Thursday, December 14, 2006
Earlier this month, Hong Kong newspapers reported that actor Chan Kwok-Kwan had been selected to portray Bruce Lee in a mainland Chinese television series that will recount the story of Lee's life in 40 episodes. .
As the goalkeeper in Stephen Chow's 2001 kung fu comedy Shaolin Soccer, Chan sported a Bruce Lee haircut and a yellow jump suit like the one Lee wore in Game of Death. The screen shot above shows Chan's strong physical resemblance to the late martial artist and movie star.
Chan previously has played Lee in commercials. He is said to have worked out, studied Lee's Jeet Kune Do martial art, and submitted tapes of himself impersonating Lee to his widow and daughter. They were consulted in the casting for the TV series and approved of his being selected.
Maybe we Westerners will eventually be able to get a subtitled, condensed version of the series on DVD.
Thanks to AsianCineFest reader Edgar Serrano for tipping me off about this interesting story.
The Associated Press article about this announcement was carried by washingtonpost.com and can be accessed by clicking on this link.
Monday, November 27, 2006
Only the first two of these were released in the United States prior to his death.
Friday, November 24, 2006
The new special collector's issue of Asian Cult Cinema magazine has come out. Featuring a cover photo of actress Kim Yun-Jin (star of TV's Lost) looking very hot in a blue two piece swimsuit, issue #52 is a "Who's Who In Korean Cinema." Twenty-nine pages are devoted to actresses, six to directors, and twenty-four to actors. There's a photo and a filmography of each individual. The one article is "Korean Cinema Now" by Art Black, a regular contributor to the magazine. Art succinctly describes how Korean Cinema (which of course means the film industry of South Korea) has emerged as a vital force since roughly 1999.
If you're interested in or curious about Korean Cinema, this truly is a "must-have" issue. Pick up a copy or use the link at the top of the column on the right.
Below, in alphabetical order, is a list of some of the terrific Korean films that I've seen and highly recommend. As does the magazine, I've used the traditional Korean format that places the family name first.
Attack the Gas Station! [Juyuso seubgyuksageun] (1999) Kim Sang-Jin, dir. When the proceeds from robbing a gas station aren't satisfactory, some young would-be toughs go back and take it over in this hilarious crime comedy caper.
The Isle [Seom] (1999, or 2000) - Kim Ki-Duk, dir. A man on the run hides out at a remote fishing resort run by a young mute woman. Fish hooks will never be the same after you watch this not-for-the-faint-of heart movie.
Oasis (2002) - Lee Chang-Dong, dir. Starring Moon So-Ri as a woman with cerebral palsy and Sol Kyung-Gu as a young man with limited intellectual functioning. An "art house" film that's not "artsy-fartsy." Many will find Ms Moon's performance painful to watch at first, but stick with it. It's truly Oscar worthy. I could not stop thinking about this film for days after I first saw it. Pretty much felt the same way after subsequent viewings. Incredible cinema.
Oldboy (2003) - Park Chan-Wook, dir.; starring Choi Min-Sik. This is the middle film of Park's "vengence trilogy" that begins with Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance (2002) and concludes with Sympathy for Lady Vengeance (2005)
Samaria (2003) - Kim Ki-Duk, dir. Kind of a "reverse revenge" tale (an "amends" tale?) about two teenage girls, one who turns tricks, the other her manager.
Save the Green Planet! [Jigureul jikyeora!) (2003) - Jang Jun-Hwan, dir. A wacky genre-blending flick about a youth who believes aliens are among us and that he knows how to identify them.
Shiri [Swiri] (1999) - Kang Je-Gyu, One of the most important films that contributed to the rise of Korean Cinema. Uniquely Korean issues are infused in this actioner that showed Korea product could hold its own against Hollywood. A box office record breaker.
Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter...and Spring [Bom yeoreum gaeul gyeoul geurigo bom]- Kim Ki-Duk, dir. A young boy is raised by an old Buddhist monk on a small temple that floats on a lake. In this tale, cyclical as its name suggests, the boy turns into a young man and leaves, only to return years later. Kim also stars as the adult incarnation of the boy.
Monday, November 20, 2006
Top: Gong Li as The Empress and Chow Yun-Fat as The Emperor
Middle: This film won't lack for action!
Bottom: Li Man as Chan, the daughter of and apprentice to the Imperial Doctor
Looks like we're going to have a real treat this holiday season. Mainland China director Zhang Yimou 's Curse of the Golden Flower is set to be released by Sony Pictures Classics on December 22, 2006.
It's a story of court intrigue and deception involving The Emperor, The Empress (his second wife), and his three sons. Illicit affairs, rivalries, and betrayals abound.
Sumptuous cinematography is a given, as the above stills attest. Ditto the acting by the principals. The only question is will the story be as compelling as that of Zhang's Hero, or will the plot suffer from too many twists and tricks like his House of Flying Daggers? I can hardly wait to find out. I usually don't like to go to movies when they first open, but I've got a feeling that I just might in this case.
For all kinds of good stuff related to the film, check out the official website by clicking here.
Monday, November 13, 2006
Well, if you've seen or heard about Kinji Fukasaku's terrific Battle Royale (2000), it should. And it's pretty much this set up that has been appropriated and slightly tweaked by the makers of Kill Devil.
In 2017 a Dr. Kurata discovered that those having a certain gene means an individual has a 99% likelihood of committing murder. The film takes place in 2025 when the Japanese government has set up a program that's supposed to help the first seven teenage test subjects. But the real goal is just gathering data for future use.
Unfortunately, the acting is of a very low caliber. The directing is suggestive of a recent film school graduate who has some knowledge of filmmaking but either no ideas beyond the most basic, or no money to realize anything more complex. The violence isn't very terrifying at all. In fact, it's pretty much on the lame side.
There is an interlude involving a stylized sword fight training session that's shot against a blood red background. It's vaguely reminiscent of some Seijun Sezuki scenes, but totally lacks his panache.
An attempt at escape by three of the test subjects is incredibly stupid. At least the film has the self-referential decency to acknowlege this in a comment by one of the adult supervisors.
The film is not listed in the Internet Movie DataBase under this title or two a.k.a.'s I've come across: Kill The Devil and Kill Onigokko. Neither is the director, Yuichi Onuma.The only credits for the two top-billed youths, actress Yoshika Kato and actor Masahiro Kuranuki, are for one and two tv series, respectively.
The only significant extra is an alternate ending that consists of a music video of the film's youths dancing on a soundstage. See the bottom picture at the beginning of this post.
In sum, Kill Devil is a rather low-rent Battle Royale rip-off that doesn't deliver a lot. It comes across as a made-for-tv movie financed by a cable station without a lot of bucks to throw behind its projects. This is too bad, because the film does have a couple of interesting ideas. With some decent gore and/or some exposed female flesh, it could've been fairly interesting instead of just passable.
Monday, November 06, 2006
Word is that the next two Godzilla DVD releases will not be coming out on November 7th as previously announced, but have been delayed until Spring, 2007. Click on this link to thedigitalbit.com and scroll down to the 10/25/07 entry for further details. Personally, I was really looking forward to MOTHRA vs. GODZILLA. Love those tiny, twin fairies! Still, I'm sure it'll be worth the extra wait and there are plenty of other DVDs to watch and review in the meanwhile.
Friday, October 06, 2006
Last night after having posted ACF 012, I saw a print ad for two more Godzilla flicks coming out on DVD on November 7th, Godzilla Raids Again and Mothra vs. Godzilla. Check out distributor ClassicMedia's official website godzillaondvd.com for info, articles, trailers and more about Gojira/Godzilla and the upcoming releases.
Thursday, October 05, 2006
paleontology Prof. Kyohei Yamane (Takashi Shimura)
No, it's not a new Godzilla movie. It's the face-off of Gojira, the original 1954 Japanese film (not the 1984 film with the same title) and the 1956 revised U.S. version, Godzilla, The King of Monsters! in a recently released two DVD set.
The story in brief:
In the aftermath of nuclear testing in the western Pacific Ocean, a stange phenomenon begins to sink ships. On nearby Odo Island, villagers believe it's the return of Gojira (Godzilla in English), a mythic beast to whom young women used to be sacrificed. Soon the creature appears, causing condsiderable death and destruction on the island. "Big G" then moves on to Tokyo, where he arises from the waters of the bay, spewing his radioactive breath, wrecking havoc, and proving impervious to the weapons of the Japanese Self-Defense Forces. Can some way be found to defeat him before all of Tokyo, then Japan, then the world is destroyed? Of course, otherwise we wouldn't be around to enjoy this, the first of the Rubber Suit Monster Movies, or it's many successors and variants.
I was about 8 years old when the U.S. version was released and may have seen it in theaters. In any case, I've watched it numerous times over the years on broadcast TV, and more recently on a VHS tape. The original Japanese version reportedly was shown in limited release in the U.S. a bit before the American version came out, and again in 2004, but I had never seen it. Eager to see the original, I bought this DVD set the first day it became available. Watching the original Japanese version was a revelation.
Make no mistake: it's still a rubber suit, B-movie with special effects that are quaint at best and most often laughable, even allowing for when it was made. Planes, tanks and helicopeters are clearly small toys. Wires manipulating Gojira's tail and other objects are clearly visible at times. (For an extensive list of trivia and goofs, see the imdb entries for Gojira and for Godzilla, the King of the Monsters!)
Still the original version proved to be more than just a B-movie. And, not surprisingly, it's much better than the U.S. version.
First off, the role of nuclear testing in calling forth Gojira's rampage is clearly and strongly made, whereas in the American version it's referred to in only one line that I noticed. Also, there are many more shots of the suffering of the victims of Gojira's attacks on Tokyo. In this regard, it's worth mentioning that after Japan's surrender ending World War II, Gojira director Ishiro Honda, who had been a foot soldier in China, passed through Hiroshima and witnessed first hand the effects of the atomic bomb's explosion there.
There's also much more human character and plot develoment in Gojiro than in Godzilla. The original has a running time of 98 minutes. The U.S. version clocks in at about 80 minutes, but actually used only 60 or so minutes of the original. The remaining 20 minutes are scenes shot by journeyman director Terry O. Morse. They feature actor Raymond Burr (the villain in Hitchcock's Rear Window and later the lead on the TV series Perry Mason and Ironside) as reporter "Steve Martin." His fateful stopover in Tokyo while en route to Cairo enables him to narrate the course of Godzilla's rampage.
Because of the 30 more minutes of original film in Gojira, we're also treated to much more of Akira Ifukube's fabulous score. On these discs the music also sounds louder in the original's audio mix than in the U.S. version. Ifukube's Gozilla theme is every bit as unmistakeably identifiable as that for the shark in Jaws. There's a terrific soundtrack DVD available, entitled Godzilla: 50th Anniversary Edition.
When I watched Godzilla, The King of the Monsters, I was surprised that the "made for American consumption" version didn't suck, which I'd expected it to after having watched Gojira. Sure, it's clearly inferior to the original. The inserted scenes weaken the story line, and the narrative of Burr's "Steve Martin" interrupt and slow down the pacing. The dubbing is conventionally poor and internally inconsistent. Japanese talking to Japanese speak Japanese early in the picture, with "Martin" (and us) getting the dialogue translated by a bilingual character. Later these same characters speak to their fellow countrymen in English.
On the other hand, there clearly was a lot of thought and care given to making the inserted scenes match the original shots as good as possible. The stand-ins for the original Japanese actors were the right size and dressed consistently with their counterparts. Morse reportedly was selected to direct because he had been an editor for many years and also had directed low budget movies. So I totally disagree with the reviewer in Premiere magazine who recently wrote that this version was "clumsily edited."
According to the commentary on the Godzilla disc, it was actually the U.S. version that was primarily responsible for the film's international success and longevity, and I can see the likely truth in this. Objectively speaking, I can't imagine that the original would have had any commercial success in America in the '50s. A revised version tailored for the American audience was essential, and a decent job was done, given the available budget, which must have been small, if not minimal.
For the most part, this 50-some year old B-movie has been decently cleaned up for its DVD premiere, but there are numerous white flecks and other visually distracting artifacts. Not enought to ruin one's viewing, but enough to be noticeable. "Big G" deserves better; maybe he'll get it when a high definition version is released further down the line.
There are a few decent extras. Godzilla experts Ed Godziszewski, author of The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Godzilla and Steve Ryfle, author of Japan's Favorite Mon-star (The Unauthorized Biography of Godzilla), contribute commentaries. There are short featurettes on the creation of the original story and of the rubber suits. Also included is an informative booklet written by Ryfle.
Fans can rejoice that Gojira and Godzilla, The King of the Monsters! are finally available on DVD in quite decent, if not spectacular, transfers. The two-disc set is a worthy addition to the collection of anyone who loves "Big G" or who cares about the history of Japanese films. Gojira was a nominee for the Japanese Academy Award for best picture, which not surprisingly went to Akira Kurosawa's Seven Samurai. Still it was nominated, the only Godzilla picture to be so honored, and it did receive the award for Best Special Effects. It's a seminal and important movie. If you don't buy the set, at least find a way to watch the original version. It's must viewing, and if you've only seen the Raymond Burr version, you'll probably find it a revelation just like so many others and I have.
Friday, September 15, 2006
Make note of September 22, 2006 'cause that's when Jet Li's new film Fearless, which opened in Asia the beginning of this year, is set to start screening here in these United States. In it the Asian action film star returns to his martial arts roots, portraying Huo Yuanjia, a legendary fighter from around the beginning of the 20th Century.
The picture above shows Li facing off against Nathan Jones as Hercules O'Brien, one of several fighters that Huo comes up against. Jones reportedly is so big that he had to fit together three of the small beds in Chines hotels in order to lie down. (Jones can currently be seen in The Protector, the 2005 Tony Jaa film recently released in the U.S.)
With a running time just over 100 minutes, something between 20 and 40 minutes have been removed from Fearless's earlier form. Gone is a fight scene featuring Somrak Khamsing as a Thai fighter. A sub-plot in which Michelle Yeoh tells Chinese official's about Huo's story in an attempt to get wushu included in the 2008 Olympics has also been removed. I'm not happy about the fight scene being cut; sounds like it would be great viewing. As for the scenes featuring Michelle, one of my favorite Hong Kong actresses, since they don't seem to involve her in action, I'm not paarticularly concerned about their being deleted. Hopefully, when Fearless comes out on DVD, these scenes will be available in a "full length" version, or at least as deleted scenes. Are you listening Rogue Pictures?
One of Hong Kong's venerable director's, Ronnie Yu, helmed the project. Yu has been working in Hollywood for a number of years, having directed Bride of Chucky (1998) and Freddy Vs. Jason (2003). For me, his greatest achievement is 1993's The Bride With White Hair, which starred the fantastic Brigitte Lin and the great Leslie Cheung, who sadly committed suicide on April 1, 2003. The Bride With White Hair is an operatic tour de force, a definite "must see."
Yuen Wo Ping was the film's action choreographer. By now his name should be getting familiar to Westerners. He was fight, action, or martial arts choreographer on Unleashed, the two Kill Bill pictures, the three Matrix films, and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.
There's been a lot written about how Jet Li has has stated that Fearless will be his final kung fu film. However, in Asian Cult Cinema #51 (the current issue), Ric Meyers states that this is a misconstual and that Jet said only that this was his "ultimate wushu statement" (Ric's words). Furthermore, Ric says that it was director Ronnie Yu who told him (Ric) that he (Yu) didn't expect to make another kung fu film, as he'd just be repeating himself. I put my trust in my "elder brother" columnist Ric and expect that we'll be seeing more Asian martial arts cinema from Mr. Li.
Fearless has about as perfect a combination of star, director and action choreographer as one could ask for. And Huo Yuanjia's story should be as interesting as that of another Chinese folk hero Wong Fei Hung, who was also portrayed by Jet Li in the best of the series of Once Upon a Time in China films.
Just how good will Fearless be? Well, there's no knowin' 'til the showin'. But I say, never bet against The Jet.
Monday, August 21, 2006
Mo' festivals, mo' festivals, and mo' festivals!
This time it's the sixth annual New York Korean Film Festival, which will run from August 25th thru September 3rd at several venues in Manhattan and Brooklyn. The festival will offer fourteen feature films from 2005 and 2006, seven shorts, three panel discussions and a retrospective of four films by influential director Lee Man-hee. The feature films, many of which will be receiving their U.S. premieres at the festival, come from a wide gamut of genres: horror, comedy, melodrama, action, mystery and period pieces.
Wounding and Healing is the festival's theme this year, a consideration of "how films explore the intricate and powerful way in which human beings break each other down, only to build each other back up again."
The festival's web site is www.koreanfilmfestival.org and has full information about what's happening when and where, as well as descriptions of the films, directors, panelists, etc.
NYKFF 2006 is organized by The Korea Society, where two of the three panel discussions will be held (the first one will be at Korean Cultural Service), and is presented by Samsung.
In a related matter, I gotta throw out a special "head's up." The fall 2006 issue of Asian Cult Cinema magazine (#52) will be a special pictorial issue devoted to Who's Who In Korean Cinema. It should be out around the latter part of October, 2006. Something special to look forward to, I'd say, even if my column and those of my "elder brother" columnists Max Allan Collins and Ric Meyers have to be held off to make room for all the great stuff that I'm sure will be included.
Tuesday, August 15, 2006
The Great Yokai War, from which the above still comes, was one of the many films that screened at the recent Asian Film Festival of Dallas. I contacted Chiho Mori, Executive Director of the festival, and asked for some wrap-up thoughts for AsianCineFest readers. Her response:
Here are some of my thoughts about the festival so far...
This years festival was very eventful. We had many filmmaker guests attend their screenings, Lane Nishikawa and Eric Hayashi for "Only the Brave," Ham Tran for "Journey From the Fall," and Ringo Le for "Saigon Love Story." We have not had many guest appearances in the past, so these screenings with filmmakers in atendance were a real treat for our audience. We would like to continue bringing these extra things to the festival. I think we had very strong programming this year, with wide variety. I hope the festival patrons enjoyed the festival and come back for next year. I have already started to look for films for 2007!!
Sounds like it was a very fine time for all. I wish I'd been there if only for Il Mare, the film upon which The Lake House was based. Best wishes for continued success for AFFD in 2007 and the years to follow.
One of my fondest hopes for AsianCineFest is that it will foster a sense of community among fans of Asian films, not only in the U.S. but around the world. I've already gotten hits from Mexico, Europe and Australasia. Whether it's Asian cult cinema or more standard fare, I'll let you readers know about it in as thorough and timely manner as I can manage.
I'll continue to pass on information about screenings at "legitimate" venues, such as the Film Society of Lincoln Center. But I especially want to share the word about those festivals and similar gatherings put together by Asian film fans and aficianodos, such as Subway Cinema and AFFD.
So when your group has an event scheduled, send info and images, if available, to:
Sunday, August 06, 2006
For those not familiar with it, Battle Royale is based on a popular novel by Koushun Takami. Set in the near future at a time when student violence in the schools has become rampant, the story is about a class of ninth grade Japanese students that has been selected at random by the powers that be. They are taken to an isolated island, each issued a weapon and given three days to kill one another until only one is left alive. They are even denied the existential "No!" because explosive necklaces have been place around their necks. Refusing to participate will result in the necklace exploding. This will also be the case if there is more than one survivor.
If acquired, New Line is looking to have the U.S. version produced by Neal Moritz, who served in that capacity on the Fast and the Furious series and other films and tv shows, and by Roy Lee, who produced U.S. versions of several Japanese hits, including The Ring 1 and 2, The Grudge 1 and 2, and The Lake House. These choices are hardly reassuring. Lee claims to be a fan of Fukasaku's original, which is fine. But The New York Times quotes him as also saying, "I would never want to make a movie that I thought was bad." It's meaningless drivel like this that bugs the hell out of me and makes me very leary. I mean, who wants to make a bad film, let alone cop to it? He also claims that he, and everyone else involved, wants "to try" to put across the movie's "pacifist angle."
I saw the original on an imported VCD a few years ago, and it's "message" did not primarily strike me as being pacifist or anti-violence. What struck me was that the film was not a simple minded blood and guts exploitationer. While there's plenty o' hackin' and bashin', slicin' and dicin' to go around, the film was truly great because it was also a brilliant criticism of the extremely highly competitive nature of the entire Japanese educational system. Since there really isn't any comparable competitiveness in the U.S. (except maybe New York City pre-school programs for the well-to-do) I have a really hard time seein' how it's gonna work, let alone play in the U.S.A.
As the Times quoted Grady Hendrix, a founder of Subway Cinema (see ACF 002), those of us who love the original "are disappointed that a remake is going to hit screens and not the original." If that remains the case and you haven't seen the original, then get to your Chinatown video store or a good website and pick it up either on VCD or DVD. Do it fast, though, 'cause once those U.S. rights are purchased, it may be very hard to come by Fukasaku's fabulous swan song. Oh, and you might also consider writing to New Line Cinema, it's sister studio Warner Brothers, and their corporate parent Time Warner, and strongly urge them to back a theatrical release of the 2000 version.
Sources and sites: New York Times, 07.09.06; comingsoon.net; variety.com: battleroyalefilm.net; Fight4Survival at eosophobia.net/f4s/
Sunday, July 23, 2006
From Thursday, August 3rd thru Thursday August 10th, 2006, The 5th Annual Asian Film Festival of Dallas will be rocking that city with twenty-four feature films and many, many shorts. For info, click here.
This September 6th will mark the eight anniversary of the great one's passing, but his name's still making news for better and possibly for worse.
The questionable news is that the Weinstein Company is planning to remake Seven Samurai, or perhaps I should say re-remake it, since it already has been remade as The Magnificent Seven. The Weinsteins are in talks with Ziyi Zhang to star first in a live-action version of Mulan then in Seven Samurai. No word on which role from the original she'll be playing, or how all this is going to work with a female lead. The script is being written by John Fusco, who scribed Hidalgo and the two Young Guns movies (!!). To put it kindly, the Weinsteins' mixed record with Asian films at Miramax does not bode well for this enterprise, which seems like a wacked idea to begin with. The thought of their doing this to one of Kurosawa's masterpieces, if not his ultimate masterpiece, fills me with trepidation. [Sources: Entertainment Weekly, June 30 - July 7, 2006; IMDbpro.com; comingsoon.net]
The positive news is that, according to the New York Times of April 13, 2006, a film school bearing his name has been established by Hisao Kurosawa, his son, and by Tatsuya Nakadai, who starred in such Kurosawa fare as High and Low and Ran. (Nakadai also had a bit part as a ronin in the street montage in Seven Samurai, as the spectacular Criterion DVD points out.) The first students of the two-year school - 30 hopeful actors and 80 production students - will start taking classes in September.
Hollywood has not been very kind to this great Hong Kong actor. The Replacement Killers and The Corruptor were o.k. films. I can't comment directly on Anna and the King 'cause I haven't seen it, but don't recall anything that positive ever being written about it and it's box office was anything but boffo. As for Bulletproof Monk, well let's not bother.
However, Chow seems to be poised to come to the attention of the American film-going public to a degree far beyond what he achieved with Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. He's filming Pirates of the Caribbean 3, in which he'll portray Captain Sao Feng. Given PotC 2's incredible appeal to movie goers (as opposed to critics), let's hope that the third time's an even bigger charmer, and that Chow will emerge with the stature, recognition, and film offers he deserves. Chow Yun-Fat, whose infectious grin makes me think of him as an Asian Cary Grant, is an incredibly talented and versatile actor. Check out his comic chops as Ko Chun in God of Gamblers, for instance. Here's hopin' he starts really gettin' his due from Tinseltown. [Sources: Entertainment Weekly, July 14, 2006: IMDbpro.com]
Wanted to let you know of great deals on Jackie Chan's Shanghai Noon and Shanghai Knights. They're on sale for the incredible price of $5.99 each from from J& R at jr.com. Both films are worth having in your collection, so I suggest ordering them if you don't already have 'em, or getting them as a gift for a friend. But act fast, as these prices may not last long. If you're not familiar with J&R, let me just say that I've been shopping at the J&R stores east of City Hall Park in lower Manhattan for over 25 years and give it my highest recommendation.
Thursday, July 20, 2006
On Wednesday, July 18th, I left my day job near Ground Zero, caught an uptown 7th Avenue Express train, switched at 42nd to the uptown local #1 train and took it to 66th Street. My reason: a rendezvous with the Clans of Intrigue, a film in the Heroic Grace, Part II film series at Lincoln Center.
Now, when it comes to the performing arts, New York's Lincoln Center is the classiest thing going, at least in the U.S. So I find it incredible, and wonderful, to have films such as Clans of Intrigue being screened there by the Film Society of Lincoln Center. Make no mistake about it, we're talking B-movie madness with these Hong Kong martial art actioners from twenty-five or more years ago, not the classier domestic and foreign offerings that are the Film Society of Lincoln Center's more typical fare.
While several of the films in the series were being shown in newly restored prints, Clans of Intrigue was screened in an unrestored original print. The feeling, at least visually, was much like what it must have been to see such a film years ago at a 42nd Street area grindhouse or a run-down Chinatown theater. Here, though, the seats were comfortable and there weren't any un-identifiable or un-nameable sticky substances on the floor. Also, one didn't have to worry or wonder about what some of the other members of the audience might be up to; everyone was there to enjoy the film.
Clans of Intrigue (1977) is one of three films in the series that were directed by Chu Yuan for the Shaw Brothers Studios, the others being The Magic Blade (1976) and The Jade Tiger (1977). Yuan also directed Killer Clans, which screened in the first Heroic Grace series. (For your info, I reviewed that series in Asian Cult Cinema magazine #42, Winter, 2004. Back issues can be ordered from A.C.C.; click on the link in the sidebar.) Clans is one of 21 films Yuan adapted from novels by Taiwanese writer Gu Long.
The story centers on Chu liu xiang, whose name is also the Chinese title of the film. Played by actor Ti Long, Chu is a swordsman who lives on a beautiful boat with three lovely young lady attendants. A red-clad figure has murdered three clan leaders, and anonymous letters have named Chu as the assassin. Furthermore, water stolen from a grotto palace of female warriors was used in the murders, and another letter has named Chu as the thief. Basically, there's a whole lot of people after Chu's ass, and he only has thirty days to clear his name.
His efforts to discover the real murderer take him, and the audience, all over the place: monasteries, graveyards, and finally the grotto palace of the female fighters, led by the gorgeous Yin Chi (Betty Ting Pei). Here, the movie turns a bit risqué, what with a delicate lesbian kiss (immediately after which the camera unfortunately cuts to another scene) and a few shots of female tushies and titties.
At one point well into the movie, a character asks Chu's three ladies something, and they reply in unison, "We don't know." I felt like yelling out, "We don't know either!" because the plot is pretty convoluted to say the least. Unsure how it would go over with the audience in attendance, I refrained. But keep in mind that narrative cohesion is not a high priority of Heroic Grace films. Here, the fight scenes and the hilarity of many of the plot twists, supplemented by the atypical presence of so many females, clothed or not, more than make up for the rather rambling plot structure.
As the credits rolled and I got up to leave, I did say out loud to no one in particular, "They don't make 'em like that any more." This brought an appreciative chuckle from several people near me. I'm not really sure exactly how they took my comment, but I meant it in an endearing way. Clans of Intrigue is a wuxia (martial chivalry) film in the guise of a detective "whodoneit." Or perhaps it's the other way around. No matter. It's 99 minutes of great fun. See it if you can.
[Note - There are often English variations of Chinese names. Sometimes the family name comes first, as it does in Chinese; sometimes the name is anglicized so the family name is last. Sometimes the older Wade-Giles romanization system is employed, sometimes the Pinyin system of the Communist (hisssss!) People's Republic of China. So don't be surprised if you come across spellings that differ from the ones I've used here.]
Tuesday, July 11, 2006
(Picture courtesy Celestial Pictures/Shaw Brothers & FSLC)
The new Heroic Grace film series will be starting at the Film Society of Lincoln Center tomorrow, Wednesday, June 12th. One of the first films to screen is this asian cult film classic from 1978. The Five Venoms was directed by Cheh Chang (a.k.a. Zhang Che) for the Shaw Brothers Studio, one of the most prolific studios in Hong Kong for many years. Its vast film library of hundreds and hundreds of martial art, Peking opera adaptations, and other genres has just recently begun being restored, digitally transferred and put out on DVD by Celestial Pictures. As I've mentioned previously, these DVD releases are encoded for Region III (Asian) DVD players.
Still, the best way to experience these films is in a dark theater with a knowledgeable and appreciative audience. The Walter Reade theater is a modest-sized venue, with comfortable stadium seating and a fantastic sound system. Some in the audience will undoubtedly be regulars from the usual art house and classic foreign film crowd, but I'm sure there'll be plenty of fervid fans of B-movie, chop socky, grindhouse cinema in evidence also. At least if attendance is anything like that for the films I saw during the first Heroic Grace series.
Briefly, The Five Venoms concerns the dying wishes of the sifu (teacher) of the Five Venoms House. He entrusts Yang De (Sheng Chiang), his only current pupil, to seek out the school's five prior students. From senior to most junior, they are practicioners of the centipede, snake, scorpion, gecko (lizard), and toad fighting styles. Each style has its particular attributes, which makes for interesting and diverse fight choreography. At least some of the former students are believed to be after a treasure taken by sifu's junior classmate. Yang De is a "jack of each martial art but master of none." He knows something about about each of the five fighting styles, but alone he is no match for his seniors, whose current identities are unknown.
Yang De must discover who the former students are, form an alliance with at least one whom he believes to be benevolent, take out the bad guys, obtain the treasure, and donate it to charity to absolve the Five Venoms House of its bad reputation! Whew! In the course of this quest, there'll be shifting alliances, corrupt civil servants, and, oh yeah, enough stylized fighting to knock yer socks off. Also be prepared for devices of death and torture such as The Throat Barb, The Brain Pin, The Red Stomacher, and The Thousand Needle Coat!
It ain't high art, but I love it! The Five Venoms is high energy, lethal entertainment. Go get poisoned!
Sunday, July 09, 2006
(Image Courtesy FSLC)
The Film Society of Lincoln Center is doing it again, presenting the action/martial arts lover with a bunch of fantastic films from Chinese cinema. The main event is entitled Heroic Grace: The Chinese Martial Arts Film, Part II. It picks up from where the initial series left off in the early 70s. As was the case with Heroic Grace, Part I, the UCLA Film & Television Archive selected and organized this touring program. The ten films in Part II will run at FSLC's Walter Reade Theater July 12 - 20.
There's also a related screening of House of Flying Daggers on Thursday, July 13th @ 6:30 and 9:00 PM. While I prefer Mainland China director Zhang Yimou's Hero, HoFD is still a very good film and a must see, if only for Ziyi Zhang's "Echo Game" dance.
Following Heroic Grace II, from July 21 - 23, FSLC will be presenting a complementary series entitled Shaw Brothers Classics. This will offer a second opportunity to view four of the most popular titles from FSLC's own 2004 tribute to the Shaw Brothers studio. The mini-series includes not only martial arts films, but also other genres.
If you can, make it to The Walter Reade and check out at least some of these flicks. If you can't get there, perhaps the Heroic Grace II series will be coming to your town. If not, many of these films are available on DVD. Just be aware that, as far as I know, the Celestial Pictures DVD reissues of Shaw Brothers films are not coded for U.S. Region 1 players. So for them you'll need a DVD player, or a computer, that will play Region 3 discs.
And check back here at AsianCineFest freqently for reviews of many of the films.
Saturday, July 08, 2006
Tuesday, July 04, 2006
This is a film that delivers, but not the way I expected from the title. There is a mermaid, to be sure, but she's not really a zombie. She just had a near-death experience. Her name is Asami and she starts out as the terrestial wife of Kota Shishio, a professional wrestler. He's played by real life wrestler Shinya Hashimoto.
As the movie begins, they're having a party at their lovely new home. Among the guests are Kota's teammates from Wrestling Group Zero. All hell breaks loose when uninvited guest Mark Ichijoh, played by karate and K-1 champion Nicholas Pettas, instigates a fight. See, he's a bit ticked off that Kota killed his brother, even though this seems to have been unintentional.
The house is all but destroyed in the ensuing melee; then an explosion finishes the job. Asami (Urata Awata), who was upstairs playing piano, is seriously injured in the extreme. While hospitalized, she begins growing scales and making squeaky sounds, a clear indication that she's turning into a mermaid.
Kota hopes that a new house will somehow cure his wife. Abandoned by his teammates, he reluctantly accepts an offer made by Naoto Yamaji (actor Shiro Sano), a truly sleazy TV producer/director. How sleazy is this guy? Well, his demented actions to increase audience share and improve ratings are justified with a simple, "TV always feeds off the dark side of humans."
And the offer? Kota will get his beautiful new home, but he has to fight his way through a team of killer wrestlers from the United States who are currently inhabiting it. One of these is a drooling mad man who really does come across like a zombie. Another is Eva, a buff amazon played by professional wrestler April Hunter, who Kota faces in the terrifying "Electric Bath Bout." When he can't bring himself to fight her because she's a woman, his lovely sister-in-law Nami Ishizuka (single-name actress Sonim)steps in.
The climactic seqence plays out like a videogame. Each succeeding boss is badder than the last. Whether or not you'll know in advance who the final boss is will probably depend on how drawn into the film you are. I was so totally sucked into the action that it didn't occur to me who Kota would face as his last opponent.
Oh! My Zombie Mermaid is delightful popcorn and candy entertainment. I'm not a big fan of professional wrestling, but I really enjoyed this movie. Some of the fight scenes are admittedly pretty gory. But aside from that, if you're in the mood for some mindless, light hearted asian cult cinema, it'll fit the bill just fine.
The imdb entry for O!MZM is under the Japanese title A! Ikkenya puroresu. There are several problems with the limited entry. Neither O!MZM nor the other English names I've come across (Ah! House Collapses, which I believe is a literal translation of the Japanese title, or Home Sweet Battlefield) are listed as alternative titles. Also there is no information about the cast, and the entry mistakenly identifies Executive Producer Terry Ito as the director. The film's director is Naoki Kudo, for whom there is no IMDb entry at this time. Fuller and more reliable information is available at the website of the U.S. distributor, Eleven Arts, Inc.
[Update #2, 2006.07.31 - I don't know if it's through my efforts in the original posting and my 1st Update, but there have been some improvements at the IMDb site for O!MZM. The IMDb entry now lists both Kudo and Ito as the directors of the film. Also, there is a separate entry for Kudo; it indicates that O!MZM was his freshman and thus far only film as writer and as director. If correct, I have to say "Kudos to you, Kudo." The "Full Cast and Crew" screen designates Ito as "executive" director, a job title new to me. Lastly, the cast members I identified in my original posting above are now listed. Now, if someone can just get IMDb to include the alternate English titles.]
[UPDATE #3 2006.09.14 - I checked the IMDb entry today and am pleased to write that it now includes the info "Also Known As: Oh! My Zombie Mermaid (USA) (informal English title)." ]
Mermaid was one of the 29 films that screened at the recent New York Asian Film Festival 2006. This was the fifth annual festival put on by Subway Cinema. I urge you to check out their gorgeous, thoughtful, informative, and just plain great website. In 2003, Roger Corliss of Time magazine chose it as the Best Movie Website. It's still a stunner. While you're there, consider subscribing to Subway Cinema News, a "happy guide to Asian entertainment in New York...and beyond!" There's a link to it in the box at the top right of Subway Cinema's home page, or just click here.
A final note, and I'm sorry to say it's a sad one. Star Shinya Hashimoto died on July 11, 2005, a few days after his 40th birthday, from a ruptured brain aneurysm. R.I.P., big guy, and thanks for the good times.
Wednesday, June 28, 2006
This site is about Asian films and the people who make them: directors, actors & actresses, stunt co-ordinators, cinematographers, even some producers, set directors, and composers.
I'll be writing about films from just about every Asian country that has any sort of film industry. Films from what I like to call The Three Chinas: Hong Kong, Mainland China, and Taiwan. Films from Japan. Films from Korea. These countries are the sources of the great majority of Asian films, but I'll also give some ink to movies from Thailand, India, Malaysia, etc. I'll be writing about new theatrical releases and films available on DVD.
Living and working in New York also affords me the opportunity to cover some great film series and festivals. Mainly I'm interested in sharing my thoughts about the films themselves, not covering the festivals per se. If you live in the area, or are visiting, these entries may be of particular interest to you. But even if you don't, I hope you'll find the pieces interesting and perhaps get some ideas about films you'll want to check out on your own. In this wonderful age, Asian films are available for viewing as never before, both in theaters and on DVD.
This wasn't the case when I first became really interested in Asian films in the mid-90s. Before then I pretty much only knew about Akira Kurosawa's samurai movies and Bruce Lee's Enter The Dragon. My exposure to other Hong Kong films had been limited to poorly dubbed, panned & scanned, and insensitively edited "chop-socky" flicks on weekend TV.
My "serious" interest in Asian cinema came about as an indirect result of my starting to studying Tai Chi Chuan in 1991. My best buddy in class worked for a major publisher and was editing Sex and Zen & A Bullet In The Head which came out around 1996. It's a terrific and fun read about Hong Kong films that takes it's name from two well known flicks, the latter being one of John Woo's best known Asian works. My buddy and I started going to the occasional Asian screening at a theater near New York University and buying VHS tapes when and where we could find them.
Now, of course, Asian films can be seen in multiplexes as well as art houses, and DVDs can be bought in stores or the Internet. Here are a few of the reasons why. The turnover of Hong Kong to Mainland (that is, Communist) China in 1997 led many of the top people in the then-thriving Hong Kong film industry to relocate to Hollywood. In 1998, Jackie Chan, who had been trying to break into the big time in the United States since 1980's horrible The Big Brawl, finally succeeded with Rush Hour and followed it up with Shanghai Noon and sequels to both. U.S. directors such as Quentin Tarantino and the Wachowski brothers praised and utilized talented Asian personnel and techniques. And of course one can't help mentioning Ang Lee's Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon in 2000. It is, in fact, a film that I regard as "cinematic perfection" - right up there with Kurosawa's Seven Samurai and Ran.
Late in 1999 I had bought a tape of a Japanese "girls & guns" flick called Tokyo Blue Case 1. It was hilarious sexploitation. By then, I'd been reading this quarterly magazine called Asian Cult Cinema for awhile, and wanted to share the joy of my "discovery" with my fellow readers. So I submitted an article, and Tom Weisser, the magazine's editor and publisher, ran it in the Spring 2000 issue. I became a regular contributor and in the Summer 2001 issue Tom honored me with my own column, which he entitled Trash Taken Seriously: Scholarly Reviews of Exploitation, Guilty Pleasures & Junk. I was doubly honored by this, because in its first years the magazine, which began publication in 1991, was titled Asian Trash Cinema.
Now, one person's "trash" is another's "treasure" - as anyone who's come across a terrific curbside find knows. Fortunately, Tom has granted me a lot of leeway in what I write about, something I appreciate very much.
Still, I've come to the point where I want to concentrate more on B-movie "trash" in my column for the magazine. AsianCineFest will supplement those writings with additional coverage of not only "exploitation, guilty pleasures & junk", but also films and themes that range a bit further afield.
That about covers it for this initial posting. Look for new posts every seven days or sooner. Thanks for coming by and I hope you'll be back again, and again, and again.
Oh, and please feel free to post comments or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. While, to paraphrase an old hit from the 60s, "it's my blog and I'll write what I want to," I have no desire to write just to put something out there into the blogosphere. I've started this column for you readers, my fellow fans of Asian films. I want your thoughts and feedback about AsianCineFest; they'll help me shape this site so it's a better experience for all of us. I'll read all your submissions and respond when I can. Ciao!