movie tends to
focus on one thing: the gore. These reviewers say that without the gore
the whole thing would be one bloody and stupid Italian mess. I can only
say one thing: they were all caught in some sort of extreme hype. They
were all looking for the real reason why this movie had been rated X in
the first place and why people who have seen it tend to rave to
everyone they see about the extreme gore. I must that I am saddened by
this travesty and while I admit that I was part of the ones looking at
this movie in terms of its blood content. After watching it I was
wrong, terribly wrong.
To see "The Beyond" only for the eye skewing and the throat ripping and face melting is akin to watching "The Exorcist" only for the green pea vomit and the 360 degree rotation of Linda Blair's head. Simply saying, you will have missed out the other more substantial parts of the movie and oftentimes these are the parts that provide the heart and soul of the movie. Without the scenes that deal with Fr. Merrin's psychological and mental struggle with the devil or the scenes that highlight the doubt of Fr. Karras, the whole movie could have been an empty exercise in religious exploitation. I am not saying that the film would be more effective if its major shock scenes were dropped in favor of its 'intelligent" scenes, I am saying that they should not each be taken separately since they both form a unique experience, an experience that would be sadly tarnished and diminished if people look at the movie at the wrong way.
"The Beyond" is director Lucio Fulci's ode to the basic fear of mankind, which is the fear of the unknown. Even though we know in the beginning that all these nastiness is being caused by satanic forces, the viewer is entirely left in the dark after those scenes. Who is that blind lady with the dog? Why does she have to do with anything? Why does she have to appear in an eerily white road that stretches in the middle of nowhere? What is the significance of her running away from the house replayed 4 times? Such questions remain with the viewer throughout the movie and in our confusion, we don't have time to think, before we know it someone is already getting graphically mutilated on screen. Such is the magic of this movie. If you let yourself get caught in the esoteric milieu of the movie, you'll get more than what you came for. (Who wouldn't want little Lovecraftian themes to pop out together with blood and guts?) In today's horror movies where gore gets traded for atmosphere and vice versa, I could only be thankful for a movie that maintains both up until the last reel.
Of course, a movie made by an Italian Horror Director will always have town the certain "trademarks" present, no matter how Lynchian the story might get. You still have your slow-moving Italian Zombies, graphic and brutal mutilation that includes but not limited to eye skewering, heads being blown off, throat ripping etc. You also have your not-so-special acting, but the idea there is if it doesn't impede or derail the movie (which it doesn't), why make a fuss about it?
Again, this is another unique Italian horror movie. Don't see this one expecting to be thrown buckets of blood at every scene. Enjoy the twilight zone weirdness. Enjoy the extended face-eating sequence. An above all, enjoy of the most unique horror movies of all time, with Italian Horror crossed over with Surrealist madness ala Jodorowsky or Lynch.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Let me first start this review by saying that "Men behind the sun" is
one of the most unique amalgamations of genres, in this case that of a
war movie and an exploitation movie. Just think of what happens when
you cross "Salo, or the I20 days of Sodom" with the "The Great Escape"
and you would hit the right ballpark. "MBTS", however, has a
significant degree of difference from other exploitationers like "Ilsa"
or even "I spit on your grave" and this is where the sickening strength
of the film truly lies. Unlike those said movies, "MBTS" is based on
real events, and the movie follows these events down to the bitter and
tragic end. (With minor plot additions of course)
The plot of "MBTS" follows the exploits of almost everybody involved in the Manchu-based Japanese Unit 731, the medical unit responsible for carrying out the bulk of the biological experiments via unspeakably misanthropic ways. The specimens in these experiments were not frogs or rats or even your usual guinea pigs, rather it involved real live humans and included (but not limited to) captured soldiers, domesticated animals, and even children.
What makes the movie even better is that it adheres to these facts with much reverence. Mous and company, even with the lack of actual evidence, manage to recreate the gruesome set-pieces through the several eyewitness accounts. Thematically and graphically, the movie never fails.
One thing that makes this particular movie stand out is the fact that it never falters from showing unspeakable acts. If one has read from the interviews of T.F Mou, the crew stopped at nothing to show the atrocities done by the Japanese, going as far as using a real corpse of a boy during the murder-autopsy scene. Such audacity went along way indeed, with the ending showing a Chinese boy, who is about to escape from the camp, getting a Japanese flag rammed through his neck. (What a subtle effort in showing cinematic symbolism)
What makes MBTS even more disturbing is its efforts to achieve a linear narrative form, or in other words its effort to become more of a movie and less of a documentary. So what's the deal with that? In normal, narrative movies, the audiences are always expecting the hero to save the day, to serve the each antagonist their share of comeuppance. In this film, that never happens. The hero-villain relationship does not exist in this movie. What we have here is an Oppressor-Victim relationship. The people in the movie that manage to gain our sympathy are disemboweled, skinned alive, impaled, explode their guts etc. I must make clear that if it were a documentary, it would have been less disturbing for ME, but to see it in colored celluloid and with it trying to pass of as just another HK movie makes my blood run cold. These were real atrocities, and now we get to see them literally in the flesh.
Overall, I must honestly say that MBTS surprisingly sickened me, and this is coming from a guy who has watched Baise-Moi, Ken Park, Inside, Untold Story, Ichi the Killer, Visitor Q, Poultrygeist, and A Serbian FILM. Not that those films didn't shock me, it's just that I have discovered that every extreme-film has its own unique way of twisting you. It might be a subtle attack on your violent impulses (a la Haneke's Funny Games) or something more unexpected (I really didn't anticipate the level of bloody brutality of INSIDE). With MBTS, it was a bit different. Here, I was already informed beforehand of the individual "stand-out" scenes. It turned out to be, informed or not, I was still sickened. It turned out to be that in the anticipating such scenes to happen, I could see the Chinese people in the film, innocent, unmindful, helpless, like lambs to be led to the slaughter. There could nothing be more disturbing than watching a Chinese kid in the movie happily playing not knowing that in the next scene he will be killed and systematically disemboweled.
I know people will watch this for its gore content. It will suffice, but of course there will always be gorier films that this one. One thing I will say that is for sure is that if you're looking for a more intense and bleaker version of sugar-coated films like Schindler's list, this is the right movie for you. In the end, you'll feel so empty; you swear that your guts have been blown out of you via decompression chamber.
In the end, it was an amazingly disturbing experience but it warrants a viewing thanks to its honest portrayal.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Consider this premise: A reporter and the daughter of a prominent
doctor in an unnamed Caribbean island decide to explore that said
island in order to determine the truth about the what happened to the
people found in that derelict boat. Then, as predicted by almost
anybody, they encounter a lot of Zombies. So, with a story like that,
how can it be a considered as a horror icon together with movies like
"The Exorcist" or "Rosemary's Baby"? Take note that I am using the
world "horror" here and I am not emphasizing in anyway the gore and
violence content of the film. ("Dead Alive", even with all the blood
and guts it showered upon the screen is NOT a true horror movie, even
if it's still one of my favorite movies of all time). What makes "Zombi
2" different from all the other Zombie movies is its sense of DREAD.
What I'm talking about is that sense where a character or by extension
us as viewers are in a state of dangerous anticipation for either what
is hiding in the shadows or some dark, diabolical secret. "Zombi 2" has
that, delivers it with gusto and maintains it throughout the film
through the ingenious use of music (by Fabio Frizzi), gore (by Gianetto
de Rossi) and direction by Fulci. We may be miles ahead of the story
but our minds suddenly lose focus during the scenes where we are
treated to ominous zombie rising (the creepiest ones are the
mummy-looking Zombies in the Hospital where they rise without sound and
very slowly) and the ill-omened atmosphere in the middle and end part
of the movie heightened in part by the jungle-tribal music ala
"Predator 2". Of course the movie has its share of "shock" scares (what
modern movie doesn't?) and unlike most of today's "shockers", it isn't
just punctuated by sudden loud and shrieking sounds, it is accompanied
by the most unflinchingly graphic and bloody violence. When they come,
it's not just any surprise, it's sickening too. Of course, a lot of
people call movies like"28 days later" as the definitive "scary" Zombie
movie without realizing that what it offered was a higher variation of
cheap thrills and none of the atmosphere-driven horror brought about by
Fulci in "Zombi 2"
Now that we have established that it is a true horror movie, we ask ourselves why this film is such a cult classic that has endured for many years. There are of course many factors that have lead to this. One, of course, would be the infamous gore. De Rossi delivers the goods here: we have throats being ripped open, complete with the sudden and beautifully gushing fountains of blood, we also have great gunshots to the head and the gory effects (like the resounding exploding head) delivered with powerful force and then we also have the customary zombie practice of eating people's entrails and it is presented with much gusto, with the camera slowly lingering over the gruesome details. Needless to say, any gore hound- regardless of age- will be sure to find heaven in this film. Of course I won't argue with anyone that this is NOT the goriest film ever made, but with all the other movies that contain so much more gore, only "Zombi 2" could make you appreciate and at the same time make you cringe in disgust with the carnage at display. (The "eye sequence" will remain with you for years)
The second factor would be the abundance of memorable scenes, which most cult movies would more or less have. I have already mentioned the wince- inducing eye-impalement scene, but there are so much more than just the scenes of violence. There is also a protracted battle between a zombie and a shark. The time devoted to that scene tells us that the filmmakers were very inspired to bring something unique to the audience. It's a scene that can only be found in this movie and nowhere else.
"Zombi 2" is always a movie that provokes continuous debate on whether or not Lucio Fulci is a 1.misogynist, 2. Brainless hack who depends too much on gore and violence, and, 3. Overrated. So are these rumors true? First of all the first one is totally bonkers. Just because the women get SOME of the most memorable deaths in his films isn't proof enough that the director hates women. How come this argument can't be found among the films of Aronofsky? Because his films are "artistic"? Mind you he's the director who showed the humiliating shared-dildo dance in "Requiem for a Dream" and who showed women mutilating themselves and others in "Black Swan". And for those who are too blind to see, Fulci also shows men getting killed too! (Most memorable: power drill to the head in "City of the Living Dead") Maybe he can be called Sadistic, but not misogynistic. Now the second one is not true either. True Fulci fans know that only 5 or 6 of his films were extreme-gore films. Some were bad but the rest where atmospheric and scary (Just like this one). Just check "The Psychic". The third one is up to you if you believe that or not. He is a bit overrated in my opinion and that's because of the stir caused by the people who watched his "best" (read: gory) work, he has become some sort of revered legend and a lot of people seem to view him on the basis of the said films.
I love this film simply because it managed to embed itself in my subconscious the first time I watched it. It was gripping, gory, and it reeks of that bloody and nasty Italian exploitation flavor. Fulci will be missed.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Make damn sure it isn't Steven Seagal. Seagal has come back again to
bloody the silver screen with another actioner "Marked for Death". This
time, it's bloodier, more violent and less complex than "Above the Law"
and for action fans with a short attention span that is always a good
thing. Not that there isn't a story, but it's very by the numbers that
you have probably have seen it before and for that, Seagal and Director
Dwight H. Little("Rapid Fire", "Phantom of the Opera") more than make
up for it through a hail of bullets and a plethora of broken limbs.
Seagal plays a retired DEA agent who decides to quit the job when his last drug bust ended violently with his partner being gunned down by a topless prostitute. Anyway Seagal decides to return to his quiet neighborhood life. But since this is a Seagal movie, we know his longings for personal peace would be in vain. Jamaican gangs (led by a Voodoo magician/drug lord named Screwface) in the neighborhood are dealing dope in the neighborhood and are having a messy turf war with the local Italian gang. Seagal gets involved gets "marked for death" and then proceeds to systematically wipe them all out.
Like what I have said earlier, the story is nothing special. Sure, it's spiced up with elements of Voodoo from time to time, but in the final analysis, we know that Seagal can't be harmed by any stinking black magic. In fact, one can't help sometimes but feel pity for the Jamaicans and all assorted filth in this movie as Seagal uses them to showcase his exciting (and very painful to watch) bone snapping/breaking moves.
The films violence is definitely what sorts this Seagal movie from the other bunch. Like "Under Siege" and "Out for Justice", Seagal takes normal B-movie action to unprecedented heights. While the shootouts come off as typical and maybe uninspired, the scenes of hand to hand combat are violently thrilling and have an undeniably cathartic feeling to it. Every time Seagal twists and breaks a Jamaican creep's limb, something inside you cheers and tells you that they deserved it for all the moral degradation they have brought to the community. Anyway, we are also presented with scenes that highlight Seagal's real-life prowess in Kendo (and the corresponding ineptness of his enemies).
The technical aspects of the movie are also well done, with the production design and the music perfectly capturing the seedy environment of the Jamaica underworld. The acting is mostly OK, but the strongest performance in the movie doesn't come from any of the protagonists, coming instead from leading bad guy Screwface (Basil Wallace). His performance came off as menacing and threatening. Seagal gives another one of his so-so performances, this time less ambitious and charismatic than his acting in "Above the Law".
The pacing of the film is also great, but one thing that bothers me is the group of the scenes between Seagal and Joanna Pacula. They are supposed to add to the symbolic theme of the film but since all of that is sacrificed for bloody action, these scenes are empty fillers and do not even add cheap thrills. But then let's remember, this is a Seagal movie and the plot is always secondary to the action.
Also watch out for the great song by Steven Seagal and Jimmy Cliff "John Crow". It is a great and relaxing song that should tide you over after witnessing all the acts of bloodshed on screen. Seagal might not be the best actor in the world (he will NEVER be) but his vocals are amazing. Overall a great Seagal movie!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Wong Kar Wai's films have been described by people in different
adjectives. There are those who claim that his films are boring,
pretentious, badly plotted etc. There are also those who claim that his
films have been the highest incarnations of movie art and are the best
amalgamations of cutting edge and innovative camera techniques and
deep, rich and unusual characterizations. So after years of watching
his films, which is really which? The answer is quite simple and it has
to be both and in fact I can say that MOST of WKW's films exhibit those
qualities. So, if you are not into those films mentioned described by
both his critics and fans, then you should skip this particular
But one thing is still sure: there is such a thing as a good and a bad WKW film. How can you determine? It's relatively easy. Remember that I said that all of his films contained the trademark good and bad elements? If one of the bad elements overpowers the good ones then it is simply a bad WKW film. So what's the deal with Wong's first film?
"As tears go by" was one of the most unique films to come out of HK that year and what was more interesting about it was that it was basically a triad movie, a genre that was defined so well in movies like "The Club" and "Hong Kong Godfather" and refined and somewhat redesigned by "A Better Tomorrow". In general, these films were violently entertaining and each film left a permanent mark on the psyches of audiences everywhere, particularly on how they viewed triads. Watching "As tears go by" must have left a big "What the..?" impression on their faces. That can be justified because the plot is miles away from the usual triad formula of blood brothers having an enemy inside the ranks, the customary treacherous betrayal and of course the bloody revenge where everybody dies. Not in the case of this movie. This movie, like what other reviewers have noticed, is the unofficial HK version of Martin Scorsese's "Mean Streets". Just like how Scorsese's movie was a documentary-like exploration of the life and times of Italian Mobsters in New York's Little Italy, "As tears go by" does the same with the exploration of the lives of triads in the crowded Mongkok District of Hong Kong. (You can also spot the similarities between the main characters in "Mean Streets" and "As tears go by")The plot is also basically more or less the same and what WKW's version gains more weight is in terms of its technical and visual aspects.
Scorsese's movie was shot in a down and dirty manner that reflected both its documentary aspirations as well as its very low budget. WKW's film is the actual opposite with its combination of dizzying camera shots as well as odd camera angles. (Cinematography by noted HK filmmaker Andrew Lau Wai Keung) Although WKW hasn't gone yet into full "Chungking" mode, most of the film is still shot in the relatively normal HK manner. (As far as Triad films are concerned that is). The action scenes are also surprisingly brutal, crude and none have any of the polish that makes the blows in other action films seemed less painful than they should be. (Courtesy of Action Choreographer Stephen Tung Wai of "A Better Tomorrow"/ "Reign of Assassins"/ "The Assassin" fame)When people get shot, slashed and smashed and they suffer the bloody consequences. Those statements might give other people the idea that this is a rocking triad action picture but it isn't. The scenes of violence might be strong and might pop out when least expected but they happen so infrequently that you will ultimately be focused on how all these tragic acts of violence affect and spiral the lives of these characters downwards
The acting, on most parts, is okay although I have to admit that in drama films what I focus on more of course would be the acting. (Simply because that is what it has to offer, right?) Andy Lau, as other reviewers have noticed, looks like he was simply phoning in his lines and is simply lazy. Although I can very well see what they mean (especially in the scenes in the beginning with Andy Lau's girlfriend), it is redeemed by some minor scenes like the scene where he pours a bottle of whiskey on his stone-cold, world-weary face. The strongest role in the movie is portrayed by Jacky Cheung as Lau's protégé Fly. Cheung's manic acting style compliments his role pretty well; a role that has several parallels with Robert De Niro's Johnny Boy in "Mean Streets" but one that takes a new and even more drastic turn plot wise. Alex Man is superb again as (what else?) the bad triad, a role that he owned in Taylor Wong's "Rich and Famous" and "Tragic Hero".
A bad note in the film comes in the form of overused soundtrack, in this case the Cantonese version of "Take my Breath Away." While it was very surprising to hear it the first time, it soon proved to be quite annoying. I like 80's music, but I believe that it was relatively used for too long.
Overall, the whole experience was a great WKW experience, even if there are some aforementioned pitfalls, but then they are covered more than enough by the striking visuals and some good acting, and not to mention the level of ambition displayed here. Overall, a great merge of a Triad film and a later WKW film. Those expecting a triad movie ala "Bloody Brotherhood" or "The Killer" should probably adjust their individual tastes first before approaching the movie. For better or for worse, WKW has opened the floodgates, inviting several other filmmakers to the "new" style of film.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Steven Seagal was one of the more established action stars that have
emerged from Hollywood. Unusual for the fact that unlike Eastwood or
Bronson, he had a relatively more "action hero" background: he was a
6th degree (presently 7th) black belt in Aikido and has served as a
personal bodyguard for numerous personalities. In short, all that he
needed was a movie camera to follow him around and somebody could have
made an action movie already.
Most action movies of the era were rather low in the script department ("Commando", "Cobra" etc.) and of course that would be very understandable since producers were undoubtedly banking on the popularity of the stars and the individual amounts of carnage each would inflict on screen. This of course would sit poorly with the more educationally inclined people and they have made it a habit to criticize each of the new movies of the genre and their countless spawn.
But then let us face the fact: not all of these movies are bad, brainless or both. I have learned that one must sift through each of these movies to fully know if they have delivered what they were supposed to deliver: great action. It would be unfair if we would generalize the capabilities of action movies for we all know that not all dramas or thrillers are top notch.
"Above the Law" is a shining example of the "Action Hero" genre. Story wise, it had a degree of complexity to it, obviously not found in Seagal's later works and the works of his contemporaries. It had the script that involved death squads, political assassinations, illegal immigrants and other questionable elements of the American government. While no one would mistake the script to be an adaption of a Ludlum novel, it gave a rather meaningful and resonant thematic edge to the movie. (Like the recent "Edge of Darkness")Add this with the inner dynamics and daily interactions of city cops and you have a movie that balances perfectly without becoming too preposterous. The script made you watch the movie even if no one was getting shot on screen.
Now the greatest question would be: "Does the movie deliver the action?" Seagal here is in top form: lean and mean. His Aikido skills provide the main source of exhilarating entertainment of the movie. Here he bloodies and throws around me twice his size and dispatches assassins with acute and deadly precision. The blood and violence quotient might not be as high as Seagal's later works ("Marked for Death", "Under Siege", "Out for Justice") but it pops out when you least expect it and you are offered shootings, bone breakings, some dismemberments etc.
Acting wise, Seagal actually delivers here. Playing a former Special Forces agent turned cop, he delivers the right mixture of toughness and sincerity in his role. He is joined by an equally believable cast (including the menacing Henry Silva as Zagon) that delivers their roles without overacting. In a movie that is only supposed to deliver action, I was quite surprised at the attention given to the performances.
Overall, a very exciting marriage of a political thriller and a down to earth "action hero" movie.
PS: Seagal's movies have been less ambitious about the plot after this one. Most would focus on the action elements. He has also been less ambitious about losing weight for the past six years.
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