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Archive for June, 2013

Roujin Z (1991)

ROUJINZ dvd

Haruko is a pretty nurse who is in charge of taking care of an elderly gentleman named Mr Takazawa. One day she is astonished to find Mr Takazawa being taken away by the Ministry of Public Welfare to take part in an experiment which will revolutionise how the elderly are taken care. It comes in the form of a high tech life support bed machine tagged the Z-001 which is powered by the latest computer technology. Created to provide the patient with everything they need and freeing up society from the burden of looking after the elderly, it looks to be the perfect solution. There will be no need for any nurses to look after the patient, the machine will do everything for them – feed, clothe, wash them and even providing some entertainment. Strange messages begin to appear on computers at Haruko’s workplace and she surmises that they are coming from Mr Takazawa himself. She tries to go and see him but is forced out of his hospital room after she tries to disconnect Mr Takazawa from the Z-001. Recruiting a group of elderly hackers in the hospital, she tries to find out what Mr Takazawa wants.  Haruko makes the mistake of asking the hackers to create a voice of Takazawa’s dead wife to communicate with him. Soon after the Z-001 begins to take on the personality of the dead wife and it goes crazy. It is then Haruko finds out that the Z-001 isn’t quite as innocent a machine as it turns out and it is in fact an experimental weapons robot. To try and stop the machine from continuing it’s destructive rampage (it is fact trying to make it’s way to the beach where Mr Takazawa and his wife spent many happy days in the past), the new military model of the Z-001 is unveiled and ordered to destroy the machine but not the patient. Can Haruko save Mr Takazawa?

Roujin Z screenshot

From Katsuhiro Otomo, the creator of Akira comes this brilliant off-the-wall Japanese anime from 1991 which is a satire on Japanese society’s attitude to the elderly and the role of new technology but also a mad comedy and mecha adventure. Otomo tries to deal with a subject that is facing Japan in that of a growing elderly population and not enough births. It’s a situation that is worrying the Japanese government and they have tried various incentives in the past of encouraging married couples to have kids. The statistics over the past couple of years have not been encouraging.  There’s an interesting mix of characters in the story (some of them rather eccentric – the elderly hacker group for example are very funny) with a likeable and charming heroine in Haruka who takes her caring duties for Mr Takazawa very seriously and won’t take any crap from anybody. She disagrees with the government for testing their equipment on Mr Takazawa as a blueprint for future health care as there is no love involved and whatever dignity the old man had is stripped away by the machine. Mr Takazawa himself is more or less an invalid old man and hates being in the machine but he does turn the tables on the government by taking control of the Z-001. The first half of the story is actually quite serious in nature and it’s only during the 2nd half that the comedic and the more bizarre aspect of the story really takes off as Mr Takazawa in control of the Z-001 decides to take a trip down memory lane and head to the beach with the military in hot pursuit and Haruko doing what she can to save her patient. In a way this part of the story is seen as the old man getting back his independence and returning to a place he hasn’t been for many years. The viewer has to take some plot elements with a pinch of salt such as how could a group of elderly hackers duplicate the voice of Mr Takazawa’s wife having never met her! The action in the story is exciting and the viewer starts to worry for Mr Takazawa’s safety inside the Z-001 seeing that he looks weak and rather fragile. The movie does look somewhat dated but I have said all along I like the old school style of animation. I find it rather charming. The detail is good and I love the mecha designs. The plot goes along at a good pace and it builds up to a great climax. There’s a good balance between comedy, sci-fi and satire in the movie.

Overall, I found Roujin Z to be a fun anime movie with some entertaining characters which despite the serious message attached to it provided plenty of slapstick and surreal humour.

Sadako’s Rating: 4 stars out of 5

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blue jean monster poster

Tsu is a Hong Kong cop whose pregnant wife is about to give birth. During a bank robbery by a gang of vicious thieves, he intervenes and is killed in a junkyard by the group after he chases them. His wife’s friend Gucci who was a hostage at the bank grabs the money that the thieves have tried to get and runs away. Tsu is resurrected when a black cat jumps on his body making it glow all red and a lightning bolt also hits his body. The cops recover his prone body as Tsu has passed out and it is sent to the local morgue. It is there he wakes up, finds out that he has already died and he needs an electric current recharge through his body regularly in order to stay alive. Tsu goes back home to his wife and tries to be as normal as he possibly can which isn’t easy as the food he eats comes out through an exposed hole in his stomach! Gucci and Tsu’s best friend Power Steering begin to suspect that something is amiss with Tsu and they find out his secret when he tries to power himself up with an iron and his eyes start to glow red but they promise that they won’t tell his wife. Meanwhile the thieves are hot on the trail of Gucci who still has the money from the bank. They discover her in Tsu’s apartment with his wife and they take both hostage. With Gucci and Tsu’s wife going into labour inside a locked room with a bomb primed to go off, can Power Steering and Tsu save the day and his unborn child?

This has to be one of the craziest HK movies I’ve ever seen and is apparently a parody of an American movie called Dead Heat which I haven’t seen and some bits from The Terminator and Robocop. The plot is basically about a dead man making the most out of his second chance in being alive by protecting his family, making sure he can see the birth of his son and tracking down his killers. It’s a mixture of action, horror and comedy but I would say it’s primarily a comedy especially with the middle part of the movie devoted to Tsu’s wife mistakenly thinking that he’s gay due to being caught in an uncompromising situation with his friend and she hires a busty prostitute called Death Rays played by Amy Yip dressed in a red bunny outfit to seduce and make him heterosexual again!  The wacky scene results in Tsu grabbing her breasts too hard that milk is seen gushing out of them!! It’s hard to know what was going on in director Ivan Lai’s head when he was filming this movie. Was it his intention from the start to make such an insane movie? He injects a lot of slapstick and sexual humour into the script. Even though it might be more of a comedy, the action on display in this movie is fantastic containing some brilliant high octane stuff and gunplay which is fast and exciting. The scene in which Tsu and Power Steering save their other halves from a bomb about to go off in a small room has to be seen to be believed! The frequent shifts in tone from comedy to bloody action make this movie even more enjoyable. I guarantee you will not see anything quite like this movie. It could only have been made in Hong Kong!

blue jean monster screenshot

Shing Fui On plays the lead role of Tsu. This was his only leading role. He usually excelled in villainous supporting parts but in this movie he showed that he was also adept in comedic roles as well. Due to his looks the poor guy was never offered any heroic roles until this movie. I don’t think he was ever given a good guy role after this movie. He is incredibly funny such as when he is desperately trying to get his hands on anything electrical which will charge up his body. It results in some zany Benny Hill speeded up madness footage! Pauline Wong, Gloria Yip and Tse Wai-Kit are excellent in their supporting roles. Gloria and Tse are there sorely to provide some comedy.

For a truly unique viewing experience, I would definitely ask HK movie fans to check it out. I had a ball watching this movie. The entertainment value is high and there’s never a dull moment in it. Recommended.

No trailer but here’s a clip from the movie:

Sadako’s Rating: 4 stars out of 5

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Farewell Space Battleship Yamato

A deadly comet hiding the fortified city of the Comet Empire is heading to Earth wiping out entire planets in its wake and nothing it seems can stop it. The Space Battleship Yamato has been mothballed after their last encounter with the Gamilus Empire which ended with the ship’s captain dying. The latest ship in the Earth Defence Force fleet the Andromeda is only on a test flight out in space and unready for combat action. The deputy Captain of the Yamato – Kodai reassembles the old crew plus a group of pilots called The Cosmic Tigers to join him on a secret mission to intercept the comet. He blatantly disregards orders from his superiors not to take the ship out. An old enemy thought to be dead and now aligned with the Comet Empire distract the crew of the Yamato leaving the Comet Empire unchallenged as they enter the Solar System. A final stand between the Earth Forces and the Comet Empire ends in defeat.  Now only the Yamato can stop the enemy from destroying the Earth but can the Yamato with it’s wave gun stop the relentless Comet Empire?

Space Battleship Yamato is probably the most popular of all the franchises in the Leiji Matsumoto universe. It was shown over in the West specifically the US as Star Blazers. To my knowledge I don’t think it ever came to UK shores, well not to TV screens at least. Since the 70’s there has been numerous anime series, several movies and in 2010 a live-action movie which I had the pleasure of watching in Japan. The Yamato ship itself holds an iconic status in the hearts and minds of the Japanese people probably due to the fact that in the Pacific War the ship took on the might of the US Navy alone in a futile fight off Okinawa. It was sunk with a heavy loss of life. It was deemed to be a suicide mission. This movie is the 2nd out of 5 and is a little bit different from the anime series as it has a darker storyline which sees many characters sacrificing their lives and the climax has an ambiguous ending which leaves the viewer assuming the Yamato has been destroyed. It was meant to end the Space Battleship Yamato saga but due to the popularity of the movie and with Japanese audiences eager for more adventures this movie doesn’t exist in the series’ continuity at all. This was the only way possible for them to carry on with the franchise. Basically this means that this movie is seen as something that is happening in an alternate timeline and has nothing at all to do with the anime series otherwise it would make no sense.

farewell space battleship yamato-Kodai-Yuki

I found this to be quite an emotionally charged anime movie thanks to the storyline and heroism of the characters. Leiji Matsumoto is a master at creating an epic space opera and it is hard not to get involved in the story. There are plenty of rousing and exciting space battles for your enjoyment with the addition of Desslar, an enemy of the Yamato who was thought to have died during their war with the Gamilus Empire. Having been saved by the Comet Empire, he is now aligned with them seeking revenge. There’s a personal battle going on between Desslar and Kodai but even Desslar shows he is wiser and more forgiving in this movie even when he’s the last of his kind. He turns his back on his new allies and does the right thing in giving Kodai the information he requires to defeat the Comet Empire before sacrificing himself. What I found really good about the story is even when you think the Comet Empire is down and out, back they come again to take on the Yamato. The Yamato has to defeat them 3 times – first as a large comet then as a large city and finally as a massive battleship. The sad climax sees Kodai order the remaining crew off the ship and with his deceased girlfriend Yuki at his side and the ghosts of crewmembers who have perished he steers the Yamato straight into the heart of the Comet Empire battleship. It’s such a powerful and brutal ending which really hits you in the gut. It can be said that the plot of the movie follows the real life final mission of the Yamato with the ship being destroyed for a noble cause in saving millions of people on Earth.

Words can’t tell you how much I loved this movie – it’s a masterpiece by Matsumoto which is well written. Even though it’s quite a long movie at nearly 2 and half hours the time just flew by. The animation might look dated but that’s just a minor gripe and the unforgettable soundtrack is just excellent. I wanted to see more and didn’t want the movie to end. Now I will have to seek out the 3rd movie to get more of my Yamato fix!! Highly recommended for fans of classic anime.

No trailer I’m afraid but there is this montage of classic Yamato clips.

Sadako’s Rating: 5 stars out of 5

 

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Days-of-Being-Wild-1990

Set in 1960, the story is about a young man named Yuddy who is incapable or unwilling to treat women with any respect or compassion. After hooking up with a shy woman Su Lizhen who works at a small shop, he soon moves on to another one, a dancer named Mimi who is more willing to happily play his games. Yuddy’s behaviour can be attributed to the fact that he was abandoned by his real mother and his step mother is a bit of an alcoholic and unwilling to tell Yuddy who his real mother is thereby forcing him to stay with her – rather like dangling a carrot on a stick. Su Lizhen is upset at being dumped by Yuddy and is hanging around his apartment when she is noticed by a policeman. Tide as the policeman is called starts becoming Su Lizhen’s confidant and begins to fall for her but he finds out she doesn’t have the same feelings as he has for her. This is a situation that also befalls Yuddy’s friend who desires Mimi but is rejected by her. Eventually Yuddy is given the name of his real mother and heads off to the Philippines to find her. There he bumps into Tide who has quit his job as a policeman and is now a sailor. Will Yuddy’s quest to find his mother end in a tearful reunion or not?

This is the 6th Wong Kar Wai movie I’ve watched. Whilst this is a very good movie I still regard Chungking Express as the best example of his work so far. Days Of Being Wild is seen as being a companion piece to In The Mood For Love and 2046. It was WKW’s 2nd movie and it’s essentially a character driven movie. This is where he found his groove and never looked back. The story is a series of episodes that revolve around 6 people seeking identity and fulfilment who touch each other’s lives. It’s establishes themes which would be explored further in future WKW movies. The main character is a young man who thanks to being abandoned by his real mother is incapable of trusting women and once they’ve served a purpose to him he is quick to drop them. The movie wasn’t well received at the time of its release due to the fact that WKW’s style was new and unexpected. Movie fans were unsure what to make of it. Over time that perception would change and now WKW is seen as being one of the best directors to ever come out of Hong Kong. This movie is visually stunning to watch and that’s due to the fact that this was WKW’s first collaboration with cinematographer Christopher Doyle. It would be the start of a fruitful partnership between the pair. The plot of the movie is compelling and unique enough and you begin to care for the characters even though they don’t care about themselves. Each of them is after love but it remains elusive to them. WKW seems to be a master at creating moody and atmospheric movies which deals with longing, love and time.

daysofbeingwild screenshot

There’s a very strong cast in this movie – you’ve got Leslie Cheung, Maggie Cheung, Carina Lau, Jacky Cheung and Andy Lau in it. Leslie Cheung gives one of his best performances as Yuddy and is perfectly cast as a bitter young man. It’s such a shame that he decided to end his life 10 years ago. Leslie Cheung had been battling against depression for a long time. Maggie Cheung is wonderful as the shy Su Lizhen although I think that Carina Lau is the stronger of the female leads. Andy Lau gives a different portrayal to the usual roles he’s given as Tide. A man with a case of unrequited love for Su Lizhen and by the time she starts to have some feelings for him and calls his number it’s too late. He’s already left his job to become a sailor. Whilst the movie may be all about Leslie Cheung’s character Yuddy, the other characters bring a dimension of their own to the story.

I have to stress that this movie will not be for everybody’s tastes – obviously if you’ve seen any of WKW’s stuff and like slower paced, intelligent or even art-house stories you’re bound to like it.

Sadako’s Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

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A Better Tomorrow III DVD

A young Chinese man Mark travels to Vietnam during the final days of the war in 1974 to get his uncle and just-out-of-jail cousin Cheung Chi-Mun to Hong Kong before the communists take over. In the process, Mark and Mun cross paths with a lady femme-fatale gangster Kit who takes a shine to Mark. Mun, Mark and Kit become close friends and the two men become involved in her shady dealings but Kit’s mobster ex-lover Ho isn’t about to let Mark waltz off with his property.

A Better Tomorrow I and II are two of my favourite Hong Kong action movies but I’ve been avoiding this movie for some years now due to the negative feedback about it but it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. The 3rd and final part of A Better Tomorrow trilogy is a prequel and goes back to the past and the origins of how Chow Yun Fat’s character Mark became a professional killer in war torn Vietnam. Don’t come into this expecting to see many action scenes featuring a ton of gunplay as the 2 previous movies. This one feels different to the others as John Woo relinquished the director’s chair and Tsui Hark took up the reins instead. There are some action scenes but they don’t dominate the story. The gun fights are entertaining but sadly lack the style and finesse of John Woo. Whilst many viewers will be disappointed with that, this is still a good movie with an interesting story attached to it. Sure, it’s not the crowd pleaser many expected it to be but you can’t have everything. The visuals employed by Hark are top notch and it still lives up to its ‘heroic bloodshed’ tag. The brotherhood theme that ran through the previous ABT movies is still here but with an added romance sub-plot thrown in. There is apparently some contradiction in the plot that many are complaining about in that doesn’t follow what Mark said in the first ABT movie (dates, locations) but as I haven’t seen it for quite a while I’d need to take another look to confirm their suspicions..

A Better Tomorrow III Screenshot

Chow Yun Fat is as charismatic as ever in the role of Mark and it’s nice to find out about his backstory and where he got his attitude, trademark trenchcoat and sunglasses. Mark is such a cool looking character and it is only near the climax where the character the viewers loved in the first ABT comes to the fore. There is more depth and a vulnerability to him in this installment. It’s the late great Anita Mui who stands out the most in this movie as Kit. It is exactly 10 years ago since she succumbed to cervical cancer and her loss is still felt by her many fans in Hong Kong. She was an immensely talented performer both as an actress and singer. She is excellent as the gangster woman who falls for Mark and teaches him how to use 2 guns at once. She’s tough and deadly with weapons but also shows her softer side through her attraction to Mark. Anita also sings the haunting theme tune to the movie. The chemistry between Mark and Kit is great and believable.

Overall although it is flawed, A Better Tomorrow III is still a worthy ending to the trilogy but it never quite reaches the heights of the other 2 previous movies.

Sadako’s Rating: 3 stars out of 5

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Sister Street Fighter

Female martial arts champion Koryu Lee is surprised to learn that her brother Mansei is an undercover Hong Kong detective who had been investigating a heroin smuggling ring until his disappearance in Yokohama. She flies to Japan to investigate, hoping to find her brother and eventually rescue him from drug lord Kakuzaki and chief underling Inubashiri, operating out of a dungeon lair. Aiding her in mission is a friend and martial arts virtuoso Emi Hayakawa and enigmatic tough guy Hibiki, both from her old dojo. Koryu eventually learns the smugglers are using ladies wigs to move their drugs, but to reach her brother she must face a gauntlet of Kakuzaki’s army of martial artists which includes the Amazon 7 – a group of women Thai kickboxers dressed in what can be classed as Flintstones costumes!!

Sonny Chiba takes a back-seat in this spin-off from his successful Street Fighter series although he does appear sporadically throughout the movie. The character he plays is not the same as the one in the original trilogy. This time round the story follows a young female lead and those expecting it to be like Chiba’s trilogy with a lot of gore will be disappointed. If you’re after a lot of violent action and outrageous dialogue then there’s plenty of it in this movie but if you’re after a story with a good plot, realism and some character development I think it would be best if you go somewhere else. It’s your standard heroine trying to save a member of her family plot but in a movie such as this does anybody really care about the story? I certainly didn’t, all I wanted was seeing the bad guys get their asses whipped and you get enough of that in this tale!

sister street fighter screenshot

The director Kazuhiko Yamaguchi never lets the pace flag so the viewer is unlikely to get bored in watching this movie. There’s a colourful cast of nasty villains with various weapons involved such as the henchmen who wear helmets that look like black wicker waste paper bins and one called Hammerhead! A scene has also been copied from Bruce Lee’s Enter The Dragon in that right at the climax, the villain has a metal claw in which to attack Koryu. Just like some of the scraps in Hong Kong martial arts movies expect to see some of them to move from an inside set to the outside as if they’ve been whisked there by magic! There are various styles of martial arts on display and the fights are well choreographed.

It is one of Sonny Chiba’s real life students – Etsuko Shiomi (nicknamed Sue) who takes the leading role in this movie and the 3 sequels that followed. She was just 18 years old at the time of filming of this movie and was a last minute replacement for Angela Mao, a Taiwanese actress who dropped out. In fact it was on the personal recommendation of Sonny Chiba that she got the role. Sue’s character comes across as a likeable person and she’s cute as a button. She’s a nimble and talented martial artist who looks convincing in her fights and is a force to be reckoned with.

At the end of the day, Sister Street Fighter is unlikely to win any awards but if you’re after a mindless but entertaining martial arts movie with a cute leading lady then this movie ticks all the right boxes. It’s a fun movie to watch.

Sadako’s Rating: 3 stars out of 5

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Wings-Of-Honneamise

Somewhere in space and time is a blue planet, floating amongst the stars. Two nations, jealously protecting their political and economic borders have been waging a war for the past 100 years. A war which has taken it’s toll upon their citizens. Lt. Shirotsugh Lhadatt had a dream as a child: to become a member of the Royal Air Force, and pilot a plane. But as he became of age, it became clear to him that his academic performance wasn’t going to allow him to enter the Air Force. Instead, Lhadatt enlists in the Royal Space Force – an organisation that is ridiculed by the military, and unknown by the public. This unappreciated, under-funded group of scientists and wild dreamers have a goal: to be the first to launch a man into outer space. But the politicians have decided to use their fledgeling space program as bait to draw an enemy attack upon the launch site, and now the Royal Space Force has a race on its hands…

Wings of Honneamise used to be shown regularly on the old Sci-Fi channel in the UK around 11-12 years ago usually in the midnight hour slot. For some reason even after a work colleague of mine recommended that it was great anime movie I had no interest in watching it. Perhaps it was due to the fact that I was more into Evangelion, the adventures of the Knight Sabres in Bubblegum Crisis, Burn Up W/Excess and Dirty Pair at the time and didn’t want to sink my teeth into a serious anime. Recently whilst flicking through the 500 Essential Anime Movies book I came across a page with Wings Of Honneamise on it and thought it was high time I checked it out so that’s what I did.

wings of honneamise screenshot

This is a fantastic anime movie which is set on an alternate Earth. It does bear a little bit of echoes to the live action space race movie The Right Stuff. I was very impressed with the production which touches on the themes of war, religion, friendship, courage, love, trying to find yourself and following your dream. It’s not just about a person going up into space. The main character is a young man named Shirotsugh (known as Shiro to his friends). When we first meet him he’s a bit of a slacker with no focus in life and then gradually through his involvement with a deeply religious woman named Riquinni who lives with an orphan girl and with his participation in the space programme we see how he matures. There’s a bit of a grey area in the relationship between Shiro and Riquinni – is it purely platonic or does it goes deeper than that? Shiro is also unaware that he is being used as a propaganda tool and pawn by his government to try and draw the enemy to attack. Whilst the majority of the story follows Shiro’s training and his backup team’s preparations for his space flight, there is some decent action sequences but they come quite near the climax as Shiro gets ready to blast off into space with his rocket on the launch pad and all around him a major air and land battle is taking place between Honneamise forces and their enemy Rimada.

There is a controversial scene in the movie which has upset many viewers and it’s when Shiro tries to rape Riquinni. It comes completely out of the blue and she apologies for his actions the next day. It looks out of place in the story and to be honest it should have been cut. I didn’t like this scene and it served no purpose at all. It’s deplorable that the victim has to say sorry to the perpetrator but as I understand it’s due to her religious background. Nothing is mentioned for the remainder of the story about this ugly incident.

The movie does run for 2 hours and unless you’re into the storyline good and proper I can see some viewers turning off. The long running time though didn’t bother me at all as I was enjoying it so much. Those who like their anime to involve cute girls, giant mechas, lots of violence with a fast paced story are unlikely to appreciate it due to the slow pace of the plot. The animation itself is excellent  – fluid and rich with great attention to detail.  It’s no wonder that it was one of the most expensive anime movies of the 80’s which took 8 years to recoup it’s budget. I was surprised to read that it wasn’t well received in Japan during it’s original release. I wouldn’t really say this anime is suited for kids especially with the offending rape scene. Coupled with the religious/political overtones it’s more than likely isn’t going to hold their attention.

Although it may have taken me a long time to finally catch up with Wings Of Honneamise, the wait was worth it in the end. It has a great interesting ambitious story which is driven by the characters and if it wasn’t for one scene it probably would have rated a little bit higher. Recommended for those who appreciate a mature adult anime rather than light hearted fluff.

Sadako’s Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

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