With Dada Chen at NYAFF 2013

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

Monday, November 27, 2006

ACF 018: Bruce Lee Remembered

Bruce Jun Fan Lee
Born November 27, 1940, San Francisco
Died July 20, 1973, Hong Kong

Bruce Lee was the single person most responsible for reinventing and reinvigorating the Asian martial movie and making the genre popular in the United States and other western countries. Born in the U.S. to Chinese parents who were touring with a Chinese opera company, he grew up in Hong Kong, but returned to the U.S. in 1959. Most accounts attribute his return to his father's concern for his safety after Bruce got in a fight with the son of a feared Triad [Chinese criminal gang] member. He majored in Philosophy at the University of Washington, where he met his future wife Linda Emery. They later had two children. Son Brandon Lee, was born in 1965 and died in a tragic weapons accident on March 31, 1993 while filming The Crow. Daughter Shannon Lee, born 1969, is an actress. Interestingly her first credited film role was as the Party Singer in Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story, the under-rated 1993 bio-pic of her father. Lee was the real deal - a true martial arts master. He developed his own martial arts system, known as Jeet Kune Do or the Way of the Intercepting Fist. A non-formalized style, it emphasized "practicality, flexibility, speed and efficiency." [source: Wikipedia]
Lee appeared in films from a young age because of his parents being in Chinese opera. However, it was in the United States, after he began teaching martial arts to such film stars as Steve McQueen and James Coburn, that his career really began. He starred as Kato in the 1966-67 television series The Green Hornet. Reportedly, he felt that his future in Hollywood was limited after he was passed over for the role of Kwai Chang Caine in the Kung Fu TV series, a role that went instead to David Carradine.

Bruce returned to Hong Kong, where film producer Raymond Chow offered him the lead in Tang sha da xiong, or The Big Boss in English. The film was a huge hit, as were his next two films. But it was with the Warner Brothers financed Enter the Dragon that Bruce's international reputation was immortalized. The final fight in the room of mirrors is one of the most iconic of all martial arts film sequences.

Sadly, Bruce died before the film premiered. He was visiting actress Betty Ting Pei, who gave him one of her prescription pills because he had a headache. He had an adverse reaction, could not be revived, and died later that day of cerebral edema.

He is most fondly remembered for:
The Big Boss (a.k.a. Fists of Fury), 1971
Fist of Fury (a.k.a. The Chinese Connection), 1972
Way of the Dragon (a.k.a. Return of the Dragon) 1972
Enter the Dragon, 1973
Game of Death, 1978 (Most of this film was shot after his death using a stand-in for Bruce. Still, the last sequence, as the real Bruce fights his way up a pagoda, facing increasingly difficult opponents on each successive floor, is fantastic. It plays like a series of boss fights in a live action video game.)

Only the first two of these were released in the United States prior to his death.
Enter the Dragon is available on DVD from Warner Brothers. The other four films can be found in Bruce Lee: The Master Collection from 20th Century Fox, which also includes a bonus disc of documentary footage. They are, however, dubbed versions. It would be great if at some point the original versions, with good subtitles, become available. In the meanwhile, all of these films are wonderful ways to remember Bruce and keep his spirit alive. [Update 11.28.06: Yesterday the head of the Bruce Lee Fan Club in Hong Kong announced plans for a $25.5 million dollar theme park that will be built in Lee's ancestral home of Shunde. It is to include a statue, a memorial hall, a martial arts academy, and a conference center. In 2005 a bronze statue of Bruce was unveiled in Hong Kong to mark his sixty-fifth birthday. Sources: New York Times, 11.28.06, pg E2 and Wikipedia.]

Friday, November 24, 2006

ACF 017: Korean Cinema Special Issue

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

ACF 016: Curse of the Golden Flower

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

ACF 015: Kill Devil

A government project involving muderous teens on an isolated island. Sound familiar?

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

ACF 014: Godzilla DVDs Delayed - Bummer!

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.