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6/10
Uneven but entertaining western
21 September 2010
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.
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4/10
"Brotherhood" - Noble criminal among the modern triads
23 January 2010
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.
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8/10
"Fish Story" - Intertwining stories over the course of 60 years
17 January 2010
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.
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Xue fu men (1971)
6/10
The Crimson Charm - Above average wu xia
10 January 2010
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.
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5/10
Deadly Secret - Very minor Shaw Wu Xia action
8 January 2010
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.
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8/10
"Ghost Story of the Snow Witch" - Effective ghost story told with modest means
18 December 2009
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.
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The Prisoner (2009)
2/10
A cry for help from a TV writer who wants to move into the Village
17 November 2009
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.
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Misty (1996)
7/10
Rashomon redone - Incredibly beautiful, simplified story
4 November 2009
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.
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Yattâman (2009)
7/10
A lot of fun but a little overlong.
10 October 2009
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.
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6/10
Batman and V for Vendetta mashed with Japanese Alternate Reality
2 August 2009
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.
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On-Bak 2 (2008)
7/10
HIgh Production, Great Fight Scenes, No Story
5 April 2009
Tony Jaa still impresses with his action skills. It would not be a stretch to say he is the best action star who can really do the action around right now. If it's watching people who can really move and fly around the screen (or run on top of a herd of moving elephants) that floats your boat, this film is not going to disappoint.

A shell of a story is about the son of a Thai general on the run from a murderous leader after the slaughter of his family. The boy is adopted by a band of "pirates" and grows up to be their second in command as well as an unstoppable martial artist. Of course he's set on revenge.

Beautiful photography, set design and production values make this an entertaining film despite the fact that it's really a set of impressive action scenes strung together. Tony Jaa's character speaks very, very little in the film and most of the other characters are visually interesting but emotionally very sketchy. Occasionally the film veers into strange places, the elephant herd scene and another scene with what seems to be a fanged beast woman. Jaa likes to have his characters roar with animal sounds at times. He also is clearly paying homage to other great martial art films but with all his talents I would really like Jaa to forge his own style instead of constantly imitating the past. This was also a problem with his previous film. The times he sticks with Thai martial arts are some of the best in the film.

With a cliffhanger ending, there seems a sequel in the works. Jaa's direction is assured and the film has a good style but I hope he works on the story for the next one. Recommended.
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7/10
Socio-political art mystery film
6 March 2009
The late 1960's/early 1970's film output of Japan's Art Theater Guild recently got a showing at the Japan Society in New York. The films are great examples of sponsored experimental narrative cinema something that rarely gets this sort of concentrated effort anywhere in the world. Oshima who already had a long career in cinema used this opportunity to try something unusual as he did a few years earlier with Double Suicide.

The film opens from the perspective of a Bolex 16mm camera as a college student argues with the holder of camera, another student. The person holding the camera runs away film still rolling. We cut to the student chasing after the camera thief who is finally discovered on the edge of a tall parking garage's roof. The thief jumps to his death holding the camera. The police show up but the student grabs the camera which he claims is his. The police give chase and get the camera back. The student chases, on foot, after the police car that has the camera but loses it in a long dark traffic tunnel. The student wakes up surrounded by his friends, all members of a communist protest group devoted to filming the upcoming revolution. They recount a very different story than what we have just seen. They and the student were all at a massive street protest when suddenly the police charged and in the mêlée confiscated all cameras from the protesters. The student chased after the police after they knocked down one of the group's cameramen and took the camera in a police car. The student can't believe this story despite the fact that the person he saw jump off the garage roof is sitting right in front of him! The group, ignoring the student's strange story, starts to plan the next protest which is to get the police to release the confiscated camera and film. The student get fixated on the "dead" man's girlfriend and tries to solve the mystery which he is convinced can be solved by watching the film in the confiscated camera.

Oshima who was a bit older than the characters portrayed in this film clearly has some things to say about the turbulent youth protest movements of the time. That makes the film interesting and perplexing at the same time. There are certainly things going on in this film that don't travel well across culture and time. The dialog between the revolutionary group is funny and insightful about people with big plans for society but no means to actually implement the sweeping changes they propose. In a way this is the problem with the film for this viewer.

There seems to be three films going on here, one a sort of metaphysical mystery film, another a commentary about the student protest movement and third, the standard ATG nudity and sexual violence art drivel. I have now seen enough of the ATG output to know that they frequently required their film makers to cram in at least two rape scenes per movie. Besides the repulsiveness of such scenes, here they serve little real purpose that I can discern except to titillate the frustrated Japanese male audience.

The end result is a fascinating, really well photographed, interesting movie that ends up a bit unfocused. Maybe that was part of the point. Unfortunately the ending telegraphed itself to me but I was captivated to the end.
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8/10
Who is worse? The "bad" artist or the "bad" art world?
28 February 2009
This should be required viewing for everyone in the "art" world. Kitano skewers global modern art culture and also makes fun of his own work.

The story is simply of an artist from childhood to "middle age" (which seems to be around 62) as he tries to be a successful artist. He starts out as an untrained "primitive" but with a certain talent for texture and color. He is insulted at every turn while we get to see the "good" art by "masters" which are all really, really bad. Unfortunately the artist gets progressively worse as he takes advice from gallery owners on how to make his work "sellable", which it never is. Every time the work gets better, he's advised to go in a different direction. Many mildly humorous situations arise but the film isn't going for outright laughs most of the time. The scenes of the "middle aged" artist (played by Kitano) getting his supportive wife to make his art are very long, get progressively cruel (probably part of the point) and could have been cut down a little. The issue of autism isn't directly addressed but the character certainly exhibits symptoms.

This is a very good film although a little long. It may not be as good to someone who has no experience with the art world of today. Kitano created all the art in this film, good and purposely bad.
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7/10
Combination of avant garde theater, video art and opera
28 February 2009
Maverick director Seijun Suzuki finally was able to film his dream project, "Princess Raccoon" and in a way it's lucky he didn't try this in the 1960's. Special effects and computer graphics certain made this sort of production easier to achieve than the old film matte technology would have.

Some familiarity with Japanese history and theatrical traditions will help with the enjoyment of this film. Much as familiarity with Shakespeare's "The Tempest" would help with Peter Greenaway's dense "Prospero's Books". These two films actually have a bit in common although, "Princess Raccoon" is much more colorful and easier to watch for someone without the background to fully appreciate it.

While the art design, acting and direction are fine for most of the film, it seems to this viewer that the energy runs out in the last third of the film. Most of the interesting sets have been already been introduced and the camera seems to step back for more of a filmed stage play experience.

This is certainly a unique film experience and I recommend it to anyone who is interested in alternate forms of film performance. It's not really meant for children although nothing happens that would upset them. If the last third was better I would have given it nine stars.
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7/10
Entertaining mash-up of genres
14 February 2009
Kinji Fukasaku keeps this film firmly rooted in the traditions of Japanese genre cinema circa the 1970's. The only giveaways that this film was made in the 1990's (aside from the cast) are the special effects late in the film when ghosts are running around and they make use of computer controlled cameras to assist in the effects.

While the plot is confusing at times with the timeline jumps and the long list of names to keep up with, the sheer energy put into the production makes up for it. Everything is here, chambara action, morally ambiguous anti-hero, crazy characters in full traditional stage makeup, a little nudity from the lead actress, social commentary of sorts and finally the supernatural. The photography and direction are excellent although a little more could have been done to tie all the elements together.

Recommended for Japanese action fans.
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Duo biao (2008)
5/10
Old fashion style kung fu film - Good action, overbearing propaganda
31 January 2009
China was undeniably proud to be hosting the Olympics for the first time in 2008. The opening day martial art demonstration was a spectacle of human movement that movie makers wish they could pull off. Somebody had the interesting idea of revisiting when the first Chinese martial art demo team visited the 1936 Olympics. And so we have this movie.

The story is based around the efforts of the Chinese National Martial Art League to raise the money to get the Olympic athletes and the demo team to Berlin. Thrown into the mix is a rivalry between women sprinters, a gangster kidnapping the baby of a kindly benefactor, the usual outdoor kung fu tournament with a "bad" kung fu school messing things up, the two male leads put into conflict with each other and lots and lots of feel good Chinese boosterism. In a way this film resembles a classic propaganda film from the days of Mao.

So many things are going on it would take a deft director to corral it into shape. Unfortunately Sui Ming Tsui isn't that director. He plays a lot of tricks but never really gets it all together. He also wrote the story and co-wrote the screenplay. The film looks really good but the only character who gets any depth is the lead played by Dicky Cheung. He is a charming rascal, always wearing a hat, and quirky kung fu master who wants to go to Berlin so to impress his amour, a contender for the women's sprint race. Unfortunately, his character seems out of place in the otherwise excellent recreation of China in the 1930's. The other characters are rather shallow and not introduced very well. The bad kung fu school is, of course, an Eagle Claw school which is right out of a typical 1970's schlock chop-socky.

The martial arts, which Sui Ming Tsai also takes credit for, is a combination of modern Wu Shu, traditional kung fu and obvious wire-fu. While there are a lot of real martial arts on display and the script refers to real historical martial artists, the overall effect is typical movie kung fu. The Praying Mantis Kung Fu seem to be the most accurate while the Tai Chi Chuan and Eagle Claw are the same you've seen in other films, not real. That doesn't mean that the action scenes are bad, quite the opposite, but it's nothing that other films haven't done as well or better.

This film probably plays better in China than anywhere else. For the rest of the world, kung fu action enthusiasts might have a good time but everyone else will probably lose interest by the first 20 minutes.
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Lang ya (2008)
9/10
1980's style modern kung fu action drama updated.
13 January 2009
2008 would be a good year for HK style action films if it was just for "Ip Man" which takes the traditional kung fu film of the early 1980's and updates it. Here we have an updating of the typical police action film of the late 1980's. Looks like 2008 has been a banner year.

Combining gangster genre with the sort of police action that Michelle Yeoh and Cynthia Rothrock would be in, we have a well shot, exciting police drama with great kung fu action (no guns) and some light comedy. What takes this above the average film from the 1980's are the character touches that usually didn't happen in the older films. I found a lot of the films from that era to be boring or too stupid but this film held my attention for the full 80 minutes.

Good acting, great to excellent action choreography, fine direction and photography. I highly recommend this film.
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Yip Man (2008)
9/10
One of the best martial art films of this decade
10 January 2009
Excellent direction, photography and set design enliven this account of Wing Chun instructor Yip Man's life before he moved to Hong Kong. Every Wing Chun instructor today tries to make a lineage connection to Yip Man to legitimize their teaching so he is a very important figure in Kung Fu. Donnie Yen portrays the master with intense reserve and is possibly the best acting in his career. It surprised me for sure.

The story line of this film is invented as historical accounts show Yip Man to have been a police officer in the time frame this film covers, not staying at home and only practicing kung fu as depicted here. Also the film claims that he refused to teach anybody but that is also not true. He left for Hong Kong a few years after WW2 not in the middle of it as this film presents. The plot with the Japanese army seems invented although they did ask him to teach the troops which he refused.

However the film muddies up the historical record, that is not to say it isn't a great film. Sammo Hung's choreography is exceptional and a throwback to his great kung fu films of the early 1980's. The martial arts are done with great respect to traditional styles although some wire work is used to assist the actors with the difficult acrobatic moves. No flying across the room in this film.

Although the ending is a little abrupt, this is one kung fu film that can be recommended to people who don't like these films. Highly recommended.
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7/10
Dramatic sci-fi anime from Matsumoto
31 December 2008
An off-shoot of the Galaxy Express franchise, Galaxy Railways tells of the adventures of "Big One", a space battle train that provides assistance to passenger space trains in distress. If you are not familiar with Galaxy Express, this is a sci-fi universe where humans travel about by flying trains. Much like Matsumoto's other projects over the decades, boats, zeppelins, and trains fly around the universe. If this seems strange, it goes along with Matsumoto's old fashioned romanticism. Personal drama and philosophy are heavy in this series although not as much as in Space Pirate Harlock or the Galaxy express series.

The series revolves a young man Manabu whose father and older brother have died in the service of the railways battling space pirates. Headstrong, with a nearly blind need to rescue people, Manabu runs into continual conflict with his superiors. This is the strongest part of the show with the great art direction and the good animation.

Unfortunately the individual plots have large holes in them and are sometimes laughable. One episode has the cast casually interacting with ghosts as if they do it everyday. Another episode the crew leaves the battle train virtually unguarded with unlocked doors and it gets stolen by pirates! Each episode has a passenger train either blown up or put into incredible peril. One episode shows several trains and a gigantic floating train station blown to pieces by a terrorist, killing hundreds of innocent people. Yet each episode people are happily using the space trains. The supporting characters are typical anime characters. Most of the young women characters are drawn with tight breast enhancing clothing and occasionally mash them around so enjoy that if you may.

The second series was retooled for a slightly younger audience (no breast mashing). They introduced a new brash young cadet whom Manabu has to constantly help.

A good show and the English dub isn't bad at all! Not totally up to the high standards of other Matsumoto work but it's very enjoyable.
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5/10
Melodrama for the romance set
25 December 2008
I am not familiar with the actors in this film nor have I ever read the story nor do I normally watch romantic dramas so I guess I am not the intended audience for this film. Did it win me over? Not really.

The tale of a teenage (?) girl dressed as a boy and sent to a martial arts academy where she falls in love with the top student (and he her) is well photographed and handsomely produced. Probably not her fault but, the lead actress isn't a very convincing boy at all and is directed to hammy, stage style acting. We see her get bound in cloth to hide her womanly assets but later on they are clearly visible while she is supposedly fooling everybody. She is also made-up with lip stick and shaped eyebrows so it's a leap to buy the premise. The male actors fare better but the film is centered on the female character. The film is well photographed and edited until the martial art scenes which are shaky and choppy.

On the other hand if you are a fan of stories about ill-fated young lovers set in other cultures this is probably a good film for you. The plot turns when the woman is taken out of the academy to be forced into marriage to her childhood friend who has gone bad and become a sadistic general.

I can't give this more than 5 stars but I'm sure there are people out there who can value this film more.
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9/10
Good Lord, this is fun.
21 December 2008
The Manchurian desert in the 1930's has become the Asian cinematic version of the American West. A number of action films have been set here but this is the first to make an outright reference to a classic western that I've seen. While taking off from Leone's "The Good, The Bad and The Ugly" this film goes in it's own direction although the mix of horses, trains, motorcycles, Chinese and Western costumes and some very odd characters makes this film resemble the Mad Max films more than anything else. An extended chase scene towards the end really seems influenced by the George Miller films.

Influences aside, the ingenuity in crafting the action scenes in this film makes it a joy to watch. Photography is great. The lead actors are good and the story while a little daft is easy to follow for the most part.The music is good but nowhere near the Leone films. The violence is typical for Korean action and might be a little hard to watch at times. Long but pure fun for the most part.

This is probably the best action film I've seen in a while.
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5/10
"Ghost Hill" - Wuxia Taiwanese style
20 December 2008
Elaborate sword fantasy out of Taiwan. Similar to many films from the Shaw studios especially the Yuen Chor epics from the late 1970's.

The film opens with a duel on a beach between two master swordsman. An elderly master looks on as the two battle. He stops the duel and proclaims one swordsman the winner and awards him the coveted Purple Light Sword making him the new Sword King. He returns home to show his sickly teacher the treasure but they are attacked by the weird minions of evil King Gold who wants to combine the power of the sword with his developing Fire Ball power. The Sword King loses the sword, his master is killed and is forced to join forces with his opponent from the duel to retrieve it. Along the way they are joined by the daughter of the Blind Master and later the Beggar Army.

The film is very colorful and the action is non-stop for the 90 minute length. The evil characters are very strange with all sorts of odd spiked weapons. One villain throws poison letters, King Gold has a spiked club instead of his left hand, plus he likes to bath in boiling oil. The powers possessed by the heroes are sometimes odd as well. Unfortunately as the film progresses the set bound action starts to take it's toll especially when the heroes have to pass thru the 10 gates of Hell Mountain, the fortress of King Gold. The budget runs out and it shows. The opening beach duel is very well shot and the only fight scene actually filmed outdoors. Some of the fights are sped up by cutting out every other frame which looks really strange.

Enjoyable and wacky. The sound effects are very funny at times. Not great but if you enjoy wuxia fantasy films this is a good example.
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3/10
Where's the "Decisive Battle"?
16 December 2008
A rarely seen example of Taiwanese cinema from the early 1970's. Many Taiwanese films from this time seem to be lost so this could be a treat but.....

This film is a telling of the early life of legendary Chinese general Yue Fei. While he seems to have been a real historical figure, most of the stories about him are fantasy. This film is no exception. We start with a battle between a flying dragon and a golden eagle depicted with marionettes. The eagle wins and flies down to perch on the house of a woman who gives birth during a flood. The child is Yue Fei. The film cuts forward to Yue Fei as a thirteen year old living with his mother in abject poverty. He attracts the eye of a local scholar/ kung fu instructor who takes him on as a student. After passing an archery competition Yue Fei is accepted to a military school. The film cuts to his twenties, he marries and is awarded a post combating bandits. Throughout all this is the ongoing strife between the native Chinese and the invading northern tribes.

The first 40 minutes of the film is quite enjoyable as we watch the young Yue Fei grow up and gain his martial art skills. There are a few odd scenes like where the boy wrestles a smoke belching snake. The child actor is very good. Once the film cuts Yue Fei's adulthood the film flounders for the remaining hour. The adult actor is wooden compared to the boy actor and the story goes nowhere slowly. The biggest battle is the attack on the bandit hideout but the film goes on for 20 minutes after that with little in the way of action. Perhaps the decisive battle of the title is in Yue Fei's head but it's quite boring to the audience.

Not great entertainment and little in the way of kung fu action. Skip it.
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7/10
Yokai versus nasty samurai
18 November 2008
The first film in a series that inspired the recent Great Yokai War. Directed by a veteran of the Zatoichi series and the excellent samurai/horror/kaiju film, Daimajin, this film is ably done and moves along at a good pace. The plot isn't much as it's a rather typical samurai and upper classes oppress the poor story. It's the yokai element that gives the film something to watch.

The yokai are all clearly rubber marionette puppets or actors in suits so you have to watch with different expectations, sort of a stage show with puppets. It's the design and spooky atmosphere that makes this fun. The final dance of the yokai as they go off into the sunrise is a great scene and made the movie for me.

Not a great film but fun.
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Xie ying wu (1981)
7/10
Bloody Parrot - Witches, Wuxia and Weird
5 September 2008
Another film from the director of the legendary Super Infra Man, Hua Shan gives us this odd mish-mash of several HK genres of the early 80's.

An expert swordsman is suspected of being the thief of a treasure sent to Emperor. The swordsman who has nothing to do with the theft investigates and is led on the trail of the supernatural "Bloody Parrot". This leads to the "Parrot Brothel" and the star prostitute who walks around half naked. Strange things happen including a demonic possession, witches casting poison spells, disgusting autopsies and numerous sword fights. Then a dead constable turns into a vampire! This is all in the first 30 minutes!

Directed at a breakneck pace, Hua Shan predicts the hyper-kinetic films from HK in the 1990''s. The film shows a good bit of style and production values. If the story wasn't completely confusing at times it would be quite enjoyable for fans of wacky HK films. At least something unexpectedly odd happens every few minutes. For fans of Shaw wuxia action, there is quite a bit of it and the fight choreography of Hsu Hsia is very good. Ching- Ching Yeung, a very talented Wu Shu performer, appears in the last third of the film for a great fight scene and she carries one of the oddest weapons I've seen. Jenny Liang plays the star prostitute and spends her lengthy first scene half naked or mostly naked. She's quite comfortable unclothed unlike many Shaw nudie actresses of the time who seem like they are thinking of the robe just off the set. And she goes straight into a near naked demonic possession scene. After that she remains clothed. But when the film is in the last third and your mind starts to wander back to her first scene, the film has her take all her clothes off in a cavern of mirrors! Now that's service.

Not a great film but quite entertaining as long as a coherent plot isn't your first need. Every time the subtitles say "Bloody Parrot" I start to laugh and that's worth something. The autopsy scenes are brief but quite disgusting, I made the mistake of eating dinner while watching the film.
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