With Dada Chen at NYAFF 2013

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

Monday, July 28, 2008

ACF 137: Tai Chi Master

Tai Chi Master (a.k.a. Twin Warriors) / Tai ji: Zhang San Feng
Directed by Yuen Wo-ping
Hong Kong, 1993, 96 min

Dragon Dynasty has done it again, releasing a classic Hong Kong film in an outstanding DVD package. Tai Chi Master will be available tomorrow, Tuesday, July 28th, 2008 on a single disc Special Collector's Edition, so get your cash or ceredit card ready.

The film centers on the relationship between two youths who meet as boys at the Shaolin temple. When Tien Bao enters the Temple. he chaffs at being told that he must regard Jun Bao, another youth who is smaller than him, as his senior. Still, the two become friendly competitors and grow up to be portrayed respectively by Chin Siu-ho and Jet Li in a lovely transitional shot.

Tien Bao's fiery personality and independent nature get him kicked out of the temple, and Jun Bao is forced to leave also. The two must now make their way in the material world, and their different attitudes lead them to take divergent paths. Tien Bao, seeking wealth and power, joins the forces of Governor Liu. an evil eunuch. (Really now, aren't there any nice eunuch's in Chinese films? Guess not, at least none that I can think of.)

Meanwhile, the simpler and kind hearted Jun Bao has joined with a group of rebels who oppose the oppressive Liu. Also joining them are Siu Lin (Michelle Yeoh), whose husband left her for Liu's niece and Miss Li (Fennie Yuen), for whom Tien Bao has strong feelings. After suffering a defeat, Jun Bao goes a bit bonkers and is given the nickname "San Feng" (Thrice Crazy), which appears in the Chinese title of the film.

But as we all know, you can't keep Jet Li down, and he eventually hits upon the principles of Tai Chi, or Supreme Ultimate. (The martial art is more properly referred to as Tai Chi Chuan, which translates as Supreme Ultimate Fist or Supreme Ultimate Boxing.) With this new-found approach, he returns to face Tian Bao in the climactic final battle.

The film was directed by Yuen Wo-ping, best known in the West for his choreography/direction of action/fighting sequences in The Matrix, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Kill Bill: Vol 1, etc. And here he doesn't disappoint.

The story line, though better than that of many Hong Kong martial arts films, is primarily a means to get from one action/fighting sequence to another. There are plenty of them, and they are fantastic. Check out the incredible work in the lengthy fight sequence that leads to the two youths being expelled from the temple. And even a relatively static shot of dozens of monks doing headstands - using only their heads, no arms or hands - will have you wondering, "How'd they do that?!"

This is one great film and, as seems to always be the case, the Special Features Dragon Dynasty provides are outstainding. So the film gets 3.5 out of 4 stars, the Special Features get 4 stars.

- Languages: Cantonese Dolby 5.1, Original Cantonese Mono, and English Dolby 5.1
- Subtitles: English and Spanish
- Closed Captioned

Special Features:
- Feature Length Commentary By Hong Kong Cinema Expert Bey Logan
- Nemesis: An Exclusive interview With Star Chin Siu-ho (Since he's not well-known in the West, I have to mention that Chin Siu-ho quite holds his own whether fighting alongside or against Jet Li. It's good for him to be getting some well-deserved exposure.)
- The Birthplace of Tai-Chi: On Location In Chen Village
- Meditations On The Master: Director Brett Ratner and Critic Elvis Mitchell On Director Yuen Wo-ping
- Twin Warriors: Critic Elvis Mitchell And Director Brett Ratner On Stars Jet Li And Michelle Yeoh
- Original Home Video Trailer

Thursday, July 24, 2008

ACF 136: Canary to open in NY and LA

Canary / Kanaria
Written and Directed by Akihiko Shiota
Distributed by Bandai Visual and ImaginAsian Pictures
Language: Japanese w/ English subtitles
Japan, 2005, 132 min

Canary is based on the true events of the deadly gas attacks on the Tokyo subway system by members of the Aum Shinrikyo cult. It's the story of two children who are abandoned by their families and who come together in the wake of this scarring event.

Twelve-year-old Koichi (Hoshi Ishida) has grown up within the confines of a religious cult whose violently instilled dogma has all but destroyed his sense of identity. After a murderous attack, the cult disbands, and Koichi finds himself abandoned by his mother and separated from his sister. To reunite his broken family, Koichi breaks out of the child welfare system and sets off to Tokyo. While on the run, he meets Yuki (Mitsuki Tanimura), a girl desperate to flee from her abusive father.

Koichi and Yuki travel together in search of his sister, facing the inevitable troubles of children making their way in the world without the guidance or protection of adults. The separate scars of their pasts cause friction between the two, but their struggles develop a familial bond that allows them to confront both their pasts and the future ahead.Beautiful and poignant, Akihiko Shiota's film illustrates the resiliency of forgotten youth in forging their own destiny from a tragic past.

Hoshi Ishida won the Sponichi Grand Prize New Talent Award for his role at the 2006 Mainichi Film Awards.

Canary will screen in New York July 25 - 31, 2008 at:

The ImaginAsian Theater
239 East 59th Street

and in Los Angeles August 8 - 14, 2008 at:

The ImaginAsian Center
251 S. Main Street

For the film's website, click here.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

ACF 135: Human Lanterns DVD out today!

Human Lanterns / Ren pi deng long
Directed by Sun Chung
Hong Kong, 1982, 95 min

Hong Kong has produced many kung fu movies and horror movies over the years. Human Lanterns (a.k.a. Human Skin Lanterns), which comes out on a single disc DVD today courtesy of Image Enterrtainment, is a cross of the two genres. It's certainly one of the best kung fu horror films every to come out, and a pretty solid offering on any terms.

Lung Shu-ai (Tony Liu, billed as Liu Yung) is a rich and arrogant man who has a serious rivalry with Tan Fu (Kuan Tai Chen). Lung has a beautiful wife (Ni Tien), but also a special relationship with a particular prostitute, Yen-chu. When Tan parades her at a gathering, Lung is outraged and challenges Tan to a contest. The challenge: who will have the best lantern at an upcoming festival.

Naturally, being gentry not artisans, neither actually make the lanterns. Lung learns that the fantastic lanterns of Old Man Tsui actually have been fashioned by Chao Chun-Fang (martial arts star Lieh Lo, who later directed such fare as Black Magic With Butchery and Summons to Death) Seven years earlier Lung and Chao were rivals for the affection of the woman Lung later married. Lung defeated Chao, who harbors major anger at having been humiliated.

Chao accepts Lung's commission to make a magnificent lantern, but utilizes the opportunity to set in motion a dastardly plan of revenge. Women start disappearing, and both Lung and his rival Tan fall under suspicion. From the title, you can easily guess what the kidnapped women are going to be used for.

Human Lanterns may not be top drawer Shaw Brothers product, but it's a terrific film B-film that works pretty damn well as a horror tale and has some quite decent kung fu fighting sequences. Image Entertainment has done better here than they have on some other releases in terms of the Special Features offered. I give it a 3 out of 4 star rating; solidly recommended.

- Shaw's Baby Doll: An Interview with Shawn Yin Yin
- The Skin Peel Scene (Alternate Take)
- Production Stills Gallery
- Shaw Brothers Trailers

Check out the Human Lanterns trailer!

Buy Human Lanterns @ Amazon.com.
[Ths link provided as a convenient service to readers. AsianCineFest does not make anything if you chose to use this link.]

Monday, July 21, 2008

ACF 134: Cage Rage 3-DVD to arrive 07.22.08

For many of us fans of Asian cinema, martial arts is a topic of major interest. I know it is for me. Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) competition has overcome some initial bad press, and this hybrid of various fighting styles has recently started to appear in Asian films. Flash Point, which I reviewed in ACF 104, is a perfect example.

So I thought that at least some of you will be interested in hearing about Cage Rage: The Superstar Collection – 5 Event Set, the newest Mixed Martial Arts release from Mill Creek Entertainment. It's set to become available tomorrow, July 22. The 3-DVD-set will be priced to own at only $14.98!

Here's some publicity info that I received on this interesting and definitely bargain-priced release that contains over 12 hours of mixed martial arts mayhem:

Mill Creek recently signed an agreement with legendary ProElite, Inc., a sports entertainment and media company dedicated to producing world-class mixed martial arts (MMA) events, to distribute DVDs showcasing ProElite’s premier global MMA brands: Rumble on the Rock, ICON Sport and Cage Rage. The Cage Rage DVD follows on the heels of Mill Creek’s critically acclaimed and hottest selling new product, the “Rumble on the Rock 5-Event Set,” and EliteXC “Saturday Night Fights,” the very first MMA event on national broadcast television (CBS) on May 31. The event averaged 4.85 million viewers with a peak of 6.51 million viewers in the final 20 minutes during the main event between Kevin “Kimbo Slice” Ferguson and James Thompson.

“With the best fighters in the sport right on our cover (including UFC Middleweight Champion Anderson Silva), we are positively thrilled to be able to continue to deliver the best value along with the best names in the MMA business,” said Ian Warfield, President and COO of Mill Creek Entertainment. “We have noticed an exploding demand for MMA content in the DVD marketplace. The addition of ProElite content to our product line significantly strengthens our position as a producer of exciting high-quality entertainment.”

Running Time: 736 min
DVD Aspect Ratio: 4:3
Sound: 2.0 Dolby AC3 Stereo
Rated: Not Rated – Material Suitable for Adult Audiences

Friday, July 18, 2008

ACF 133: Shaw Brothers' Human Lanterns on DVD

Human Lanterns / Ren pi deng long
Directed by Sun Chung
Hong Kong, 1982, 95 min

Recently received word of this Image Entertainment release of another Shaw Brothers' classic on DVD. I haven't seen it yet, but hope to get a screener soon and put up a full review.

Meanwhile here's the description from the press materials I received:

Swordplay, savagery and blood-chilling thrills reign supreme in this outrageous mixture of martial arts and the macabre from Shaw Brothers! Two rivals, one rich and the other poor, enter an unholy pact to win an annual lantern-creating contest in their village; however, the terrifying secret behind their remarkable creations lies within the supple flesh of local maidens, who are disappearing at the hands of a demonic assailant! Now featuring shocking scenes too extreme for its Asian DVD release, this unflinching action-horror masterpiece is now finally available to American audiences to enjoy full strength and full throttle!

- Shaw's Baby Doll: An Interview with Shawn Yin Yin
- Extended Scene
- Shaw Brothers Trailers
- Production Stills Gallery

Check out the Human Lanterns trailer!

Buy Human Lanterns @ Amazon.com.
[Ths link provided as a convenient service to readers. AsianCineFest does not make anything if you chose to use this link.]

Thursday, July 17, 2008

ACF 132: Sword of the Stranger bi-coastal theatrical release starts 07.18.08

Sword of the Stranger
Directed by Masahiro Ando
Japan, 2007, 102 min

Sword of the Stranger is a wonderful movie that succeeds brilliantly both as an animation feature and as a samurai film.

The main characters are a young boy named Kotaro and his dog, which I believe is a Sheba Inu. (Full disclosure: I'm very partial to the breed because my wife and I have a nine year old Sheba Inu/Yellow Lab mix.) They're being chased by Chinese operatives of the Ming Emperor and their Japanese guides for reasons that eventually become clear.

Having escaped from a burning monastery, Kotaro hires a ronin (masterless samurai) known simply as No Name to help them get to another monastery. Along the way there are numerous bloody encounters. The action climaxes with an incredible battle scene that culminates with No Name facing off against Rarou, a fierce light-haired Westerner who's working for the Chinese.

No Name (l) faces off against Rarou

Although there are a few scenes in bright sunlight, most of the film is done in low-key lighting. The primary colors are earth-tones and are very well done, not the least but muddied.

Tomorrow, Friday, July 18th, 2008, Sword of the Stranger will begin a bi-coastal theatrical run, at The ImaginAsian Theater in New York and at The ImaginAsian Center in Los Angeles.

In New York the film will have an English language soundtrack, although the characters speaking in Chinese are subtitled. That's how it was in the DVD screener I had to review, and although I generally prefer original language soundtracks and subtitles, Sword of the Stranger had excellent dubbing. The Los Angeles screenings will have a Japanese language track with English subtitles.

I give it a 3.5 out of 4 star rating (highly recommended), and strongly suggest that you check it out if you can.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

ACF 131: Japanese Screen Classics coming to Lincoln Center

Stray Dog / Nora inu
Directed by Akira Kurosawa
1949, b&w, 122 min
Will be shown Sun Aug 3 @ 9;15 pm & Sun Aug 10 @ 9;00 pm

The 2008 New York Asian Film Festival and the JAPAN CUTS film series may be over, but there's only the briefest of respites for Asian Film Fans. The Film Society of Lincoln Center will be presenting an incredible series from July 30th to August 14th, 2008. Entitled Japanese Screen Classics: In Honor of Madame Kawakita, it will consist of 24 masterworks by eight directors: Akira Kurosawa, Nagisa Oshima, Kaneto Shindo, Shohei Imamura, Sumiko Haneda, Kon Ichikawa, Yoki Yamada, and Seijun Suzuki.

Directed by Akira Kurosawa
1950 b&w, 88 min
Will be shown Wed Jul 30th @ 5:00 pm & Fri Aug 1st @ 7:15 pm

Kashiko Kawakita was born in 1908 in Osaka, Japan. From the mid-1930s until she died in 1993, she, along with her husband Nagamasa Kawakita, "was the ambassador of Japanese cinema to the world" according to Film Society program director Richard Pena. She both brought films to Japan which otherwise might never have been seen there and made sure that outstanding japanese films were seen abroad.

She also provided financial suppport to some of Japan's emerging filmmakers and was instumental in establishing the Japan Film Library Council, whose mandate included acquiring and preserving prints of Japan's finest cinematic achievements. Madame Kawakita was truly one of the great friends of cinema, and she is well-worthy of being remembered and appreciated.

This collection of films first screened at the Cannes Film Festival earlier this year. It was subsequently shown at the Cinematheque Francaise and the British Film Institute. After its U.S. premiere at Lincoln Center, it will travel to Totonto, Montreal, Berkeley, Berlin, Rome, and Hong Kong.

As I post this entry, the Film Society of Lincoln Center's homepage only has a notice of this series as a coming attraction, but I'm certain that full program info will available there before long. AsianCineFest will be posting further news and reviews about this major film series over the next four weeks.

Monday, July 14, 2008

ACF 130: The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor set for August 1, 2008 Opening

The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor
Directed by Rob Cohen
Starring Brendan Fraser, Jet Li, Maria Bello, Michelle Yeoh
August 1, 2008 release date

I got some P.R. material on this upcoming flick some time ago. I've been holding off writing about it until the time seemed right, and that time is now. Why?

Well, last week I saw a TV spot about it for the first time. More importantly, on Sunday I saw a trailer when I went to see Kung Fu Panda (which, incidentally, is terrific fun).

I greatly enjoyed The Mummy (1999) and The Mummy Returns (2001), as well as The Scorpion King (2002), a spin-off starring Dwayne Johnson (when he was still being billed as The Rock) and the talented and always enjoyable Kelly Hu.

I'd been cautiously hopeful about Mummy 3 (if you will) and now that I've seen the trailer, I'm really psyched about it. And the reason that I think readers of this blog should be interested is the Chinese theme, which is evident in the film's title, and two of its stars.

Long ago, a sorceress (Michelle Yeoh) put a curse on the Han Emperor (Jet Li) and his warriors, who have lain forgotten, entombed in clay as a vast, silent terra cotta army. When the ruler and his minions are awakened from eternal slumber, it falls on explorer Rick O’Connell (Brendan Fraser) to save the day.

This film marks the second time that Jet Li and Michelle Yeoh have starred together in a film. (Although she initially did have a small role in Jet Li's Fearless, it wasn't really part of the story proper and reportedly was cut to bring the running time down to under two hours.) The pair were seen together in Tai Chi Master (1993), a great martial arts flick directed by Yuen Woo-ping with nearly non-stop action. I'm really looking forward to them appearing together again.

(Worth mentioning here is the fact that Dragon Dynasty is putting out a dynamite DVD of Thai Chi Master on July 29th. I'll be reviewing it prior to the street date.)

Another good indication about Tomb of the Dragon Emperor is the fact that China's censors want changes in Mummy 3 before giving the o.k. for its release in that country, this according to VarietyAsiaOnline.com. Anything that the Chinese Communist leadership has problems with is probably going to be o.k. or better in my book.

For updates and features on the film, check out director Rob Cohen's production blog.

And of course there's the official film website, which includes the trailer and teasers.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

ACF 129: A Gentle Breeze @ Japan Cuts

A Gentle Breeze in the Village / Tennen kokekko
Directed by Nobuhiro Yamashita
Japan, 2007, 121 min
NY Premiere
© 2007 "Tennen Kokekko" Film Partners ©KURAMOCHI

Another film based on a popular manga, A Gentle Breeze in the Village was a 2007 Kinema Junpo Best Ten pick. Directed by Nobuhiro Yamashita (Linda Linda Linda, which I reviewed in ACF 025), it's a coming of age story set in the Japanese countryside.

The film, part of Japan Society's JAPAN CUTS film series, is being shown as a complimentary screening for the community of Turtle Bay and beyond. Tickets will be distributed one hour before the screening on Sunday, July 1th at 3 PM on a first-come, first-served basis.

A Gentle Breeze in the Village info
JAPAN CUTS home page

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

ACF 128: Sakuran - a JAPAN CUTS Review

Directed by Mika Ninagawa
Japan, 2007, 111 min
NY Premiere

Sakuran is the story of Kiyoha, who as a young girl is sold to a brothel in the Yoshiwara pleasure district, the Las Vegas of Edo (later Tokyo) Japan. Spunky and rebellious, she is unsuccessful in her attempt to run away, and learns that one gets out only by having her contract redeemed by a wealthy patron.

A few years later she becomes an oiran, the highly coveted head prostitute of the brothel, and assumes the new name Higurashi. Through her many trials and tribulations, Seiji, the Head Clerk of the house where she works, has stood by her. It was he who brought her back when she first ran away, promising that when a barren cherry tree within the quarter blooms he would take her away.

This gorgeously shot period drama is based on a manga by Moyoco Anno that originally ran from 2001 to 2003. Assuming that the film is a relatively faithful adaptation, Anno clearly has utilized many of the plot devices that can be found in Arthur Golden's 1997 Memoirs of a Geisha.

This is the first film directed by Mika Ninagawa. The daughter of Japanese stage director Yukio Ninagawa, she is a famous and best-selling art photographer in her own right. She is clearly someone who can be expected to produce more remarkable films in the future, if she choses to continue to work in the medium. I certainly hope she will.

Anna Tsuchiya (Kamikaze Girls, The Taste of Tea) stars as Kiyoha/Higurashi. Born in 1984, Tsuchiya is the daughter of a Japanese mother and a Russian-American father. Her exotic looks make her a perfect choice for the role of a highly coveted courtesan, at least in contemporary terms. That might not have been the case, if such an genetic blend were even available, at the time that the action takes place. So on the surface there may be a bit of an anachronism going on here.

(Just so there's no confusion, although Tsuchiya is obviously Eurasian, the character herself is depicted as a pure Japanese. There's no reference at all to her being a "half," as those of mixed decent are often described.)

More important than her looks, however, is the fact that she demonstrates great range, covering the gamut from aggressive feistiness to abject grief and vulnerability. Tsuchiya was a successful model and singer before she began appearing in films.

I give the film a 3.5 out of 4 star rating: highly recommened.

Sakuran will be shown as part of Japan Society's JAPAN CUTS: Festival of New Japanese Film. There will be two screenings:
- Saturday July 12th at 8:30 PM. A Red Light Party will follow the screening (special ticket price of $15/$12 members).
- Sunday, July 13th at 12:45 PM.

Japan Society
333 East 47th Street between 1st and 2nd Avenues)
New York NY 10017
Box office: 212.715.1258

Sakuran info and tickets
JAPAN CUTS home page

Monday, July 07, 2008

ACF 127: ACF Scores NYAFF Swag!!!!!!

Dr. G's NYAFF 2008 Swag

Last Thursday was the last day of New York Asian Film Festival 2008 at the IFC Center. I was there to see my fourth movie of the series, the 4:20 PM screening of Tokyo Gore Police. Now at each screening, Subway Cinema, the organizers and presenters of the series, gave away a few door prizes, such as a DVD, a t-shirt, and maybe a book.

I hadn't bothered to put in a slip with my name on it the other three times I'd been there this year, but I made it a point to that day. Why? Well, I'd read in the July 2nd post of Subway Cinema News that at each screening a special huge prize would be given out in addition to the normal ones.

AND I WON IT!!!!!!!!!!

Here's what I scored in what Subway Cinema aptly described as their Mega Supreme Enormous Prize Pack:

- a NYAFF messenger bag from Manhattan Portage
- 5 (!) DVDs, including 2 from the now defunct (sigh) Tartan Asia Extreme label
- 3 T-shirts (and I am a t-shirt-lovin' guy)
- Osamu Tezuka's Dororo, Vol 1 from Vertical
- a free one year subscription to Giant Robot
- a 6-pack of Kirin Ichiban beer
- a bottle of Jinro Soju (Korean spirits)

Last year I was thrilled when one of the Subway Cinema crew laid a Dragon Dynasty baseball cap on me. Imagine my joy when me name was called out as the recipient of all this great booty. Then, to cap things off, Tokyo Gore Police was a total blast! I'll have reviews of it and some of the other films presented at the festival in upcoming posts.

So, a special "Thank you" to Subway Cinema and to all the sponsors of NYAFF 2008. The 2007 festival, which was the first that I covered in depth, was terrific. This year's was even better. A great job and a real boon for lovers of Asian cinema.

P.S. Also last Thursday, NYAFF began co-presenting four days of film at Japan Society in conjunction with its JAPAN CUTS film festival, which continues through July 13th. For info, click here.