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Archive for August 30th, 2013

Zipang (1990)

zipang movie

Jigoku is a samurai outlaw who is on the run with his motley bunch of followers. There’s a bounty on his head with a cute female bounty hunter named Yuri The Pistol who’s an ace gunslinger hot on his tail. He immediately falls for the woman due to her gutsy spirit. Jigoku is shown a map that can lead to some treasure. Dodging many booby-traps, he comes across a golden sword in a cave which is stuck in a rock. After managing to free the sword, he finds out that it is the key to reaching Zipang – a mythical City Of Gold which is full of untold riches and ruled by a Golden King. He keeps a woman all locked up in an ice prison as he despises love. The woman’s lover (a near naked man who looks like a Samoan warrior) who was locked away with the sword that Jigoku has taken is released and he goes after Jigoku as well. Adding to Jigoku’s woes is a Lord who orders his blue ninja army to pursue and steal the golden sword away from him.  After finally arriving in Zipang, will Jigoku be able to defeat the evil Golden King?

My first impression on watching this was how incredibly similar to the crazy movies of the Shaw Brothers from the 60’s and 70’s it was. It starts off as a parody of samurai movies but then gradually it becomes a little bit more serious with some gore thrown in. Don’t even bother in trying to put some logic to the plot because it’s not worth it. The story is set in a slightly futuristic version of medieval Japan where ninjas have high powered binoculars with zoom lens and shuriken stars that can also take photos.  Every ninja or samurai stereotype you can think of is made fun of in this movie – yes, even Zatoichi The Blind Swordsman is lampooned. There’s even an appearance by none other than Cyrano de Bergerac! You will even see a sequence copied from Raiders Of The Lost Ark in the first part of the movie as Jigoku seeks out the golden sword. I’m sure many viewers will be racking their brains to remember from which movie certain elements incorporated into the story have been taken. The characters in the story are almost comic book in style – the filmmakers even throw in a small rubber elephant as one of Jigoku’s gang though he isn’t onscreen for very long. Masahiro Takashima makes a fine hero as Jigoku with Narumi Yasuda providing some nice eye candy as the pistol packing Yuki.

zipang screenshot

The plot is wafer thin but to be honest the viewer won’t be really interested in that at all. It’s the fun, OTT action sequences that prove to be more interesting. An example of this is where Jigoku is seen to slaughter an almost endless line of ninjas on a wooden bridge with not a drop of blood shed. I found it strange that as Jigoku is slashing his sword and killing one ninja, the others are waiting for him to finish that person off before another one charges in to attack. How polite of them!! I’m not sure why director Kaizo Hayashi felt the need to introduce some gore into the plot. It felt out of place with the rest of the movie to see a hand being chopped off and the sight of the golden sword being plunged deep into a person’s chest shown in close-up. As the movie is a comedy after all, bloodletting should have been left out. I did like the various genres that Hayashi has employed into the movie and I thought they gelled well together. Sci-fi, adventure, fantasy, swordplay, romance and slapstick comedy are all represented in the story. As you can see in the screenshot above even a robot is thrown into the plot! If you know your history well enough you will know that Zipang was an ancient name used for Japan by Marco Polo but in this story the name is just used for a City Of Gold….well it’s not a city per se but more of a large castle. The pace of the movie is quick with never a dull moment in it. It’s one of those movies in which it’s best to switch off your brain and just enjoy the wackyness that’s unfolding before your eyes.

Zipang is an enjoyable silly movie featuring very likeable and interesting characters. It’s got its fair share of exciting fight scenes, comedy that will make you laugh and it’s just so unique that I don’t think there’s another movie like it out there. The director did a great job in making a very funny tongue-in-cheek parody of classic samurai movies. I’m sure you will like it too if you give it a chance.

No trailer but here’s a clip from it.

Sadako’s Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

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71: Into The Fire (2010)

71-Into-the-Fire-movie

It is the Summer of 1950 and the Korean War has broken out. Swarms of the North Korean Army have invaded deep into South Korea and the situation is getting worse. The remnants of the South Korean Army have been pushed far South with the President even asking if any volunteers that can hold a rifle to stand up and fight the advancing enemy even students. A group of 71 students led by an inexperienced and shell shocked young soldier is asked to defend a strategic point which strangely enough is a girls high school! The students will be left to train themselves with plenty of ammunition to fight off any invaders but will have no help from the army as they have been ordered to make a final stand against the North at Nakdong River. It looks dire for the students as in-fighting breaks out amongst them with many ammunition wasted and they are up against a mighty North Korean commander in Park Moo-rang who has given the students an ultimatum – either raise the white flag of surrender on the school or face annihilation against his fighting fit army who have Russian tanks to back them up. Will the students be able to do the impossible and fight an entire army off?

Believe it or not this story is actually based on a real-life event that happened during the early part of the Korean War in which a small group of 71 students held off the North Korean army for 11 hours until reinforcements came to help them out. My knowledge about the Korean War is minimal and I had no idea about this incident. I just found it incredible that a bunch of inexperienced students managed to do what they did. Talk about being brave, to have taken on such insurmountable odds knowing that they were staring death in the face was so courageous. A real David and Goliath moment. This movie doesn’t follow what happened to the exact word, some artistic licence obviously had to be used by the filmmakers but you more or less are given the gist of the famous battle that took place. The story is based on a letter by one of the students. The unfortunate thing with the plot revolving around a real-life incident is you already know the outcome.

71 Into The Fire screenshot

From the start of the movie you are thrown right into the heart of a fierce battle between the North and the South which mimics a scene out of Saving Private Ryan in which the main character Jung-Bum, a lowly scared soldier who goes around delivering fresh ammunition to the front line is partially made deaf due to being too close to a mortar going off. It’s exciting stuff as the South Korean army is made to retreat against a seemingly unstoppable force in the North Koreans led by a ruthless Commander who doesn’t take prisoners and wants all of those opposing him to be killed. After this battle, the story moves on to Jung-Bum being made the commander of the student army due to him having battle experience (however minimal that was) and his clashes with Ku-Kap Jo, a brash young male who has a choice of either going to jail for murder or join the student army. The viewer witnesses the transformation of Jung-Bum from a frightened and timid soldier who was too afraid to even fire a gun to being a brave leader and how he manages to get the respect of his peers including Ku-Kap Jo. It is through his leadership that he manages to rally the rest of the students into an effective fighting unit. The plot makes it abundantly clear how desperate the situation is with the North Koreans bulldozing their way down South quickly and efficiently. How the students come up with tactics of combating their heavily armed opponents at the school is interesting to see. Over the course of the story it is easy to see that they are only students and not professional soldiers as during one sequence a NK sniper opens fire on them and they impulsively charge after him only to get caught in an ambush. The words naïve and rash spring to mind.

The problem with Asian war movies these days is they are naturally going to be compared to another Korean war movie in Brotherhood. That was so epic that it made anybody else making a war movie to have a very difficult task of trying to top it. Whilst it doesn’t quite reach the heady heights of Brotherhood, there is much to admire in this movie directed by John H.Lee. He puts Hollywood to shame with showing what you can do on a tight budget. The entire movie only had a budget of $10 million dollars although you’d think it was a hell of a lot more. It’s in the final 20-30 minutes where the movie really comes together as the full might of the North Korean army bears down on the small rag-tag bunch of students.   The battle scenes whilst offering nothing new is impressive and puts the viewer slap bang as if you’re right there with the students.  Explosions go off, artillery whizz around and it doesn’t hold back on the horrors of war in showing the effects of bullets hitting the human body.

The cast is led by Korean hip-hop artist Choi Seung-hyeon better known as T.O.P from the group Big Bang. I’m sure many people thought he was only put into this movie to perhaps attract female fans so that the takings would swell. Maybe that was the case but I thought he performed well in his role as Jung-Bum. A very good choice to play a strong and silent hero. Playing his opposite number is Kwon-Sang woo as Ku-Kap Jo who rises up to challenge the leadership of Jung-Bum and the personal battle between them escalates over the course of the story. Thankfully mutual respect is achieved between them just in time for the attack of the NK army. The character that stood out for me the most was the calculating North Korean commander Park-Moo rang played by Cha Seung-won. A person that had no qualms about defying orders from his superiors in Pyongyang and even kills those that question him. I did think it was a bit of a mistake to make him into a god-like figure able to take a bullet and carry on as if nothing had happened to him. Then again it just makes him into more of a formidable adversary.

Overall, 71: Into The Fire is a brilliant war movie. It’s full of heroism, self-sacrifice and comradeship. The characters are engaging, it’s well made and stylishly directed.  If you’re a fan of war movies you can’t go wrong with this one. Recommended.

Sadako’s Rating: 4 stars out of 5

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