With Dada Chen at NYAFF 2013

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

Monday, September 28, 2020


Well Go USA 
The Legend Of Tomiris
Directed by Alan Satayev 
Kazakhstan, 2019, 155 minutes

The Legend Of Tomiris is an epic drama about one of the world's first female warlords. It debuts on Digital, Blu-ray™ and DVD tomorrow, Tuesday, September 29th, from Well Go USA Entertainment. My review is based on watching the Blu-ray version.

Tomiris was a daughter of Spargap, the leader of the Massagetae, one of the pastoral-nomadic tribes in the steppe of Central Asia. He taught her to be brave, fearless, and smart when she was a young girl. These values would serve her well after two members of the tribe overthrew Spargap in a coup following a dispute over relations with another people.

Taken to safety by a group loyal to her father, Tomiris, continued to train as a warrior. As an adult (now played by actress Almira Tursyn), she joins the Savromat tribe, whose female warriors were sort of 6th century BCE Central Asian Amazonians. With their aid, she returns to avenge her father and family and to claim leadership of the Massagetae. Her skills as a uniter of the Scythian and Saka tribes and as a military strategist are tested to their fullest when Cyrus, the founder and first king of the Persian empire, brings his troops east to expand his empire

Western audiences are not often treated to films from Central Asia in general and Kazakhstan in particular. This film is a most welcome addition to that limited group. Aside from some iffy CGI during a hunt early on, it is well done and flows nicely during its over one-and-a-half-hour running time. There's plenty of action on hand, and for  the most part its fairly easy to tell who's fighting who.

As a fan of Zena: Warrior Princess, the television show that starred Lucy Lawless in the title role and that ran for six seasons from 1996 - 2002, I especially enjoyed this historical action-drama based on a real life warrior princess (and later Queen).

Disc Stats
-- Audio:
  -- Original Kazakh DTS HDMA 5.1
  -- Original Kazakh Stereo
-- Subtitles:
  -- English
  -- Off
-- Trailer
--  Previews:
  -- Samurai Marathon
  -- The First King
  -- The Great Battle

AsianCineFest Rating: 3.0 out of 4 stars; a solid historical action film from Cental Asia.

For the Wikipedia entry about Tomiris (spelled there as Tomyris, one of a number of alternate spellings), click here.

Thursday, September 24, 2020


Well Go USA
Samurai Marathon / Samurai marason
Directed by Bernard Rose
Japan/UK, 2019, 103 minutes

Samurai Marathon, an unusual samurai jidaigeki film, recently became available as Digital On Demand, DVD and Blu-ray from Well Go USA. My review is based on watching the Blu-ray version.

The film is set in the 1850s. when the arrival of U.S. Commodore Matthew Perry (played here by Danny Huston) and his infamous "black ships" brought about the end of roughly 260 years of Japan's relative isolation from the rest of the world. Itakura Katsuakira, lord of the Annaka Domain, foresees problems for the the feudal system of Japan, the Tokugawa Shogunate and the samurai. Fearing that the long period of peace has made the samurai soft and vulnerable, he decides to test the mettle of all of his samurai and foot shoulders with a thirty-six mile footrace on steep hills and rough terrain, the winner to be granted a wish.

Unfortunately, a shogunate spy in Itakura's fiefdom, misinterprets his call for his men to assemble the next day -- when he plans to announce the race -- as a signal for rebellion and reports this to the shogunate, who of course send assassins. When the spy learns of his mistake, he tries to stop his messenger but is too late.

The tale is further complicated by Princess Yuki (Komatsu Nana), the 5th daughter of Kiakura. She is more open-minded then her father and is interested in the ships that have come to her land. She adopts male garb and the name Kumanosuke, and enters the race, hoping to sneak out of her father's fiefdom and get a look at the ships firsthand.
Also thrown into the mix is Tsujimura, a would-be suitor of Yuki, who will stop at nothing to win the race and use the wish his lord would then grant him to marry her. Then too, there is the elderly Mataemon Kurita, who's been forced to retire and who teaches the boy Isuke Fukumoto how to run.

There's amply skullduggery and traitorous action to keep things interesting during the film's running time. 
In addition to the fine cast, director Bernard Rose (known best perhaps for 1992s Candyman) deserves significant credit. He managed to produce a very Japanese feeling film, unlike, say, Edward Zick in his Tom Cruise starring vehicle The Last Samurai (2003), which has Hollywood written all over it. Rose's efforts perhaps were assisted by the multitude of Japanese producers, co-producers, executive producers, and associate producers, twenty-six in all according to IMDb!

Credit also must be shared with Ishizaka Takuro for cinematography, Kamitsuna Mako for film editing, and Philip Glass for yet another wonderful film score.

The film is based on a historical event. The Annaka clan's first race was in 1855. Twelve years later the era of the samaurai ended with the Meiji Restoration.

Disc Specs:
-- Audio
  -- Japanese DTS-HDMA 5.1
  -- Japanese Stereo
-- Subtitles
  -- English
  -- Off
-- Trailer
-- Previews
  -- Cut Throat City
  -- Ip Man 4: The Finale
  -- First Love
Before getting to my rating of the film, I must mention these three facts about Samurai Marathon and the 2019 New York Asian Film Festival (NYAFF):
- The film had its North American Premiere as the Festival's Opening Film on June 28, 2019 
- An image from the film was used on the cover of the Festival brochure
- Komatsu Nana, who portrayed Princess Yuki, received the Festival's Screen International Rising Star award for an actress. (Ryu Jun-yeol, seen in the film Money, received this award for male actor.)
AsianCineFest Rating: 3.5 out of 4 stars; very highly recommended; well-worth owning.

Friday, September 04, 2020

SECRET ZOO reviewed [NYAFF 2020]

capelight pictures
Secret Zoo
Directed by SON Jae-Gon
Starring AHN Jae-hong, KANG So-ra,
PARK Yeong-gyu, and KIM Sung-oh
South Korea, 2020

Based on the webcomic series Haechijiana by Hun that ran from 9/20/2011 - 4/27/2012, Secret Zoo is a charming and delightful comedy about a zoo struggling to stay afloat. The film is playing as part of the New York Asian Film Festival (NYAFF), which this year is running online only from August 28th to September 12th. Secret Zoo, like two other offerings, will only have two screenings: Saturday, September 5 at 8:00 PM and Tuesday, September 8 at 5:00 PM. My review is based on watching an online screener back in January, 2020, in conjunction with the film's theatrical opening in the U.S.A. that month.

KANG Tae-soo (AHN Jae-Hong) is a young lawyer who has worked as a temp at JH Law for eight months and fervently wants to secure a permanent position in the firm's Mergers and Acquisition (M & A) department. It looks like his opportunity has arrived when he is tasked with normalizing and maintaining the failing Dongsan Park Zoo within three months for one of his employer's clients. The trouble is, all the viable animals have been sold off by loan sharks to pay the zoo's debts!

Undeterred, Tae-soo comes up with a plan to used somewhat realistic-looking animal costumes for the four remaining members of the staff to wear and fool the public. Not surprisingly, things don't go well; until, that is, a chance event goes viral on the internet and transforms the zoo into a major attraction.

Given the nature of the genre, one knows that things are basically going to turn out alright at film's end. It's really a matter of how convincing the rather outlandish premise is depicted and how interesting the twists and turns are. On all these accounts, the film succeeds admirably.

AsianCineFest Rating: 3 out of 4 stars, a fine comedy that's well-worth watching.

The official movie trailer is available at https://youtu.be/WPdCjA2Gfys.

Also, a February 4, 2020, interview with director SON Jae-Gon at KoBiz can be found here.