With Dada Chen at NYAFF 2013

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

Friday, March 30, 2018

ONCE UPON A TIME is available on digital now; debuts on Blu-ray May 1st

Well Go USA
Once Upon a Time
Directed by Zhao Xiaoding and Anthony LaMolinara
China, 2017, 108 minutes

Based on the best-selling fantasy novel Three Lives Three Worlds, Ten Miles of Peach Blossoms, ONCE UPON A TIME is a story of epic battles, deep passion, and the powerful forces that drive mortals and gods alike toward revenge, loyalty, and eternal love. The film is available on digital now and debuts on Blu-ray™ May 1st from Well Go USA Entertainment.

Dubbed “intense and passionate” in the Los Angeles Times, this visually spectacular fantasy adventure follows an immortal woman who reconnects with a love from her past life. First-time feature film directors Zhao Xiaoding (Academy Award®-nominee for Best Achievement in Cinematography, House of Flying Daggers, 2004) and Anthony LaMolinara (Oscar® winner for Best Achievement in Visual Effects, Spider-Man 2, 2004) co-directed the lush and romantic film starring Liu Yifei (White Vengeance, next starring in the title role in Disney’s live action version of Mulan), Yang (Joyful Reunion), Yikuan Yan (The White Haired Witch of Lunar Kingdom), Jin Luo (Shaolin) and Chun Li (Guilty of Mind).

Bai Qian, a goddess and monarch from the Heavenly Realms, is sent to the mortal world to undergo a trial to become a High Goddess. There, she meets Ye Hua, with whom she falls in love and marries. When an old enemy reappears in her life, everything she holds dear is threatened.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

THE GREAT BUDDHA + will be shown at the NEW DIRECTORS/NEW FILMS festival in New York

Cheng Cheng FIlms
The Great Buddha +
Written and directed by HUANG Hsin-Yao
Starring Cres CHUANG, Bamboo CHEN, and Leon DAI
Taiwan, 2017, 104 minutes

Taiwanese director HUANG Hsin-Yao's feature film debut The Great Buddha + will have its New York Premiere at the 47th New Directors/New Films festival. It will be shown on Tuesday, April 3rd at 8:45 PM at MoMA's Titus 2 theater and on Wednesday, April 4th at 6:30 PM at the Walter Reade Theater of the Film Society of New York. For venue information and to buy tickets, click here.

Provincial friends Pickle and Belly Button idle away their nights in the security booth of a Buddha statue factory, where Pickle works as a guard. One evening, when the TV is on the fritz, they put on video from the boss’s dashcam—only to discover illicit trysts and a mysterious act of violence. Expanded from a short, Huang Hsin-yao’s fiction feature debut The Great Buddha + (the plus sign cheekily nodding to the smartphone model) is a stylish, rip-roaring satire on class and corruption in contemporary Taiwanese society.

Saturday, March 24, 2018


CJ Entertainment
The Battleship Island / Gun-ham-do
Directed by Ryoo Seung-wan
South Korea, 2017, 132 minutes

The Battleship Island is a historical war film from director Ryoo Seung-wan (Veteran, The Berlin File) that is currently out on DVD.

During World War II, when Korea was still under Japanese colonial rule, several hundred Korean civilians were conscripted to work in the coal mines on Hashima Island. Known as “The Battleship Island” because of its appearance in silhouette, the site was a scene of virtual slave labor.

Hwang Jung-min (Ode to My Father, The Himalayas), stars as Lee Gang-ok, a band leader who is sent there with his troupe, including his young daughter So-hee (played by the extremely talented Kim Soo-an), who sings in the band. Other Koreans on the island include: Mallyon (actress Lee Jung-hyun of Alice in Earnestland and Roaring Currents) who is to "work" as a "comfort woman"; Yoon Hak-chul, a revered resistance leader; and Park Mu-young (Song Joong-ki, Descendants of the Sun and A Werewolf Boy), a resistance fighter who has been sent to get Yoon off the island.

As the end of the war approaches, things take an unexpected turn for the worst -- even under the already deplorable conditions -- when the Japanese who run the coal mining operation determine that they must kill all the Koreans to destroy any evidence of their war crimes.

The set for the mining operation was the biggest one ever built in Korean, having taken six months to complete. It recreated about 2/3rds of the actual island, lending an extremely high air of authenticity to the film. The actin scene near the movie's end is quite energetic and graphic, one to rival the Normandy invasion scene at the beginning of Saving Private Ryan.

The film was based on actual historical events. The Hashima coal mine began operation in September, 1890, contributed significantly to Japan's military industrial sector from the 1937 invasion of China to the end of WWII, and finally closed in January, 1974. The island became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2015. One condition of this designation was that the Japanese were to post notices about the island's forced labor and other historical facts. However, by December 2017, the Japanese had not yet complied with this oblation.

Disc Specs:
-- Audio
  -- English 5.1
  -- English 2.0
  -- Korean 5.1 with English subtitles
  -- Korean 2.0 with English subtitles
-- Bonus
  -- Main Trailer (1:56) 
  -- Behind the Scenes: Set Production (3:36)
AsianCineFest Rating: 3 out of 4 stars; solidly recommended

Friday, March 23, 2018

ALONG WITH THE GODS: THE TWO WORLDS debuting on Digital, Blu-ray™ Combo Pack & DVD on April 10

Well Go USA
Along with the Gods: The Two Worlds / Singwa hamgge
Written and Directed by KIM Yong-hwa
Starring HA Jung-woo, CHA Tae-hyun, JU Ji-hoon,
KIM Hyang-gi and LEE Jung-jae
South Korea, 2017, 140 minutes

ALONG WITH THE GODS: THE TWO WORLDS, the star-studded, action-packed fantasy epic about life, death, rebirth and the unseen forces that guide us through all, debuts on digital, Blu-ray™ Combo Pack and DVD April 10 from Well Go USA Entertainment.

After a heroic death, a firefighter navigates the afterlife with the help of three guides. Written and directed by KIM Yong-hwa (Take Off) and based on a wildly popular webcomic, the film is the third biggest box office hit of all time in Korea. ALONG WITH THE GODS: THE TWO WORLDS features an all-star cast, including HA Jung-woo (The Handmaiden), CHA Tae-hyun (My Sassy Girl), JU Ji-hoon (Asura: The City of Madness), KIM Hyang-gi (Thread of Lies) and LEE Jung-jae (Assassination). The bonus materials include behind-the-scenes footage and character intros.

After dying unexpectedly, firefighter Ja-hong is taken to the afterlife by three guardians, where only after passing seven trials and proving he lived a noble life will he be able to reincarnate.

Bonus Materials:
-- Behind the Scenes
-- Character Intro
-- Teaser Trailer
-- Main Trailer

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

UGETSU will be shown at Japan Society NY on Friday, April 6th

Japan Society NY
Ugetsu © 1953 Kadokawa
Ugetsu / Ugetsu Monogatari
Directed by Kenji Mizoguchi
With Machiko Kyo, Mitsuko Mito, Kinuyo Tanaka, Masayuki Mori
Japan, 1953, 94 minutes
DCP, b&w, in Japanese with English subtitles

When: Friday, April 6th at 7:00 PM
Where: Japan Society NY
333 East 47th Street, NYC
Tickets: $13/$10 seniors & students / $5 Japan Society members

This new 4K restoration of Kenji Mizoguchi's towering masterpiece offers viewers an opportunity to appreciate the nuance of cinematographer Kazuo Miyagawa's exquisite images. A haunting and elegant fable about the illusory nature of desire set during the civils wars of Japan's 16th century, Ugetsu seamlessly weaves reality and fantasy together with painterly images that unfurl like scenes from an emaki scroll. Among the film's many breathtaking moments, the waterfront picnic between a potter and the ghost of a noblewoman is reportedly the only scene Miyagawa shot for Mizoguchi (out of eight total films) for which the famously stone-faced director complimented him.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

ICHI THE KILLER reviewed; available today from Well Go USA

Well Go USA
Ichi the Killer / Koroshiya 1
Directed by Takashi Miike
Japan,  2001, 130 minutes

Takashi Miike’s classic yakuza gore-fest Ichi the Killer becomes available today in a gorgeous all-new 4K digital transfer special edition approved by Miike himself. The film can also be seen on big screens in select cities across the country. (Visit http://wellgousa.com/theatrical/ichi-the-killer for theater and ticket information.)

Based on Hideo Yamamoto’s manga series of the same name, Ichi the Killer stars Tadanobu Asano (47 Ronin, The Taste of Tea, Party 7) as Kakihara, a sado-masochistic yakuza who is manipulated into fighting other gangs in the wake of his boss's disappearance. The titular character, Ichi, is played by Nao Ômori (R100). The film also features actor/directors Shin'ya Tsukamoto (Tetsuo, the Iron Man and Tetsuo II: Body Hammer, Gemini, Nightmare Detective), and SABU (Non-Stop, Postman Blues, Monday).

I first saw Ichi at the Film Society of Lincoln Center's "Focus on New Japanese Cinema" film series early in 2002. In my review in Asian Cult Cinema (number 35, second quarter 2002, page 62), I likened watching it to "having a powerful multi-stage rocket shoved up your ass and ignited. Imagine an incredibly gory yakuza splatterfest, done with the exuberant energy of Hong Kong Cinema at its finest and state of the art special effects; you'll begin to have an idea of what Ichi the Killer is like."

Well, the special effects still hold up and my high opinion of the film hasn't changed after subsequent viewings, including Well Go's new Blu-ray edition.

In the 15th Anniversary Issue of Asian Cult Cinema magazine (1st quarter 2008), Ichi ranked #1 in the "ACC Readers' Poll of Guilty Pleasures" (page 62). In my column in that issue (page 34) I ranked it a very close 2nd to Aachi and Ssipak, the also fabulous and mind-blowing South Korean animated feature film.

The bottom line is that Ichi the Killer is a must have and this 4K Blu-ray really does the film justice.

Bonus content:
-- Audio Commentary with director Takashi Miike & manga artist/writer Hideo Yamamoto
-- Still gallery
-- Trailer

AsianCineFest Rating: 4 out of 4 stars; most highly recommended

[Note: This new release from Well Go USA has the title in black letters, as seen in the image at the top of this review. Previously the film was available from Tokyo Shock, with the title in white letters and a slightly different image of Tadanobu Asano.]

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Ryoo Seung-wan's THE BATTLESHIP ISLAND is available on DVD

CJ Entertainment
The Battleship Island / Gun-ham-do
Directed by Ryoo Seung-wan
South Korea, 2017, 132 minutes

The Battleship Island, a historical war film from director Ryoo Seung-wan (Veteran, The Berlin File) is currently out on DVD. The film stars Hwang Jung-min (Ode to My Father, The Himalayas), So Ji-sub (Always, Sophie’s Revenge), Song Joong-ki (Descendants of the Sun, A Werewolf Boy), and Lee Jung-hyun (Alice in Earnestland, Roaring Currents).

The Battleship Island is based on a true story during WWII when Korea was under the colonial rule of Japan. In 1944, 400 conscripted Korean civilians head out to Hashima Island. Nicknamed “The Battleship Island” after its resemblance to a war vessel, many were lured by false promises of high wages. Upon arrival, they found that workers are forced into slave labor.

As the U.S. launches a massive counterattack on Japan, the Japanese decide to blow up the island in order to bury the truth about their awful treatment of the Korean slave labors. A Korean independence activist discovers the plan and works with others on the island for a mass escape.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

RAMEN HEADS Opens in New York and Los Angeles this Friday, March 16, 2018; wider rollout to follow

Gunpowder & Sky
Ramen Heads
Directed by Koki Shigeno
Japan, 2017, 93 minutes

In Ramen Heads, Japan's reigning king of ramen, Osamu Tomita takes audiences deep into his world by revealing every single step of his obsessive approach to creating the perfect soup and noodles along with his relentless search for the highest-quality ingredients.

In addition to Tomita, the film also profiles five other notable ramen shops, each with its own philosphy and flavor, exemplifying the various different aspects of the ramen world. Mixing in a brief rundown of ramen's historical roots, the film gives viewers an in-depth look at the culture surrounding the unique and beguiling dish.

Opens in New York and Los Angeles this Friday, March 16

11272 Santa Monica Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90025

657 W 57th St, New York, NY 10019

Also opening in:
Berkeley, CA - March 23
Santa Barbara, CA - March 23
Washington DC - March 23
Boston, MA - April 6
Lubbock, TX - April 18
Santa Fe, NM - April 20
Houston, TX - April 25
El Paso, TX - April 25
Colombus, OH - April 27
Dallas, TX - May 8
Kansas City, MO - May 23

For further information, go to the official Ramen Heads website.

South Korea’s A TAXI DRIVER coming to Blu-ray on April 17th

Well Go USA
 A Taxi Driver / Taeksi Woonjunsa
Directed by Jang Hoon
Starring Song Kang-Ho & Thomas Kretschmann
South Korea, 2017, 137 minutes

Based on a true story, A TAXI DRIVER, which represented South Korea as its official entry in the 2018 Academy Awards® best foreign-language film category, debuts on Blu-ray April 17 from Well Go USA Entertainment.

Described by Rob Hunter of Film School Rejects as a “powerful film set in the relatively recent past, but with messages and themes that remain every bit as relevant in today’s world,” the film follows A TAXI DRIVER from Seoul, who accidentally gets involved in a German journalist’s reporting of the events of the Gwangju Uprising in 1980.

Directed by Jang Hoon (The Front Line), the fifth-highest-grossing domestic film of all time in South Korea stars Song Kang-Ho (Snowpiercer), Thomas Kretschmann (King Kong, Wanted), Yoo Hai-Jin (Veteran, Pirates) and Ryu Jun-Yeol (The King).

In this powerful true story set in 1980, a down-on-his-luck taxi driver from Seoul is hired by a foreign journalist who wants to go to the town of Gwangju for the day. They arrive to find a city under siege by the military government, with the citizens, led by a determined group of college students, rising up to demand freedom. What began as an easy fare becomes a life-or-death struggle in the midst of the Gwangju Uprising, a critical event in the history of modern South Korea.

Wednesday, March 07, 2018

KICKBOXER: RETALIATION coming to Digital, Blu-ray and DVD

Well Go USA
Kickboxer: Retaliation
Directed by Dimitri Logothetis
Starring Alain Moussi, with Christopher Lambert,
Mike Tyson and Jean-Claude Van Damme
USA, 2018, 111 minutes

Alain Moussi (Kill Order) returns to the role of “Kurt Sloane” in the action-packed sequel to Kickboxer: Vengeance when KICKBOXER: RETALIATION slam-bangs its way onto on digital, Blu-ray™ Combo Pack and DVD March 13th from Well Go USA Entertainment.

Directed and co-written by Dimitri Logothetis (Wings of the Dragon), the film also stars Sara Malakul Lane (King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table), legendary fighter Mike Tyson (IP Man 3), Jessica Jann (Easy A), Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson (“Game of Thrones”), Steven Swadling (Kickboxer: Vengeance), Sam Medina (Olympus Has Fallen), and Miles Strommen (Wilson), with Christopher Lambert (Highlander franchise) and legendary martial arts star Jean-Claude Van Damme (“Jean-Claude Van Johnson”).

When MMA fighter Kurt Sloane (Moussi) is forced into an underground death match with a 400lb drug-enhanced killer, he seeks help from the legendary Master Durand (Van Damme) and prison fighter Briggs (Mike Tyson) to survive the fight. Bonus material includes a “Meet the Fighters” featurette.

One year after finding vengeance for his murdered brother, MMA champion Kurt Sloane finds himself back in Thailand – kidnapped and imprisoned there by a powerful gangster (Christopher Lambert). His only shot at freedom is to win an underground death match against a 400lb killer enhanced with state-of the-art drugs (Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson). To make it out alive, he seeks training unlike anything he’s ever endured, with the help of the legendary Master Durand (Jean-Claude Van Damme) and fellow prisoner Briggs (Mike Tyson).