With Dada Chen at NYAFF 2013

With Dada Chen at NYAFF 2013
With Dada Chen at NYAFF 2013

Sunday, July 23, 2006

ACF 007: Four Items Of Interest

Asian Film Festival Dallas

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.

Akira Kurosawa - Still Making News!

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.

Chow Yun-Fat Turns Pirate!

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]

Jackie Chan "Shanghai" DVDs

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

ACF 006: Clans of Intrigue

(Picture courtesy Celestial Pictures/Shaw Brothers & FSLC)

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

ACF 005: The Five Venoms

The Five Venoms / Wu Du
(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

ACF 004: Martial Arts Films at the Film Society of Lincoln Center

Dirty Ho
(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

ACF 003: Oh! My Zombie Mermaid Gallery

Asami (actress Urata Awata) and Kota Shishio (Shinya Hashimoto)

Ready to battle!

Four of the "Killer Wrestlers" from the U.S.

Nami Ishizuka (actess Sonim) preapres to face wrestler Eva

fotos: Subway Cinema/New York Asian film Festival

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

ACF 002: Oh! My Zombie Mermaid

(Photo courtesy Subway Cinema/New York Asian film Festival)

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.