Archive for October, 2012

Big John and Little John are a couple of swindlers who are on a streak of bad luck. When one of their intended victims The Silver Fox beats them up badly, the duo realise they need to sharpen up their kung fu so Little John asks The Silver Fox if he’ll be their Master. Turning down their offer at first, he eventually relents and starts teaching them a new style of kung fu. Things are going well for the duo under their new Master until Little John discovers his tutor killing a man. It seems The Silver Fox is a wanted criminal and has been using the pair for his dirty deeds. The pair try and fight him but he uses a deadly style of Snake kung fu which ends with Big John paying for his life and Little John barely escaping. He winds up staying at the home of a wily beggar who is also skilled in the art of kung fu. Little John asks the beggar to train him up so that he can take on The Silver Fox and avenge his friend’s death.

Knockabout is a classic martial arts comedy movie which has been rated highly by Hong Kong movie fans. It brings together 3 of the biggest names in the late 70’s of HK movie makers in Sammo Hung (who directs and acts in this movie), Ka-Yan Leung and Yuen Biao. Even though Yuen Biao would never get the acclaim that his brothers in the Peking Opera (Sammo and Jackie Chan) obtained, he is still widely appreciated by martial arts fans. This would be his breakout movie role. I actually didn’t think I was going to like this movie as the first 40 or so minutes is just a rather silly story with some routine slapstick comedy which falls flat and so-so martial arts but once The Silver Fox turns on the 2 swindlers and Little John teams up with the beggar the movie improves with the martial arts fights getting better and better. In hindsight this was probably a ploy by Sammo to show that the swindlers had much to learn in their kung fu skills so that is why the earlier fights in the movie are so underwhelming. You just have to see the training scenes that the beggar puts Little John through – Yuen Biao is bloody amazing in these scenes. The guy was a gifted martial artist and was well known for his kicking and acrobatic prowess. Sammo’s beggar character makes him backflip, somersault and do some cartwheeling whilst using a skipping rope and just the training scenes alone makes it worth seeing the movie. It makes you forget the silly comedy that took place earlier on. The training scenes are topped however by the 12 minute final fight that sees Little John and the beggar combining their monkey style kung fu skills and squaring off against The Silver Fox. The moves that Yuen Biao pulls off in the fight are breathtaking. It rounds off what was eventually a very satisfying movie experience.

A big part of why this movie is such a success is down to Sammo Hung and under his direction Yuen Biao is outstanding. The intricate martial arts fight sequences he employs in this movie was a typical trademark of his and they’re a joy to watch.

Fans of old school HK martial arts will love this movie. It’s an entertaining movie you shouldn’t miss out on. Recommended.

Sadako’s Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

Read Full Post »

Gojoe (2000)

It is a dark time in Japan. The Keike clan have been victorious over the Genji clan but each night some of their soldiers are being slaughtered by what many are calling a demon. A monk Benkei who was formerly a fearsome warrior hears of what is happening and is determined to destroy the demon. Benkei sees for himself what the demon is capable of during a night attack on the bridge at Gojoe when many Keike soldiers are killed. Benkei comes face to face with the demon but it’s not a fearsome creature after all but a powerful and skilled swordsman along with his 2 associates that are doing the killings. The swordsman is Shanao who has been chosen to lead the Genji clan into battle with the Keike clan but he wants to delay this mission (and accepting his title as Prince Yoshitsune) to have a confrontation to the death with Benkei on the bridge at Gojoe.

Director Sogo Ishii retells the legendary 12th century Japanese story of the famous duel between the monk Benkei and young Prince Yoshitsune on Gojoe Bridge. According to legend, Yoshitsune beat Benkei who then served the Prince but the version of the story served up by Ishii is different. It doesn’t matter if you’re not familiar with the legend because the story explains itself as it goes along. The story is a tried and tested formula of two protaganists linked in some way or the other who must face each other in a fight to the death. At first the movie is more of a supernatural tale as we see various Heike soldiers being beheaded in a fountain of blood by an unseen foe but this gives way to a story of political intrigue and maneouvering.

It’s a very creative and vibrant movie in terms of colour, cinematography and editing. Even though the movie is rather long at two and a quarter hours and was sometimes a bit slow, the story was so engrossing I felt the time just went by so quickly. It’s exciting, mysterious at times and has vast sword battles. The movie displays a lot of mysticism especially with the character of Benkei who is seen practicising his Buddhism through meditation and using his power to rid evil. It’s very much like another movie that came out around the same time called Onmyoji. I liked the fact that the battle between good and evil is signified by the constant motif of the blazing sun and this is demonstrated extremely well in a big fight between Shanao and his 2 followers, some bandits and Keike soldiers in a forest during an eclipse. The action scenes could have been better and I suppose it is perhaps the only thing I can really complain about the movie. There’s plenty of action and it is suitably violent but it’s all filmed in close-up with some parts obscured frequently by objects in the background. This is highlighted best when Shanao and his 2 followers are slicing and dicing their way through soldiers in some long grass. It may look great visually with all the blood being sprayed all over the place but it would have been nice to see more actual swordfighting moves being made by the characters and it is also difficult to follow at times. The confrontation between Benkei and Shanao at the climax was also a big disappointment. I was expecting a good old fashioned sword fight but it was more of seeing swords clashing against each other in the dark with sparks coming off them than anything else. Although there’s not a lot of character development in the movie, there’s quite a bit of emphasis on Benkei’s transformation from being a killer of women and children in the past to being a holy man. People question whether he has changed or not. It is only in the duel on the bridge that the real Benkei comes out to take his fury on Shanao.

With Ishii’s stylish imaginative direction and excellent performances from Daisuke Ryu as Benkei and the brilliant Tadanobu Asano as the deadly emotionless Shanao, this movie is a winner in my eyes. Recommended.

Sadako’s Rating: 4 stars out of 5

Read Full Post »

1990. A number of children suddenly disappear. Meanwhile, the Ministry of Defense selects an elite group of scientists for a top-secret mission. Then, 30 years later … The year is 2020 on a reunified Korean Peninsula. A string of murders is committed against retired scientists. The Special Investigations (SI) unit staffed by a crack team from the former North and South Koreas and outfitted with the latest technology is brought in to investigate. The killer, however, far from being deterred, taunts them with a signature pendant at every murder scene. In an act of devilish boldness he even kidnaps the son of the investigation team’s leader, Seok. Then, in a stakeout, Seok manages to shoot dead one of the murderer’s underlings. Cloaked in the man’s clothes, however, is Seok’s son, now dead by the hand of his father … Meanwhile, in the megapolis Intercity, the chief of police is kidnapped right in front of his heavy security detail and the culprit leaves another pendant at the scene. The chief’s daughter, Hui-su, a talented criminal psychologist quickly joins the investigation to find her father. Soon, Seok discovers that he and Hui-su share an uncanny bond…

This movie had a lot of potential to be a very good movie but in the end it was all a big mess. The filmmakers have tried to make a Hollywood type blockbuster but it fails miserably. It looks great visually (probably the only good thing I can say about this movie) and the cityscapes with its dark wet neon streets will remind many of Blade Runner but the script is quite confusing and it goes on for way too long. At 2 hours long it just drags. There doesn’t seem to be any coherent structure in the story. I nearly fell asleep by the time the credits came up begging for the movie to finish, that’s how bored I was with it. Even the numerous gunfights in the movie lacked any excitement. There’s too much techno-babble about genetics and cloning going on and the pacing of the movie is all over the show. The plot doesn’t have a lot to offer and there’s no character development. As such you don’t really care for the characters at all because they’re all dull. The acting is poor with many of the actors sleepwalking in their roles with no emotion showing on their faces. They don’t show any passion or enthusiasm in their performances. The majority of the cast look like they didn’t want to be in the movie. This was director Jeong Yun-Su’s debut behind the camera and it becomes obvious quite quickly that he has no idea how to put together a decent sci-fi actioner. I have no idea if the other 3 movies he’s directed since this one are any better?

Overall, some nice special effects and stylish production values isn’t enough to keep me interested if the story isn’t that good. Mediocre. Give it a wide berth.

Sadako’s Rating: 2 stars out of 5

Read Full Post »

Teenager Momo Yuki is at the last chance saloon. A talented violinist but also a loner rebel, she’s been expelled from various insitutions and arrives at a prestigious girls only school thanks to the connections of her parents. Momo isn’t that interested in what’s goes on at the place especially in the fawning idol worship of the school high jumper Aoi. The class representative Mayuko Akaboshi doesn’t like Momo’s attitude and tells her that it will disrupt the whole class. One day she becomes curious at the old school buildings which is due to be demolished. Skipping class and deciding to have a nosey around the buildings she finds an old drama class room which is full of costumes and a copy of a play called ‘The Cherry Orchard’ by Anton Chekov. It was played annually at the school as a tradition but a scandal broke out 11 years previously which resulted in a tragic incident and it has never been played since. Momo sets out to revive the play and recruits her classmates including Akaboshi and Aoi. She also hires out a hall to stage it. The rehearsals for the play is in total disarray with Momo never having directed anything like this before. When the school’s principal finds out about the play she forbids Momo to continue. Her associates in the play will also suffer if they carry on. What will Momo do? Will she quit like she’s done with everything else in her life or fight back?

This is a remake of a movie which first came out in 1990 with the same director coming back to shoot it again. The story is hardly original and you’ll notice similarities to other Japanese high school movies of a bunch of people setting out to do something but coming up against trouble of some sort which threatens to derail what they’re attempting to achieve before adversity is conquered and everyone is all smiles again. It’s got a likeable cast of characters and you’ll root for them to triumph in staging the play. I had a problem with how the movie ended rather abruptly. We see the girls all dressed up in their costumes on their way to perform and suddenly the movie is over. I wanted to see the play being staged in front of everbody but the viewer is denied that. I was a little bit peeved with that! Whilst the males watching the movie might be wondering why this play is so appealing to the girls, you need to understand a little bit about the famed all-female and popular Takarazuka Revue group in Japan. This movie is a little bit like one of their productions in that the girls take on both male and female roles and even perform romantic scenes. There’s a hint of lesbian overtones in the story such as the various crushes on Aoi especially by Akaboshi who gets to play a role that enables her to get close to Aoi. Being tall, attractive and athletic, Aoi has a small dedicated bunch of cheerleaders who worship her. The movie is well directed by Shun Nakahara and there are plenty of beautiful scenes of sakura (cherry blossoms) trees in all their glory. If you haven’t been to Japan during the short sakura season you won’t know the significance of what the trees mean to the Japanese people.

I did like the performances of the young cast who were all starting out in their acting careers at the time. Emi Takei, Saki Fukada, Anne Watanabe (daughter of Ken) and AKB48 member Yuko Oshima perform solidly in their roles. All of them have since moved on to become quite famous in their fields. There’s even a very small cameo by Aya Ueto as the singer of a group.

This movie might seem to be one best enjoyed by teenage girls and that was probably the intended target audience by the director but as a male there was plenty for me to like in the story as well. It’s worth checking out.

I can’t find a trailer for this movie but I did find one for the 1990 version:

Sadako’s Rating: 3 stars out of 5

Read Full Post »

In the aftermath of the earthquake that strikes Kobe in 1995, psychic Yukari Kamo comes to help the victims who are living in shelters. She is tormented by the fact that she can read people’s minds and wishes she didn’t have the ability as it has driven her to try and committ suicide on many occassions. Medication has alleviated some of the voices she hears in her head but she fears that in the future they will prove ineffective. Staying at the house of the woman running the shelter, she is shown a collection of tree drawings which have been drawn by one person – a schoolgirl named Chihiro who is suffering from multiple personality disorder ever since she survived a car crash which claimed the lives of her parents. Chihiro has 13 people living inside her head and she’s been shunned by her peers at school. Yukari’s arrival in Kobe coincides with the start of a rash of mysterious deaths which includes a schoolgirl drowning herself in a toilet bowl!! Could the deaths be linked to Chihiro – perhaps one of the personalities she has is a killer or is it linked to a sensory depravation experiment which went horribly wrong as the Kobe earthquake struck?

Despite being hammered by some critics when it first came out, I thought this J-horror was a fairly interesting movie even though the plot shifts from being about a girl with a personality disorder to one about a soul that was released during an experiment with no body to return to about half way through. It’s a suitably atmospheric movie about spiritual possession and the plot whilst some might say is ridiculous was plausible enough. The characters are well rounded and the movie is nicely shot with newsreel footage of the devastating images of the Kobe earthquake at the beginning. And the best thing about the movie is it doesn’t have a long haired dressed in white antagonist!! Unlike other J-horror movies, this story isn’t driven by gore or cheap shocks but by the characters. As much as it is a story about spirits, it’s also about two people who are outcasts of society and lonely due to their condition. There’s a rather stupid romantic sub-plot involving Yukari and a male doctor which was pointless and went nowhere. I felt the plot was building up to what I hoped was going to be a great climax but it just fell flat on its face. It was a disappointing end to a movie that had promised much. Another downside to the movie is that character development is minimal. There were many opportunities where the director could have expanded more about the history of the characters especially Yukari and her background as a psychic but it didn’t happen.

As for the acting in the movie, Akira Kurosawa’s granddaughter Yu plays the role of Chihiro and whilst I wouldn’t say her acting is that good, she is quite creepy as the girl with various personalities inside her. The shame about it all is we only get to see a couple of the personalities. She might have have a chance to extend her acting range had she been given a chance to act out all 13 personalities. Yoshino Kimura who plays the psychic Yukari is a sympathetic character to the viewer. Here is a person who would rather lead a normal life than hearing the overwhelming thoughts of people around her running through her head. Her performance was OK, not really that special. If you’re a rather observant viewer, you might catch a very quick cameo of Takashi Miike in this movie too.

Isola Persona 13 isn’t too bad and if you’re a fan of possession movies you might even enjoy it. J-horror fans better look elsewhere for their kicks as you’re not going to find anything with gore and scares in this movie.

Sadako’s Rating: 3 stars out of 5

Read Full Post »

Monday (2000)

Takagi is a salaryman who suddenly wakes up on a Monday morning with no idea how he came to ending up in a hotel room. The last thing he remembers judging by the purification salt he has on him is attending a wake on Saturday. Things didn’t go too well at the wake as Takagi was involved in making the corpse explode in his coffin!! Sunday is a complete blank to him. Then some flashbacks come back which involves him getting drunk in a bar, a yakuza gang and a shotgun. As the fogginess from his brain starts to dissipate, the grim truth of what Takagi has done in his missing day becomes crystal clear!!

I’m not too familiar with any of director Sabu’s movies except Usagi Drop (he isn’t Indian BTW, he just chose an exotic career name – his real name is Hiroyuki Tanaka) but apparently the work he’s done over the years are fan favorites around movie festival circles and apparently he’s well known for his fantastic chase scenes though I wouldn’t be able to tell you having not seen any of his movies. This movie, a dark comedy thriller, was the 4th movie he directed (he was previously an actor). It starts out being very funny but as the movie progresses it gets very dark indeed. Think of Michael Douglas in Falling Down and you’ll get an idea of what Takagi gets up to. If you’re a fan of Takeshi Kitano’s movies I would think you would like this one as well. It’s got the same surreal comedy streak running through it. You’ll know after the joke involving a corpse and a pacemaker in the first 15 mins whether this is the kind of movie you’ll enjoy or not although it has nothing to do with the main plot. I thought it was comedy gold myself but others may not see it like that. I guess it depends on your sense of humour. The situations that the lead character gets himself involved in over the course of 1 day is hilarious such as the drunken sensual dance with the yakuza boss’ moll, his palm getting read by a gay fortune teller at a bar and the no hands urinating scene. The entire premise of the movie by Sabu is basically that people whilst drunk get up to many silly things. In Takagi’s case it’s your average salaryman empowering himself with a gun he managed to find at a yakuza den and taking out the trash of society. The movie falters a little bit near the climax as Sabu goes all preachy on us and delivers a serious message about guns.

I enjoyed Shinichi Tsutsumi’s portrayal of Takagi. I found his giggling demeanour whilst drunk a little bit annoying but his dark turn from being a cowardly salaryman to full on vigilante was great. There seems to be a lot of characters in this movie giggling and laughing. The supporting characters also give strong performances such as Yasuko Matsuyuki as the yakuza moll who enjoys the attention from Takagi.

Open-minded movie fans who can appreciate satire for what it is will get a kick out of this movie. The surreal nature of the plot might be a bit hard to swallow for a lot of people. On the basis of this movie alone I expect to be checking out more of Sabu’s movies in the future. Recommended.

Sadako’s Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

Read Full Post »

Umizaru (2004)

14 men who are the best Coastguard Officers in their region decide to become search and rescue divers – one of the most difficult and dangerous jobs in the world. The training facility has the task to weed out those not deemed good enough for the job as the training is tough and unforgiving. Each of the men has a reason to want to become a diver – if it’s not because its a prestigious position then it’s for other shallow goals such as the divers always gets the nice women! Training Supervisor Taro Minamoto who is battling his own personal demons after losing his diving partner whilst on assignment during his younger days is the man who will sort out the men from the boys. Daisuke Senzaki is a confident man who already holds a diving licence and the training people think he is likely to be a candidate who will pass the training without a problem. Each diver is assigned a “buddy” and in Senzaki’s case he is given a rather weak person in Kudo. Their initial diving training tasks together are fraught with failure as Kudo makes countless mistakes. His peers don’t think he’ll be able to complete the training. This leads to Senzaki and Kudo being humiliated by Minamoto and they have to do pressups etc for failing. It also irks another one of the 14 men – a rather cold guy named Mishima who thinks that Kudo is holding up all of them. However with Senzaki pushing and encouraging Kudo he begins to improve. But tragedy is about to strike the team and Senzaki’s spirit is going to be shaken to the core. Will he carry on with his training or will he quit?

Based on the manga of the same name, Umizaru (Sea Monkeys – a derogotary name for the trainees by people) is what some critics have called the Japanese Coastguard version of Top Gun and with good reason as well. A lot of the plot does mirror that of Tom Cruise’ movie. It’s a good though predictable story behind the training routine of search and rescue divers who have the unenviable task of mostly retrieving dead bodies from capsized ships. It’s also a passage of rite movie and about overcoming the odds both physically and mentally to claim the right to become a rescue diver. The training scenes are pretty interesting to watch and I had no idea before this movie what this entailed. It’s no surprise that it involves a lot of hard work and the failure rate amongst recruits is very high. According to the story, only 1% of all men who apply pass the training to successfully become a rescue diver. The first half of the movie is a mixture of drama and comedy as we follow the recruits who are all a bunch of likeable characters at work and at play but after the tragic event that happens around halfway through the story the mood changes as the men realise what the harsh reality of being a diver is all about especially during the final task they have as trainees when an accident occurs at sea which threatens Senzaki and Mishima’s life. With air running low for the duo and a rescue helicopter arriving too late, it’s up to Minamoto and the recruits to seize the initiative to save their teammates. The movie has a little bit of everything from comedy to drama and some romance. Maybe it’s just me but the whole romance aspect of the movie was unnecessary and only distracted you from the main plot. The whole cast performed admirably and in Hideaki Ito you have a hero you want to succeed and someone for the ladies to swoon over. The bond between the trainees and the ‘team building’ you witness was great. A cheesy tune you’ll hear a couple of times during the movie is Journey’s Open Arms. Why the filmmakers put this cringeworthy song in this movie I’ll never know but it’s inclusion is a mistake.

Umizaru was a huge success on it’s release and to date a TV drama series and 3 movie sequels (the latest one came out in July 2012) means the franchise has become very popular in Japan. It wouldn’t surprise me to see other movies coming out in the years ahead. Having already seen Umizaru 2:Limit of Love many years ago I look forward to watching the third movie soon. Despite some corny scenes which will make you either groan or laugh, it is still a very enjoyable ‘feel good’ movie to watch. Recommended.

Sadako’s Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

Read Full Post »

Junk (2000)

In a top secret US military facility situated in an old abandoned factory on the island of Okinawa, an American doctor is dabbling with a chemical called DNX which is supposed to bring the dead back to life but with some horrific side effects in that they come back as flesh eating zombies. A distress signal is picked up by the US military top brass from the secret base and Dr Nakada who once worked on developing DNX is called in by them to go to the base and shut the place down by activating a bomb which will blow the whole facility. Meanwhile, across town a gang of thieves stage an outrageous heist at a jewel store and steal more than 100,000,000 million yen in jewellery. The gang have set a deal up with the local yakuza so that in exchange for the jewellery they will get some cash. The location for the deal is unfortunately in the same abandoned factory where a zombie outbreak has started. It’s now a battle of survival for the thieves as the zombies start attacking them but they also didn’t count on a female zombie who is displaying far more intelligence than your average undead person. Will any of the thieves manage to escape and can Dr Nakada destroy the base before the local town is overrun by zombies?

A lot of zombie movies made during the past 10 years or so have had their formula tweaked a little bit so that they appear to be different from other generic undead flicks (fast zombies, zombie comedies etc) but sometimes it’s just nice to watch a good old fashioned zombie movie which more or less sticks to the vision that George Romero came up with (with just a little dose of Re-Animator) and Junk is one such movie. Unfortunately Junk had the misfortune of coming out in the same year as Versus. Versus had zombies but they weren’t the slow shuffling zombies of old and anyway Versus was more of a fighting movie than a proper zombie splatterfest. Not that there’s anything wrong with Versus (I loved it) but a lot of people including the critics ignored this movie and showered all the praise on Versus instead. Thankfully over the past decade, Junk has garnered a bit of a cult following and is now starting to be appreciated by J-horror fans. If it’s blood and guts you want, this movie has it in droves and it feels very much like what the Italians such as Lucio Fulci were producing during the late 70’s/early 80’s. Add some gun-play and nudity and you have the ingredients for Junk. Director Atsushi Murogi makes sure the action comes thick and fast with plenty of gory effects which is well done e,g brilliant brain splatter from gun shots and organs dangling from wounds. For a low budget horror the special effects personnel excelled themselves. It’s only during the final third that things get a little bit silly when you have a super intelligent female zombie on the rampage and no matter how many times she gets offed (yes she even shot in the head which should kill your average zombie) she comes back for more!

The storyline whilst not exactly groundbreaking is pretty simple and the acting is decent enough with two strong female characters. Once again it’s the Westerners in the movie that lets the side down. In nearly every Japanese movie I’ve seen which features American actors they just can’t seem to act properly and this movie is no exception. The couple of men here who play American soldiers are unbearably bad. It might have been better to replace them with Japanese actors! Even so the Japanese guy playing Dr Nakada also get in on the act and fails badly with his English dialogue. I had a hard time trying to understand what the hell he was trying to say!

It was a shame that Junk was such a short movie (82 mins) as I wanted to see more. As a zombie movie it doesn’t fail to entertain and Asian gorehounds will find a lot to like in this movie. I could’ve been really picky and mention the many plotholes I saw in the movie but I wasn’t really too bothered about them. All I wanted to do was sit down and be entertained by a fun zombie movie and it did just that. It delivers what zombie fans would expect. I really enjoyed it. Recommended.

Sadako’s Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

Read Full Post »

A police van carrying prisoners is targeted by a sniper one night. Several prison guards and prisoners die as a result of the attack. The one remaining prison guard Tamon who survived is made a scapegoat and suspended for 6 months but he merely shrugs this off as a long holiday. Tamon isn’t going to let the incident pass by as certain things that occurred during the attack has bothered him such as a name of a person one of the prisoners Goro wrote on the police van windows and an appearance before the attack of a mysterious woman. With these little clues to aid him, Tamon sets out to investigate what went on that night but he may have bitten off more than he can chew as the criminal underworld is determined not to let him interfere in their plans.

With it’s roots set firmly in the Hollywood film noir genre of the 50’s, this fast paced mystery movie which only runs for 79 mins packs in a lot with an engaging but slightly confusing plot (probably deliberately made this way by director Seijun Suzuki), great action sequences, shootouts and some cool characters. It doesn’t waste any time in putting the viewer straight into the heart of the action with the attack on the police van. The story is one that will keep you guessing right until the climax at the train station as to who is behind the attack. All the ingredients you’d associate with a film noir movie is in this movie although I’d say this is perhaps just a tad more gritty because the plot involves prostitution and there’s even a shot of a woman’s breasts. The hero Tamon has to endure several attempts on his life by those that are trying to put him off their scent and it includes a fantastic scene in which he and a woman are tied up inside a tanker truck which is freewheeling on a road with the fuel in the back having been released by the bad guys and set alight. The tension mounts as both try to escape before the flames behind them catches up and makes the tanker explode. This is only one of several fantastic action scenes which takes place. The cinematography is top notch with great use of light and shadow to create the dark mood of the movie and there are some nice visual effects such as looking from the sniper’s point of view of some road signs before the initial attack. Michitaro Mizushima is excellent as Tamon – a hero to root for and who can use his fists to good effect against some seedy characters when he needs to. He goes against the usual characteristics of a film noir protaganist at one point when he explains to a female character that there is good in everybody and that the villains just haven’t awakened that side yet. It just seemed a little out of place in a film noir.

Seijun Suzuki would go on to direct bigger and better movies in the years to come (Branded To Kill and Fighting Elegy for instance) and whilst Take Aim At The Police Van is certainly no masterpiece, it is still an entertaining and exciting movie which is well worth seeing. Recommended.

Sadako’s Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

Read Full Post »

Machisu, the only son of a rich collector, has a child’s love for painting. Praise from a famous artist friend of his father inspires the young boy to dream of becoming a painter himself. Precocious Machisu begins to paint everyday and everywhere, even during class, to the dismay of his teacher. When tragedy strikes, little Machisu’s privileged life ends, leaving him orphaned, but with an incomparable passion for art. As a young man, poor loner Machisu manages to attend art school with money earned from working. He is introduced to an unconventional world of bold creativity but he also gets his first bitter taste of harsh criticism from a dealer. Encouragement comes in the form of attractive clerk Sachiko who is convinced that she alone understands him. Marriage is soon followed by a daughter, as love and hope drive Machisu to commit even more deeply to his art. Upon reaching middle age, Machisu has yet to sell a painting. But he remains dedicated, supported by his devoted wife Sachiko, who has become his indispensable creative partner. With each new work, Machisu tries to push himself to greater limits of inspiration. Hungry for recognition, their creative attempts escalate beyond what neighbours and even their own teenaged daughter Mari can tolerate. Will Achilles ever overtake the Tortoise?

Achilles and The Tortoise was Takeshi Kitano’s final installment of a trilogy that he started out with Takeshi’s and Glory To The Filmmaker in which he pokes fun about his own persona. This movie focuses on art as Kitano himself is quite an artist and some of his paintings has even featured in some of his movies. The opening animated scene explains the bizarre title of the movie. The story is simply of an artist from childhood to middle age as he tries to be a success but never quite getting there. It is essentially a three part movie with three actors playing Machisu – one as a child, one as a young adult and one in middle age and each part has a different feel to them. As we see throughout the movie, the problem with Machisu is that despite his determination and some rather odd and macabre subjects he paints, his style simply isn’t original (he copies a lot from other famous artists) which makes most galleries shun his work. The story is also quite tragic but this being Takeshi Kitano there’s also a mix of surrealism and some dark humour in the plot as well – for example a scene shows Machisu’s daughter lying dead on a mortuary table. Only Takeshi Kitano could turn this into quite a controversial but funny moment as he smears lipstick on the face of his dead daughter in order to try and create something artistic out of it. The middle section of the movie which sees a group of art students attempting to create ‘destructive’ art is also very funny. Kitano really rips into ‘modern art’ and in particular the value that some are fetching on the markets today. It is shown through many examples in the movie that the high value of some art is only there if some idiot is willing to listen to some clap trap by an art dealer and persuaded to buy the item. Machisu is seen to be a selfish person whose quest for making art costs him everything – his family, friends, money and health. Any other sane person would probably stop, take stock of everything that’s happened and move on to do something else but not Machisu. He is stubborn and refuses to change.

After quite a slow start, the movie improves dramatically and really excels during the final segment when Kitano himself takes over the role of Machisu and is a darkly look at the extremes he will go to create art. The movie is very enjoyable to watch and features a good ensemble of cast members especially Kanako Higuchi as Machisu’s long suffering wife. Probably two hours was just a bit too long to get the story across. This movie might not be up there with Kitano’s best but I would still recommend it.

Sadako’s Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

Read Full Post »

The Triple Cross (1992)

Three ageing thieves team up with a blond haired young punk in an attempt to steal 200 million yen in hotel takings from an armoured car in Hokkaido, only to find that their plunder is actually an underwhelming 50 million. The young punk betrays his associates as he kills one of them, seriously injures another and steals the cash all for himself whilst going on the run with the young wife of one of the thieves. The one remaining thief left standing swears revenge and relentlessly pursues the young punk.

During the early 90’s, many old stagers that were directing Japanese movies in the 60’s and 70’s were being left behind as new and exciting directors were coming through and showcasing their stylish movies. In the case of Kinji Fukasaku, he wasn’t prepared to just let this happen and retire gracefully. He was in his 60’s when he directed The Triple Cross and his intention was to show Japanese cinema audiences that despite his advancing years he could still make a great action movie and put the new boys to shame. This movie hits the ground running immediately from the start and hardly lets up throughout – there are plenty of violent shootouts and cool car chases. It boasts terrific performances from the 4 main leads which includes Sonny Chiba but it’s Kenichi Hagiwara as Kanzaki that takes the majority of the screen time and it’s this character we follow on his revenge mission. Unfortunately there’s a female character named Mai in this movie who just acts so hyperactive and loud that she really gets on your nerves and is so annoying. I was hoping that she would get bumped off quickly but she survives until the very end. There is one scene which she slightly redeems herself and that sees her grab a machine gun and spray bullets galore on some police cars. The Japanese police force are made to look very foolish – they can’t seem to catch two people in one car no matter how many patrol cars they’ve got chasing them or even blocking their way. So many police cars gets trashed in one way or the other throughout the story including Kanzaki in his 4×4 bulldozing over the top of several cars as he tries to escape from being arrested at the climax.

If Kinji Fukasaku wanted to prove to people that he could hold his own with the new breed of Japanese directors, he did it perfectly with this wild and crazy action movie. The story might not be original as we’ve seen plenty of heist-gone-wrong plots in the past but the sheer energy, fast pace and look of this movie should satisfy the majority of Asian action junkies. Recommended.

No trailer but here’s a small clip:

Sadako’s Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

Read Full Post »

This movie is an anthology of 3 short stories:
Last Song – a man on the run hides down a blind alley. Hearing footsteps coming towards him, he grabs a steel pipe close by and lashes out at the person not realising that it’s just an innocent woman. She’s killed instantly but returns from the dead to perform one song and dance number with her killer!
Shadows – Also on the run, a man runs into the same blind alley where the person chasing him catches up. Drawing both their guns, a mexican stand-off occurs but who will pull the trigger first?
Fly – Running from the cops, a man heads for the rooftop of a building where he takes a young schoolgirl hostage and threatens to blow her brains out. What the man hasn’t realised is the girl has suicidal tendencies!

Director Sogo Ishii goes all experimental with this short 60 min trio of stories concerning people running into dead ends and I can see some people either thinking this is quite an inventive movie or a bit of a muddled mess. Whilst it may be fresh and different, I still thought it was a bit of a strange movie to say the least. All 3 stories start with a black screen and you can hear something going on – a fight or a confrontation before we see each 3 protaganist on the run from someone. As each short suffers from a lack of running time, it’s hard to get into them because there’s no back story. There’s no explanation as to who or what they’re running away from. The first story might start out as normal but then it goes all weird when the woman who has just been killed starts twitching on the floor where her prone body is laid out and comes back alive to starts a song and dance routine much to the chagrin of her confused killer. It completely caught me by surprise and my initial thought was ‘what the hell is going on!!’. After the segment finished I was still perplexed as to what I’d just witnessed! The second short in my opinion is the weakest as it’s just 2 men involved in a Mexican stand-off saying nothing to each other and standing motionless. The majority of the segment is just an excuse for the director to try some camera trickery to add some tension to the situation. Personally it didn’t work for me. Some viewers might say it’s high on style and captures the most out of a single moment in time but I found it just dull. The third and final story makes more sense than the other two in that it starts out as a conventional man on the run from the law story. I felt it was exciting and contained more energy than the previous 2 stories. It’s also got Tadanobu Asano in it which was a big plus in myself watching this movie. He’s as cool as ever in his story. A shame it had slightly less running time and ends rather quickly. I would have liked this story to have been expanded a little bit more. This segment also goes a bit weird near the end as well.

If you like movies that sees directors experimenting and trying new things out, this might interest you otherwise I’d urge everybody else to not bother. I wouldn’t call it a great movie by any means but it has its moments.

No trailer but here’s a clip from the last short Fly:

Sadako’s Rating: 2.5 stars out of 5

Read Full Post »

Woman Of Water (2002)

Ryo has always had an affinity with water. Ever since she was young, important events in her life have been accompanied by rain. She runs a bath-house with her fiancé, until one day, during a rain-storm, he is killed in a car crash. Ryo becomes solitary and isolated, and the bath-house is closed. One day, however, she returns home to find a strange man, Yusaku in her house. A pyromaniac by nature, his love of fire proves to be very useful to Ryo as he enlists him to keep the bath-house’s furnace running. The pair soon enter into a love relationship, and the bath-house flourishes once more. However, Yusaku has a dark past, which threatens to resurface and destroy everything.

The idea for the storyline is Ryo representing the element water and Yusaku representing the element fire can be destructive on their own but together they can keep each other under control and be useful to society. This is a movie where the exquisite cinematography takes precedence over the storyline. The viewer is presented with stunning images over the course of the movie. It’s the visuals that propels the movie forward. Hats off to cinematographer Hiroshi Machida for his work here and the brilliant colours he employs especially deep blue. The plot itself is a character study of two contrasting people drawn together. The pace is achingly slow, there’s not a lot of dialogue and nothing much happens until the final 20 or so mins. It’s what I would call a curiosity art movie and there are some weird surreal stuff going on – check out the irate man on the mobile phone scene. There’s even a mute bag lady character who lives with some chickens. The relationship between Ryo and Yusaka is rather odd and confusing as well. Here we have a woman who’s nearly raped in a cave and we have to believe that she suddenly falls in love with her attacker. Many scenes throughout the movie feature rain…………a lot of rain!! Just running at over 2 hours, the movie is a good 30 mins too long.

This was Japanese musician UA’s debut role in a movie and whilst her acting is decent enough, it felt to me that the director was more interested in getting her naked at every opportunity. UA may have been brave to take on a role which required her to strip a lot but after numerous scenes showing her naked you just feel like telling her to put her clothes back on! Tadanobu Asano gives his usual strong performance though the script doesn’t give him a lot to do. There’s hardly any character development going on. I would have liked to have known more about Ryo’s strange connection with rain.

All in all, if you like seeing pretty images this movie may interest you but the story is rather weak and you won’t really care about the lead characters.

Can’t find a trailer I’m afraid.

Sadako’s Rating: 3 stars out of 5

Read Full Post »

Hana And Alice (2004)

High school girls Hana and Alice have been best friends for a long time. Whilst waiting for a train to take them to high school one day, they notice Miyamoto who is a year older than them and they both develop a big crush on him. In order to get closer to him, Hana joins the Japanese storytelling club (Rakugo) at school. Miyamoto always has his head in a book and on one afternoon whilst Hana is following Miyamoto home he walks straight into a steel shutter door and knocks himself out! Hana rushes over to help and with Miyamoto still dazed and confused as to what has happened and wondering who is this girl helping him, Hana senses an opportunity and says that she’s his girlfriend! Her explanation as to why he can’t remember is he has got amnesia. Miyamoto finds that a bit odd as he can remember everything except how he and Hana are together but he accepts what she’s saying is true. Whilst helping Hana with a problem on her PC, he stumbles upon a folder full of photos containing himself. He confronts her about them and she calmy explains that it was his former girlfriend Alice that took them. He doesn’t remember anything about her either. Thus Alice is added to the big lie that Hana has concocted. There is only so much lies that the pair of them can tell to Miyamoto before he finds out the truth but just exactly how far can they go with their charade? It doesn’t help that Alice has also fallen for Miyamoto but will she fall out with her best friend for the boy she secretly loves?

Hana and Alice is primarily a teen love triangle movie but the story veers off from time to time to focus on Alice’s side story which I thought was more interesting than the main plot. What makes this movie work so well is the two main characters. The chemistry and rapport between the two girls is such a joy to watch. I enjoyed all the scenes just between the two of them. I was more drawn to Alice’s story than Hana’s as there’s more character development for her. We get to see how family life has shaped her character over the years and why she’s so timid and lacking confidence. Her mother is out a lot and coming back with a new boyfriend, her house is one big mess and she has a somewhat cool relationship with her father whom she sees every now and then. But the girl has a talent for ballet dancing. Hana’s story is also interesting as she was completely different person when she was a child, shunning the outside world until Alice’s friendship got her out of her house which is covered in flowers. Now as a teenager she’s quite a brash person. There are like chalk and cheese yet the friendship they share is touching. Both of the girls are utterly charming and you care for them. Anne Suzuki and Yu Aoi performances as Hana and Alice are outstanding. The character of Miyamoto though is incredibly dull and it makes you wonder just what the two girls see in him! Tomohiro Kaku doesn’t perform that well as Miyamoto as you don’t see any emotion on his face. He’s just got a blank expression for the majority of the story and it felt like he was sleepwalking in the role. It’s probably the only blemish in this fine movie.

The movie is packed with many memorable moments such the first lunch between Alice and Miyamoto, Alice’s dance in the pouring rain and at the audition, the fight on the beach between Hana and Alice, Alice holding her nostrils when she admits to lying, and the scene between Hana and Miyamoto during their high school performance. The scene with Hana and Miyamoto talking prior to Hana taking to the stage was riveting. The cinematography is simply amazing and the directing by Shunji Iwai who also shot the brilliant Swallowtail Butterfly is brilliant. The story does sag a little bit in the middle part of the movie but thankfully picks up again for the finale. It’s a well paced and compelling coming-of-age tale about friendship and unrequited love which is funny and poignant.

Overall, this movie is just so good. The story itself may not be original but the characters make the movie special. Definitely one to see. Recommended.

Sadako’s Rating: 4 stars out of 5

Read Full Post »

aka Roboforce

The Hero Gang led by the evil Lam and his lover Maria is a villianous organization that sends it’s giant robot named Van out to rob a bank in HK. With the police helpless against the marauding robot and Lam threatening more chaos if the authorities doesn’t hand over a load of cash to them, a trio of bumbling heroes go into action. They are eccentric inventor Curly, a newspaper reporter and Whiskey, an ex member of the Hero Gang determined to right his past wrongs. The Hero Gang in the meantime have created another decidedly different robot. This one is patterned after female gang member, Maria. This robot is sent after our goofy trio, but in the process it’s nearly destroyed. Curly reprograms Maria to go after it’s creators when they send in the heavy artillery including Van to look for her. Who will come out on top in the robot showdown?

Despite the title which may suggest a romantic story, this is in fact a sci-fi action comedy with some shades of Robocop and a nod to the classic movie Metropolis. It tanked big time when it was initially released in HK but has in fact gained a cult following over the years. Stories about its troubled production is well known amongst HK movie fans with producer Tsui Hark getting rid of director David Chung at some point during filming and taking over the directing duties himself and even reshooting large chunks. The movie starts with a bang as the massive hulk of a robot Van goes on a destructive rampage around Hong Kong and this is only the beginning of the fun you’ll have in watching this. It’s quite an imaginative romp with not only a giant robot appearing but also a flying motorcycle armed with a set of machine guns. The movie is not meant to be taken seriously one bit and Tsui Hark doesn’t let the comedy overshadow the great action sequences which includes a hilarious scene in which one of our heroes tries to escape through trees on swinging vines ala Tarzan only to be pursued in the same manner by the villains with machine guns. The clash between Maria and Van is also very entertaining. It does turn a little bit dark at times with it’s violent content but the majority of the movie is lightweight and harmless. The special effects looks a bit dated though but with only a small budget for the movie the filmmakers did the best they could. The rubber styrofoam walls and rubble on display does look bad! The robots (Van and Maria) are fantastic creations with their jet pack boots, hidden missiles and extending fists. I found it to be such a creative movie with the array of gadgets on display. The wacky and slapstick comedy was fine, I did find it to be a bit repetitive at times especially when two of our heroes regularly get electrocuted for touching the robot Maria. This movie though belongs to the beautiful Sally Yeh who plays the dual role of the evil Hero Gang member Maria and her Metropolis styled robot counterpart. She’s really good at playing the robot role using just a few expressions on her face and even gets to sing a few lines as well. The trio of heroes played by Tsui Hark, John Sham and Tony Leung Chui-Wai are also excellent in keeping the storyline chugging along and there’s great chemistry between them.

I Love Maria is a unique piece of HK cinema which is well worth checking out just for it’s mix of wackiness and action. I had a lot of fun watching it.

Sadako’s Rating: 3 stars out of 5

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »