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April 30, 2013

The Assassin's Blade

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Mo hup leung juk / The Butterfly Lovers
Jingle Ma - 2008
Well Go USA Entertainment Region 1 DVD

Cutie pie Charlene Choi makes one very unconvincing guy. That never gets in the way of enjoying this often delightful retelling of a classic Chinese love story. I wrote about an earlier film version from the Shaw Brothers, Love Eterne, a couple of years ago. The Assassin's Blade might sell a few more DVDs than The Butterfly Lovers, but the second title is more accurate. There is sword fighting and displays of martial arts prowess, but its secondary to the romance which is the heart of this film.

An early scene, with different groups fighting it out on the streets, with Chinese opera styled music on the soundtrack, may well be Jingle Ma's tip of the hat to the older Shaw Brothers productions from the Sixties and early Seventies. It's a scene with broad humor and high kicks while Choi, as the young man, Yanzhi, cowers against a wall. Yanzhi is on his/her way to train in martial arts in a school that only has male students. Even when "Big Brother" Liang is in on the secret, he remains discrete in spite of his feelings for the disguised girl.

Tsui Hark also filmed this story with the English language title of The Lovers. Jingle Ma's version is also a reaction to that film.

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As can be expected, some of the humor comes from Yanzhi trying to avoid situations where her secret might be exposed, such as when, as part of a school initiation, she's tossed into a lake. The five foot, five inch Choi is dwarfed by all of the men here. When trying to show off her martial arts skill, she barely can move any of the large weapons, and is further humiliated by being assigned to study with the children's group. Yanzhi's feminine skills are put to good use when after being praised for repairing a shirt, he/she teaches a group of young men how to saw, with one remarking that it's harder than kung fu.

Most of the potential homoeroticism is sidestepped here. There is a subplot involving political intrigue. Liang and a romantic rival engage in sword fighting. Tony Ching was responsible for staging the action scenes. Still, most people don't see Romeo and Juliet for the brawling of the Montagues and Capulets, and this story, preceding Shakespeare by about six centuries, is no different.

I've seen only a handful of Jingle Ma's films, with this being the best. What stands out for me is the use of color. Liang takes Yanzhi to a valley of butterflies, where the butterflies and the surrounding plant life are hyper intensive pastels. There is also a wonderful use of red, the wedding costumes worn by Yanzhi and her fiance, Ma, the lanterns, as well as the tinting of Liang's sword, in one of the later scenes.

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Posted by peter at 08:38 AM

April 28, 2013

Coffee Break

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Max Showalter, Elliot Reid and Jean Peters in Vicki (Harry Horner - 1953)

Posted by peter at 08:13 AM

April 25, 2013

Graceland

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Ron Morales - 2012
Drafthouse Films

Initially, the new Filipino thriller, Graceland shares some affinity with the Akira Kurosawa classic High and Low. The driver for a congressman has a young teenage daughter, the same age as the daughter of the congressman. The two girls are friends. Although the two girls wear almost identical school girl uniforms of white blouses and navy blue skirts, the contrast in social strata is made clear when we see the exteriors of the two different schools each girl attends. There is a kidnapping that takes place, with the goal not simply a matter of financial gain, but as an act of revenge due to social inequality.

As it should be in a film like this, nothing is quite what it appears to be. Graceland takes place in a world where corruption courses through every level of society with no one untouched. This can certainly be said for the driver, Marlon, his employer, the congressman Chango, as well as the investigating police detective, Ramos. Morales' tour of metro Manilla is of a place with garbage dumps as far as the eye can see, ramshackle housing for all but the very rich, and prostitutes along every dimly lit street. It's not that such a presentation of Manila or the Philippines in general is not totally inaccurate, but it needs to be taken with the sense of perspective that one might have with movies that give the impression that there's a mugger on nearly every street corner of New York City.

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Director Ron Morales is actually based out of New York City, and has worked as a key grip on several big productions based in the city, including Spider-Man 3. Graceland is his second feature as a director. And while the term is often misused, I think Graceland is best appreciated as being connected to the kind of classic film noir films that are about people trapped in situations that they can not get themselves out of, even with the best of intentions, something along the lines of several of the films of Fritz Lang. One of the characters early on mentions karma biting Chango. If one understands karma as being an unchanging path or destiny, than everyone in this film is trapped by their own karma.

It may be worth pointing out that the version of Graceland released in the U.S. is the film that Morales intended. Touching in no ambiguous way on the subject of child prostitution, the film may, as it should be, make some viewers feel uneasy. My own interest is due to the scarcity of Filipino films that get any kind of showing in the U.S. Near the beginning and end of the film, Marlon and his daughter, Elvie, are seen in prayer. Graceland is ironic title where we see the characters paving their own roads to hell with their own good intentions.

Posted by peter at 07:06 AM

April 23, 2013

Electric Button

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Tsuki to Cherry / Moon & Cherry
Yuki Tanada - 2004
Tidepoint Pictures Region 1 DVD

The young woman known by her family name of Mayama has, if not exactly a super power, the keen ability to look through a guy in just a few seconds. Introduced as the lone female in a club of university students who gather to write erotic literature, she immediately blasts through the pretenses of newbie Tadokoro, identifying him as a virgin.

"Electric Button" is the group's slang term used to refer to a female genitalia. It's the emotional buttons of Tadokoro that keep on being pushed as Mayama initiates him into a sexual relationship primarily to be used as material for her popular serial. Any description of the plot might make one think Yuki Tanada's debut feature might be a feminine take on the pink film if not the more sentimental coming of age stories. Even though Tanada is a fan of the Farrelly brothers, the banter between Mayama and Tadokoro reminded me more of some Hollywood comedies from an earlier era.

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Between Mayama's take charge attitude, and Tadokoro's bewilderment in finding himself in situations he is totally for which he is totally unprepared, I thought of such volatile pairings such as Barbara Stanwyck and Gary Cooper in Ball of Fire, or Stanwyck and Henry Fonda in The Lady Eve, as well as Katherine Hepburn humiliating Cary Grant in Bringing Up Baby. Returning to complain about being tricked into an encounter with a dominatrix, Tadokoro complains about the various indignities he's experienced while Mayama hastily scribbles notes. Mayama reminds Tadokoro's of his declaration of having stamina, to which the young man can only sputter, "That's not the point". It's a scene that doesn't seem all to removed from Cary Grant having a temper tantrum while wearing Katherine Hepburn's nightgown.

As if taking its queues from classic Hollywood, Tadokoro engages in a relationship with the more traditionally feminine Akane, small, cute, and cheerful. And like older films, the male protagonist feels a sense of dissatisfaction, longing for the more independent and willful female. Akane's is no pushover either, with the two parting on her terms.

This is Yuki Tanada's only film at this time to get a U.S. DVD release. I wrote about her One Million Yen Girl almost three years ago. Like that film, Electric Button falls outside the more easily identifiable genre classifications used nowadays to market Asian cinema. This is a low key mostly comic film, which briefly touches on some serious points suggesting that still in Japan, there are certain expectations made of female artists.

Posted by peter at 08:24 AM

April 21, 2013

Coffee Break

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Brian Donlevy and Sheila Darcy in Union Pacific (Cecil B. DeMille - 1939)

Posted by peter at 07:34 AM | Comments (1)

April 18, 2013

The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg

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Aviva Kempner - 2000
The Ciesla Foundation All Region DVD

So we're into baseball season, but also it might be considered less than coincidental that this new DVD version of Aviva Kempner's documentary is released almost at the same time as the theatrical release of the new movie about Jackie Robinson, 42. While Hank Greenberg was not the first Jewish major league player, he was the first one to be a national celebrity. Retired from the field, and as part of the front office of the Cleveland Indians, Greenberg did his part to make baseball racially integrated. Additionally, during his last year as a player, although playing on opposing teams, Greenberg was one of the first to be openly supportive of Robinson, as well as establish a personal friendship.

I had seen this film during its original theatrical release. If you haven't seen it any format, get to it!

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The original film includes a commentary by Kempner who discusses the thirteen years it took to make her movie. In additional to archival footage and photographs of Greenberg and other players, there are clips from several classic baseball movies. Near the end, there is also the inclusion of one of the high points from the Marx Brothers' A Night at the Opera, where the orchestra plays "Take Me Out to the Ballgame", with ball tossing between Chico and Harpo, while Groucho hawks the "peanuts and Crackerjacks". The film begins with "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" sung in Yiddish, which sets the stage for the main thesis, about is almost as much about Jewish life in America as it is about Hank Greenberg.

The main reason that this new DVD release replaces the previous version is because of the second disc. At over two hours, it's virtually a whole second movie. In addition to deleted segments of interviews with celebrity fans like Walter Matthau and Alan Dershowitz, there's a further investigation into the history of baseball. We're not talking simply about who played and when, but also how the game was played. Part of this history is of how Babe Ruth changed the game, with the support of fans, to one of power hitting and home runs. Also, how many of the early major league players were from the rural south, citing Dizzy Dean as a prime example. The additional footage may also put to rest any debate as to whether Greenberg was robbed of the opportunity to meet or beat Babe Ruth's record of home runs in a single season. One of the other bonuses of this second disc is the inclusion of a telephone interview Kempner made with baseball great Ted Williams.

When it comes to baseball, I am admittedly a casual fan. Still, after a little more than ten years, I was excited about seeing this documentary again. And for the more die hard baseball fan, this is a great way to spend the time when the game you planned to watch is blacked out or rained out, or worse, locked out.

This new edition of The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg can be ordered here.

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Posted by peter at 09:14 AM | Comments (2)

April 16, 2013

Dragon

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Wu Xia
Peter Chan - 2011
Radius / TWC BD Region A

While Peter Chan and Donnie Yen acknowledge a debt to the classic Shaw Brothers martial arts movies, I think some credit should be given to Victor Hugo. The characters played by Yen and Takeshi Kaneshiro are lifted from the archetypes first established in Les Miserables. Yen is first seen as a quiet family man who runs a rural paper mill. Yen, as Jin-xi, just happens to be in a small shop when two thugs show up demanding money from the older couple who run the store. A fight ensues with lots of punches, an ear lopped off, and the two strangers dead. The modest Jin-xi is hailed as a hero, yet the visiting detective, Bai-jiu, has questions about the fight, who really had the upper hand, as well as questions about Jin-xi. Like Jean Valjean, Jin-xi reveals more about himself when his physical abilities are put to the test, while Bai-jiu is like Javert, setting aside any sense of humanism in the name of enforcing the law.

For some, the biggest mystery to Dragon is why someone thought the original title, Wu Xia needed to be changed, especially as it is used in both the film and the extras. I'm not even sure why the film was titled Wu Xia in the first place as such a title suggests a film more along the lines of The 36th Chamber of Shaolin. (On a somewhat related note, Gordan Liu's original Chinese personal name in Jin-xi.) And with all the extras, it doesn't make sense that the DVD/Blu-ray version does not include what was edited out of the U.S. release, either as extras or of Peter Chan's original cut.

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Those quibbles aside, Dragon is intriguing to watch, primarily for the gamesmanship between Yen and Kaneshiro. For the fan of classic martial arts films, there are two set pieces featuring Shaw Brothers veterans. The first, with Kara Hui, looking great for what what the French would describe as being a "woman of a certain age", involves a rooftop chase, and a fight inside a very small barn with some very large water buffalos, that happens to be built over a waterfall. The second big fight scene is a face off between Yen and Jimmy Wang Yu. Brought back from retirement, and well into his Sixties as the time the film was made, Wang is still very formidable. Older and heavier, he still looks like he can kick your ass without little effort (definitely mine). Lots of punches and slashing of swords left me catching my breath when this fight was over.

Titles inform the viewer that the film takes place in 1917. If it weren't for the then contemporary hat and glasses worn by Kaneshiro, or the the uniforms of several policemen, it would be impossible to guess that Dragon takes place in the early part of the 20th Century. I would guess this establishment of time is used as a reminder of what Chinese life was like outside of the major urban centers, with a plot predicated on the kind of existence where people rarely left their home villages, and sons were expected to carry on the trade of their fathers. Traditional notions of filial piety are touched upon several times here.

After The Warlords and Perhaps Love, Peter Chan appears to have wanted to work on something not quite elaborate as those previous films. It is not surprising, based on his earlier work, that some of the nicest scenes are those of family life with Tang Wei as Jin-xi's wife, Ayu, and the two boys as their sons. Donnie Yen staged the action scenes, and in the supplements explains the challenges for both himself, the other actors and the crew. Almost fifty, I would not expect to see Yen in many more films showing off his martial arts skills, though he remains a charismatic screen presence, and with Ballistic Kiss, is also quite capable as a film director.

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Posted by peter at 02:28 PM

April 14, 2013

Coffee Break

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Franco Branciaroli, Barbara Cupisti and Stefania Sandrelli in The Key (Tinto Brass - 1983)

Posted by peter at 08:10 AM

April 11, 2013

At the Gate of the Ghost

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U Mong Pa Meung
Bhandevanop Devakula - 2011
Magnolia Home Entertainment Region 1 DVD

I do consider it something of a small miracle that when a new Thai movie gets any kind of U.S. release, it is neither focussed on ghosts or kickboxing. Even if one has seen Akira Kurosawa's Rashomon, it should be of interest to see a new interpretation of the stories by Ryunosuke Akutagawa that provided the original basis for that film. Kurosawa's film also provided the inspiration for the Thai play by Kukrit Pramoj from 1973, one of at least three different theatrical productions noted. Further complicating things here is that the original English language title for the Thai film is The Outrage, which was the title use for the Hollywood remake from 1964, a western with Paul Newman in the Toshiro Mifune role. Not only did Martin Ritt's film acknowledge it's debt to Akutagawa and Kurosawa, but Ritt's screenplay was by Michael Kanin, who with Fay Kanin, wrote their own theatrical version produced in 1959. It's almost a self-commentary that there would be several versions of Rashomon.

Bhandevanop "Mom Noi" Devakula places the story in 16th Century Siam. The framing story is of a young Buddhist monk, considering leaving the priesthood, stopping for shelter in the rain in a tunnel that appears to have served as a temple. He is with a woodsman. Both have acted as witnesses for the murder trial of the bandit accused of murdering a warlord. While there is the same acknowledgment that perhaps no one is telling the truth about rape of wife, or the death of the husband, from a Buddhist perspective there is also a sense of forgiveness for human frailty.

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Visually, Mom Noi takes hints from Thai painting, dance and drama. One of the most striking scenes is of the medium who relays the dead warlord's story. With white make-up, blacked out teeth, and exaggerated movements, singer Radklao Amartisha personifies the most extreme stylization in the film. Whether such a character is historically accurate or not doesn't matter. Within the context of this film, it works.

For those familiar with current Thai cinema, Mom Noi has assembled several big names, notably Mario Maurer as the monk and Ananda Everingham as the warlord. Most surprising is the inclusion of popular comic star Petthai Wongkamlao as the woodsman. Anyone who has seen either of the Thai Bodyguard movies or recalls his supporting roles with Tony Jaa will understand what a shift this is for the performer best known for his rude, and very funny, comedy. Chermarn Boonyasak, one of the few steadily working Thai actresses, plays the warlord's wife. Dom Hetrakul, best known primarily for supporting roles, most recently in Bangkok Revenge which I covered a few weeks ago, plays the bandit, that is to say, the Toshiro Mifune part.

The Thai title translates as "Tunnel in the Cliff". The location shooting was done in northern Thailand. with much of the action near a sensuous waterfall. At the Gate of the Ghost might not have the kind of impact that Rashomon had when it was released over sixty years ago, but more than many remakes, is worth investigating for the reworking of a now classic story.

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Posted by peter at 07:53 AM | Comments (2)

April 09, 2013

The Sorcerer and the White Snake

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Bai she chuan shuo
Tony Ching - 2011
Magnolia Home Entertainment Region 1 DVD

One of my favorite Buddhist parables about the Dragon King's daughter. In its essence, the lesson is that anyone can be a Buddha, that it's not confined to human males. Even non-human females could be enlightened in their present form. As there are many forms of Buddhist practice, this isn't the Buddhism of Jet Li and his disciples in The Sorcerer and the White Snake. Had it been otherwise, we might have seen, if not happy ending, at least a happier ending to this classic story.

Tony Ching's film is the newest version of "The Legend of the White Snake". The only previous film version I am familiar with is Tsui Hark's Green Snake, with the always charming Maggie Cheung in the title role. This new version takes advantage of CGI special effects, and for those who were able to see the film theatrically, 3D. Tony Ching has been down this road of impossible, supernatural love, before, with what is still his best work, A Chinese Ghost Story, with Leslie Cheung and Joey Wong, from 1987, produced by Tsui. It was Joey Wong who played White Snake in Tsui Hark's film, perhaps not coincidentally.

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The snake sisters here are Eva Huang as White Snake and Charlene Choi as Green Snake. Huang isn't as well known stateside, but is a major name as an actress and singer, as well as being part of the production company for this film. The bulk of the film concentrates on the love story between White Snake and the young herbalist, Xu Xian, played by Raymond Lam. White Snake takes on human form, falling in love with Xian. Because she is actually a demon, the relationship between the two is forbidden. Huang and Lam are also the vocalists on the film's theme song played during the closing credits.

Even though Jet Li gets top billing, his is more of a supporting role as the Buddhist monk Fahai. In the early scenes, Li is seen with Wen Zhang as Neng Ren, a well-meaning, but bumbling disciple, as well as the film's comic foil. While we see Li doing some sword fighting and flying around with duels with the Ice Harpy, as well as the snake sisters, his best and funniest scene is maintaining total poise while surrounded by the gorgeous Fox Demons. Foxy ladies, indeed. There are also the Bat Demons who take on Neng Ren, who is able to destroy most of them with a pair of cymbals, until he is bitten himself. If that's not enough, there are also some talking animals, also friendly demons, including a tortoise and one very chubby mouse.

For all of the special effects and wire work, it is Charlene Choi playing against Wen Zhang that is the best part of this film. One of the funnier scenes is of Green Snake trying to teach the transitioning Neng Ren on how to be a demon, including hanging him upside down like a bat. It's scenes such as this that are a reminder that the best parts of many movies involve good dialogue and a sense of humor.

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Posted by peter at 08:00 AM

April 08, 2013

Tormented

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Rabitto Hora 3D
Takashi Shimizu - 2011
Well Go USA Entertainment Region 1 DVD

While one can probably enjoy Tormented without seeing Takashi Shimizu's previous excursion into 3D, Shock Labyrinth, the two films are connected in several ways that I would advise seeing the earlier film first, if possible. This connection is made clear in an audacious use of self-reference. A young woman, Kiriko, and her younger brother, Daigo, go to the movies. Not just any movie, but Shock Labyrinth. One of the recurring motifs in that film involves a stuffed toy rabbit. While watching the movie, in 3D of course, the toy rabbit flies out of the screen and into the hands of Daigo. During this scene, Shimizu gets to employ a terrific sight gag involving the "realism" of 3D movies, while the toy rabbit continues as a significant part of Tormented.

Like Shock Labyrinth, Shimizu again explores an interweaving of dreams, nightmares and memories. The story is told as a modern day fairy tale about a mute librarian who witnesses her young brother killing a rabbit with a large stone. Was the killing an act of mercy or pure sadism. The sister and brother live with their father, indifferent to them, involved in creating a pop-up book version of The Little Mermaid. Simultaneously, this film refers to the violence found in classic fairy tales and children's stories, as well as the artistic recreation of three dimensional illusions. One might also recall the delight some young children have regarding telling stories involving death and gore, trying to gross each other out.

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In other ways, Tormented would be a reworking of narrative and visual elements in Shock Labyrinth. There is the hospital, where the medical staff appears as physically broken as the patients. There is also a return of that spiral staircase, similar use of color. Working with legendary cinematographer Christopher Doyle, there is more play here in the use of film grain and color. A nightmare sequence at an amusement part Merry-Go-Round indicates familiarity with Hitchcock's Strangers on a Train with the shots of the horses' heads.

There may be some disappointment from those expecting the same kind of shocks presented in Ju-on or even the American The Grudge. Not that Tormented is entirely bloodless, but the emphasis is on psychological horror. What I liked was the shifting narratives, from the points of view of Kiriko and her father. Again I refer to Alfred Hitchcock, who played with the notion that the audience trusts what they are seeing, where the long flashback from the point of view of Marlene Dietrich in Stage Fright turns out to be a lie. Shimizu does Hitchcock better so that nothing seen by the film viewer is to be trusted as truthful. Much of Tormented is visually told from a child's point of view, with one wonderful shot of the amusement park illuminated during the early evening, conveying a sense of wonderment, just prior to the inescapable nightmares to come.

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Posted by peter at 08:36 AM

April 07, 2013

Coffee Break

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Sterling Hayden in Crime Wave (Andre De Toth - 1954)

Posted by peter at 08:55 AM | Comments (2)

April 06, 2013

Woochi

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Choi Dong-hoon - 2009
Shout! Factory BD Region A

Within the space of a few months, I've now seen three of Choi Dong-hoon's films. Choi may not yet be as familiar a name as several other South Korean filmmakers, but all four of his films have been popular, as well as critical, successes, and for good reason - the guy knows how to make an entertaining film. Three of Choi's films involve criminals with elaborate schemes, and are worthy of someone who admires classic genre films. Woochi is a fantasy film with magical tricksters.

Woochi is a lowly Taoist wizard in 16th Century Korea, whose pranks include impersonating royalty so that the poor in an outlying area get food and money. There's a plot involving escaped monsters and a group of characters finding themselves all in 2009 Seoul, and a flute broke in half that can control the monsters. Woochi runs around with an assistant, a dog transformed to human form, though not entirely free of dog-like traits. Even with the elaborate set-up, with about forty-five minutes devoted to establishing the characters in their past setting, the story is of less interest than some of the set pieces.

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South Korea doesn't have much of a history regarding musicals, but there are hints that this is another genre in which Choi might be successful. Indication is first seen early on, when Woochi, impersonating royalty, walks past a large ensemble of musicians, having them change their rhythm while a courtier kowtows to him. The second time is in contemporary Seoul, with the music from a record player in front of a store provides the soundtrack to one of the scenes of magical martial arts.

This is a film in which portals to other worlds, or simply other parts of Korea, are all over the place. Characters jump in and out of paintings, television screens, mirrors, walls and waterfalls. In a scene taking place in the past, Woochi transforms part of a hilly area to an ocean beach, showing off to a young woman. That same beach is revisited when Woochi rediscovers the woman, In-Kyong, now working as an assistant to a movie star. That nothing is ever what it seems is especially brought up when Woochi stumbles upon, and demolishes, a movie set.

I don't think it's mere coincidence that the movie we see in production is about Koreans during the time of Japanese occupation. Considering that this was a time when Koreans often took Japanese names and a sense of identity as Japanese, this plays well with the characters from the past taking on contemporary identities, or at least contemporary clothing. The monsters being pursued by Woochi are disguised as humans, when they are actually a giant rat and menacing rabbit. For someone who was in suspended animation for about 500 years, Woochi has little trouble adjusting to the contemporary world, finding out for himself that in some ways things haven't really changed, and people remain as foolish as they ever were.

The DVD/Blu-ray release is chock full of extras - interviews with cast and crew, deleted scenes, and looks at various aspects of the production. And while some of the action scenes are dazzling, the best part of Woochi will be its sly humor.

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Posted by peter at 02:43 PM

April 04, 2013

The Four

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Si da ming bu
Gordon Chan and Janet Chun - 2012
Well Go USA Entertainment Region 1 DVD

There's a lightness of touch that makes The Four more enjoyable than anticipated. There is the period setting, and loads of wire work and special effects, get none it weighs down this film, perhaps because Gordon Chan and Janet Chun keep any sense of self-importance in check.

The first film of an announced trilogy, the basis is from the writings of Wun Ruian. Some liberties were taken, and some resemblances to some comic book superheroes may be more than coincidental. The four are three men and a woman with special powers, led by a self-described "useless old man", members of the special Divine Constabulary. The woman, Emotionless, is something like a distaff Magneto, but much prettier. Cold Hands is a far less hirsute than Wolverine. Maybe the reason why the film works well for me is because the filmmakers don't spend time trying to impress the viewers with either the special powers or the special effects, but choose to move the action along, because really, there's nothing extraordinary about a villain bringing dead people to life, or being able to leap across rooftops in pursuit of the bad guys.

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The main story is of the Divine Constabulary working both with and against an elite District Six unit which has just added six females to the staff. Cold Hands has been officially dismissed from District Six, and has been invited to join the Divine Constabulary. Not only are his loyalties divided between these two groups, but he is torn between attraction to Emotionless and District Six's Yaohua. Both groups are trying to find out who is responsible for minting counterfeit coins, potentially undermining the royal government.

What did impress me was the opening shot, a bird's eye view of the city where the action takes place. The "Making of" supplement explains how the shot was done by a combination of cranes with a camera on a series of wires. The bird is a character in the story, the mobile observer for the wheel chair bound Emotionless. There are also a couple of scenes of the female District Six officers bathing, pushing the envelope regarding nudity in a big budget, mainland Chinese film.

The main attraction for myself was seeing another film with Liu Yifei. Most of the time seen in a wheel chair, Liu gets in on the action with some sword fighting and telepathically controlled ninja stars. Frequent Gordon Chan collaborators Anthony Wong and Ronald Cheng appear as the mentor to the four, and the comic Life Snatcher, respectively. Wu Xiobo appears as the villain, An, whose best super power is to crack jokes at seemingly unlikely moments.

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Posted by peter at 06:42 AM

April 01, 2013

Sexcula

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Bob Hollowich - 1974
Impulse Pictures Region 0 DVD

For April Fool's Day, one very appropriate movie.

The history of Sexcula may or may not be apocryphal, but it's a lot more entertaining than what actually appears on screen. Canadian filmmaker Bob Hollowich intended to make an erotic spoof of horror movies, but not simply erotic, but with hard core sex. The two most glaring problems were that in 1974, hard core films were not given theatrical release at the time, and those who did see the film at a one time private screening were duly appalled by what they saw. Life and art came together as the story is about Dr. Fallatingstien (that's how the credits read) and her impotent lover, Frank. Apparently, the only thing stiff about the actor portraying Frank was his acting ability. The doctor's cousin, Sexcula, is called to help. There's also a hunchback named Orgie, a gorilla, and an assortment of scantily clad or naked women. Somewhere along the line, the narrative gets lost to a story about the making of a porno movie that climaxes with four way sex in a church where they all, ahem, kiss the bride.

According to the supplemental notes of "Porn Archaeogist" Dimitrious Otis, a print of Sexcula was deposited at the National Archives of Canada. The film became something of a legend, I would think mostly because almost no one had seen it. And some may also argue that Sexcula is proof that some "lost" movies should remain lost.

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Rather than complain that the glass is half empty, and the water is probably from a questionable tap, let us look at why appreciation should be made to the folks at Impulse Pictures for releasing this movie on DVD.

First, Sexcula is every bit as awkward as its title. The actors aren't that good looking and what passes for humor is just plain stupid. Add to this more than enough shots of bare thrusting male and female buttocks. There is also a scene where the gorilla makes out with the hunchback but I can't be sure because the action takes place in a large, black shadow. Anyways, what I did see makes me appreciate the craft of those journeymen makers of porn whose films are at least well lit, with tenuous semblances of a story.

Second, more proof that Ed Wood, Jr. was never the world's worst filmmaker, and that Plan Nine from Outer Space is not the worst film ever made. Sure, Eddie was a sloppy filmmaker, but most of his films are truly entertaining. Until I saw Sexcula I never thought I would miss the thespian talents of Dudley Manlove. I'm also pretty sure that any of those snobs who sneer at the likes of Jesus Franco or Jean Rollin will revise their opinions in short order. And Pierre Chevalier, where ever the hell you may be, I take back my snide comments about Orloff and the Invisible Man.

Third, the recovery of any "lost" movie always gives the serous cinephile hope. In the past few years, more footage of Fritz Lang's Metropolis was discovered. There were also a slew of silent movies found in New Zealand. The surviving first half of Alfred Hitchock's first major screen credit was made available for online viewing. Who knows, maybe there still is a print of Orson Welles' cut of The Magnificent Ambersons somewhere? Some film scholars are hoping for the eight hour version of Greed. Me, I'd love to see the Dutch thriller, Obsessions from 1969, music by Bernard Herrmann, and a screenplay by some guy named Martin Scorsese.

One is also reminded of the old gag applied to several better works: "This movie wasn't released. It escaped."

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Posted by peter at 07:44 AM