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Uneven but entertaining western
Written by the director of the famed Trinity comedy western films and directed by man who helmed 3 of the four official Sartana films, this outing works and doesn't at the same time.
The story of two greenhorn brothers fighting against a gang terrorizing ranchers is trite and only provides a reason to bring together the two main characters of the movie, Ace of Hearts/Cemetery (played by Garko) and Duke (played by Berger). Both are uber-cool bounty hunters who know and respect each other well and find themselves in a situation where they are working for opposite sides. Whenever these two actors are on the screen, either together or solo, the film is interesting. The direction is uneven as well, sometimes it's very stylish and well photographed, other times banal and full of gratuitous zooms. The script might have worked if the English actors who were chosen for the greenhorn brothers weren't so miscast. Bruno Nicolai's theme for the film is great but, like many of these films, it is repeated to the point of near insanity. The audio is very muffled in the English soundtrack and the print going around at this time is slightly cropped.
So it's not a complete waste of time, if a better print ever shows up I might watch it again.
Jiang hu zi di (1976)
"Brotherhood" - Noble criminal among the modern triads
A year after the crazy "Super Inframan" director Hua Shan was set to work on a number of gangster films including the anthology series "The Criminals" which re-enacted famous recent HK crimes. The HK gangster film is a curious genre has it seems that gangsters are given an element of honor and respect you see given to the martial art clans in Wu Xia films. Perhaps they are connected in ways. This film is no exception.
A young man in a small country gang becomes embroiled in the world of big time gangsters in HK after his boss is killed for their loot. He gets involved in an "honorable" gang (with a beautiful Korean girl) and discovers that his boss' killer works for a rival gang. Killing the killer causes a power struggle in the rival gang leading to establishment of the killer's wife as the leader. Instead of wanting to kill the young man she wants him to become number 2 in the gang and perhaps more. Lots of commotion and fights ensue.
First off, you could drop the story into ancient China and nothing would be out of place. The gangsters all know kung fu and fight with knives. The elaborate rituals that the gangsters engage in provide a little interest. Hua Shan makes use of some seedy locations in Kowloon City but that's it for uniqueness. A very uninspired story.
Fisshu sutôrî (2009)
"Fish Story" - Intertwining stories over the course of 60 years
Smart and witty movie about how a forgotten punk rock song (with a mystery within the song) links the lives of several characters who mostly never meet each other. The elements include, of course, a failed punk rock band in the late 1970's, a meek college student in the 1980's, a doomsday cult in 1999, a ferry hijacking in 2009, and a trio of people in a used record shop in a deserted city awaiting a comet strike in 2012. Plus some flashbacks to post WW2 Japan. Much of the movie revolves around the idea of a "champion of justice"
The movie is paced with a natural style so despite the sci-fi aspect the whole film is very low key. Virtually no special effects. That's not to say that there are no hidden pleasures, especially during the ferry hijacking which has excellent action scenes. The film is well-shot, well-acted and well-written. The music is good as well.
An unexpected little gem.
Xue fu men (1971)
The Crimson Charm - Above average wu xia
On their way home a sword master and his daughter encounter the son of a general of the Crimson Charm gang harassing a young woman at an inn. The sword master kills the son which brings down the wrath of the Yellow General and the entire gang. They are protected at one point by Blood Palm master Ling, the son of Bloody Granny who was defeated by the grand master of the sword school. Ling and the daughter have a crush on each other but haven't seen each other for ten years. Back at the school the sword master decides to expel his top student Han (an adopted orphan) before the Crimson Charm gang attacks to protect him from the wrath of the Crimson leader, Lin. The gang attacks killing the sword master and every student of the school except Han who is protected by the mysterious Godly Sword, the sword master's daughter and the top female student, Feng Feng, although her arm is chopped off. In the chaos of the school's destruction, the three are separated. Han is trained by the Godly Sword, Ling takes the severely injured daughter to a cave to treat her and Feng Feng is rescued by the Grand Master of the sword school, an old nun. Got that? And that's the first 30 minutes.
Decidedly old school with lots of theatrical overacting, camera and editing trick martial arts and a convoluted story line. Consistency isn't one of the plus points here as characters demonstrate incredible martial arts in the middle of the film only never to use them again. The villains are a colorful bunch with weird weapons. One guy has an entire skull covering his fist with the spine hanging off, alas he dies immediately and never fights. The fight scenes are dubbed over by what seems to be two guys doing all the death screams and dozens of gang members die! Although she is mentioned a number of times, Bloody Granny is never seen. I want to see Bloody Granny fight!
Despite the drawbacks, this film moves at a great pace and manages to be entertaining the entire length of the film. While no classic it's a good time.
Lian cheng jue (1980)
Deadly Secret - Very minor Shaw Wu Xia action
A young kung fu student is thrown into jail on a false charge. He shares a cell with a shaggy convict, Ting, who is repeated tortured by the magistrate to reveal "the deadly secret". A progression of bad guys show up (including evil Shaolin monks) to pry the deadly secret out of Ting. Ting it turns out has just mastered a form of powerful internal kung fu and he kills anyone who enters the cell. Meanwhile across the courtyard is the woman Ting loves and her father, the magistrate, is not above using her to get the deadly secret. Also there are three conniving kung fu masters after the secret as well. And so it goes.
Anyone interested in the short but intense gross out film career of Tun Fei Mou will not have much to revel in here. Aside from a torture scene in the beginning that is quite disturbing and unusual for a standard Wu Xia film, this is business as usual. Perhaps someone saw this scene and said to the director, "Perhaps your talents may be with other types of films" and thus "Lost Souls" was born. Regardless the film here isn't anything special. The story is typical, the acting OK, and the martial arts just OK. Nothing really terrible, nothing special.
Only available on VCD as far as I can tell. Celestial probably didn't think it was worth the expense of a DVD master. I tend to agree.
Kaidan yukijorô (1968)
"Ghost Story of the Snow Witch" - Effective ghost story told with modest means
This is essentially the same Snow Witch story as told in the well-known Japanese ghost film anthology, "Kwaidan". Here it is extended out into a 75 minute excursion into the supernatural.
A master sculptor and his apprentice are trapped in a bad snow storm after finding a special tree for carving a statue for the local temple. Finding refuge in an abandoned hut they celebrate their luck n finding the tree but soon they are visited by the Snow Witch who freezes the sculptor to death but takes pity on the apprentice. He must promise to never speak of this or she'll return and kill him. Back in town, the apprentice is promoted and given the task of making the statue. A mysterious beautiful woman arrives during a torrential rain storm and quickly falls in love with the apprentice. Soon she comes under the lustful eye of the evil Baliff who controls the town. And so it goes....
While the painterly method this story is told in Kwaidan is well-known and appreciated, here the story is accomplished with very careful lighting effects and lens filters. In some ways this is a much more beautiful telling of the story. Akira Ikufube provides a familiar yet unique score. Aside from a couple of clumsy spots in the script and the actor playing the apprentice underplays his part, this is an excellent film.
The Prisoner (2009)
A cry for help from a TV writer who wants to move into the Village
Demonstrating a complete misunderstanding (or hatred) of the original series, writer Bill Gallagher ends up endorsing the concept of the Village in this mishmash of The Truman Show and the Matrix. Throw in the stock evil corporation, a couple of useless explosions and a basket full of illogical inconsistencies and you get another A&E remake debacle.
Regardless of the esteem anyone holds of the original series, in the end, what was this six hour production really about? Like the holes that appear in the ground, nothing at all. It seems that someone in this production realized this at some point and decided to obfuscate it by making a confusing jumble. The whole thing could have been told in two hours by a decent director. And they could have called it something else, like THE RESORT.
People of Britain, respect your heritage, don't watch this garbage when it airs there.
Rashomon redone - Incredibly beautiful, simplified story
The English title of "Misty" more or less defines this film. The setting, in a near tropical temperate rain forest, is just that for the entire film. Whether with diffusion filters on the lens or the vast amount of fog in some scenes to the various forms of rain, nearly every scene has a dream-like image to it. The flowing camera work and the contrast ratio where there's a limited area of light that's not dark or overexposed also lends to the foggy memory feel of the film. The music is excellent.
That said, while the makers have taken the story of Rashomon and applied their extraordinary skills to the visuals, they decided to reduce the intellect behind Kurosawa's film. So while it's captivating visually and musically, in the end you might be wishing to see the original for a more fulfilling experience.
A lot of fun but a little overlong.
Once again somebody let Miike get a hold of something originally intended for children and family audiences and let him go with it. Once again, as in "The Great Yokai War", he manages to stay true to the source while having some fun with it. There's a decent number of funny scenes and the look of the film is imaginative. While I'm sure Japanese audiences who remember the original television series can appreciate it more, other viewers can enjoy the silliness regardless.
The actors are having fun with their roles and the effects (while frequently cartoony) go with the self-conscious storyline. The few downsides are the editing which slows down by the second half and the inevitable Miike-isms which get through in this movie a bit more than "The Great Yokai War". While most of this movie can be considered a family entertainment at one point the Bad Guys create a female robot with exposed breasts that shoots bullets and missiles out of it's nipples. Whenever the robot fires, it goes into increasing orgasmic convulsions. Some might laugh that off but soon Miike has mini ant robots bite the female robot's left nipple off which results in a spray of oil out of the gash along with more orgasmic vocalizations. Suddenly the Good Guy's dog robot gets sexually aroused by the mutilation and leaps over to passionately kiss the female robot. Ichi the Killer anyone? Anyway, aside from another scene involving a girl's inner thigh (he did this in Yokai War as well), the film could have been a fun family entertainment. As it is, it's recommended for adults.
Overall it's good and be sure to watch through the credits.
K-20: Kaijin nijû mensô den (2008)
Batman and V for Vendetta mashed with Japanese Alternate Reality
Quite frankly I dislike most of the Hollywood comic to screen adaptations that have been made possible with high budget CGI and motion control. The most positive thing about a cheaply made film is that either the makers deliver shoddy goods (nearly every SciFi Channel movie) or they focus on story, drama and comedy which can result in the most satisfying movie.
K-20 inhabits a world that's very familiar to comic book readers, alternate history what-if. Here the Japanese have avoided WW2 and have evolved into a strange combination of the Taisho era with the totalitarian leanings of the Showa with technology seemingly mired in the 1920's even though the film is set in the late 1940's. German is used instead of English when a universal language is needed. The film revolves around a Japanese invention that finally brings Tesla's dream of wireless energy to fruition. Unfortunately it can also be used as an extremely powerful weapon.
The look of the film is excellent and the effects are, as others have pointed out, very good and well conceived. But that is true of many other big budget films like this. What makes this film different is the drama that fleshes out the fantasy. It's not perfect, some of the acting is old-school over-acting, the main characters are very familiar to anyone with familiarity with Japanese entertainment especially the Duke's daughter. And there are some moments that strain the viewer's credibility but The Dark Knight had moments like that as well. Overall the film ended and I had enjoyed myself.
There are way worse ways to spend your time, (The Spirit anyone?) hopefully this film will see a wide release.