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Archive for April, 2014

Phobia 2 (2009)

phobia 2 poster

Phobia 2 is a five tale anthology horror movie from Thailand. The tales are:

NOVICE – a young delinquent teen called Pey is taken to a quiet rural Buddhist monastery by his mother as he has committed a crime – he likes throwing rocks at car windshields resulting in accidents. Her hope is he will stay out of trouble in the monks’ care and he can’t be arrested by the authorities. However, Pey isn’t happy with having his head shaved off and taking part in training. The head monk realises he is out of control and soon Pey is up to his neck in trouble after disturbing the Hungry Ghost festival.

WARD – Arthit is a young man who finds himself in hospital after injuring his leg. In the bed next to him is a dying cult leader who seems to be immobile and in a coma. Arthit is convinced that the man is playing dead and comes alive at night to terrorise him in his bed.

BACKPACKERS – A couple of young Japanese travellers in Thailand hail a lift from a passing truck. The driver and the man accompanying him seem a little bit shifty to the travellers. On their journey there is a loud noise emanating from the back of the truck. The truck pulls over and the driver opens the door to the back. It is full of dead bodies. They are taken out and put on the ground. Then something strange happens and the bodies start twitching and come back alive as bloodthirsty zombies who go on a rampage.

SALVAGE – Set in a car salesroom, the female boss Nuch finds her young son has gone missing in the huge car lot after playing there. Is it something to do with the fact that she has neglected to tell any of her clients that all the cars in her showroom have been fixed after being in deadly accidents?

THE END – An actress who is taken ill on a shoot dies at hospital but returns as a ghost to finish her scenes.

Thai horror movies have been on the up in the past couple of years and this is a very good sequel to the 2008 anthology series which increases the stories from 4 to 5 short terror tales. It was a big hit in cinemas across the country. Each offers something completely different from the others. Anthology movies are notorious for being a bit hit and miss but in this movie all of the 5 stories are great though some are definitely stronger than others. Several of the stories are linked to karma in that if you do something bad it will return twice-fold to haunt you. The first story (Novice) is a great example of this. All 5 stories have been stylishly shot and the stories are well crafted.

Phobia 2 screenshot

My favourite out of the 5 stories is without a doubt the 3rd one (Backpackers). It’s such a tense, bloody and action packed story. You just have an inkling that the driver of the truck who is edgy is hiding something in the back of the truck but you don’t expect to witness the gruesome cargo after being unloaded to come back to life. If you enjoyed zombie horrors like 28 Days Later that gives you an idea of what this story is all about. The 4 people try and escape from the rampaging onslaught of the zombies that are baying for their blood. The makeup, gore, sound effects and just the general feel of the story is brilliant. It’s a hell of a shame that this story wasn’t expanded, I would have loved to have seen a full length movie of it.

I also particularly enjoyed the last story (The End) as it is more of a humourous tale than outright horror. You will probably recognise the characters in this segment   –  they played campers in the first Phobia movie but this time they are members of a film crew. I did find myself laughing several times during the story. It’s a story which mocks the horror genre and of another Thai horror movie (Alone) that the ghost actress Marsha Wattanpanich took part in. She plays a parody version of the character she portrayed in it. I’ve yet to see Alone but I’m sure I’ll check it out in the future.
I would say the 4th story (Salvage) is the weakest of the lot but it’s still a fine story with a good deal of suspense and scares. It does outstay it’s welcome a little bit and has an unlikeable character in the lead role.

There isn’t much that you won’t like in this horror movie. It’s got everything that makes a good frightfest – bloodthirsty zombies, vengeful ghosts, gore and some good scares. Each story is creative and unique. All in all a worthy anthology movie to check out.

Sadako’s Rating: 4 stars out of 5

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prison on fire dvd

Yiu is sent to prison for 3 years for accidentally pushing a man in front of a bus as he was attacking his father. He is totally unprepared for the harsh reality of prison life and is targeted by some of the other inmates. Whilst working in the Infirmary, Yiu meets up with the wise cracking Ching who takes him under his wing after he realises that unless he helps him out Yiu won’t survive in prison for long. When a gang leader sets Yiu up for a fall thanks to his association with a corrupt prison warden, maybe even Ching won’t be able to save Yiu from the wrath of the other prisoners.

A pulsating prison drama from talented HK director Ringo Lam as part of his ‘On Fire’ trilogy (City On Fire/School On Fire) which shows a harrowing look into the bleak and brutal prison system in Hong Kong and how much power the triads have on the inside. It follows a man who slowly adjusts to life in the slammer after he meets a sympathetic inmate who takes pity on him. It also depicts the violence that takes place. All the things you associate with a gritty prison movie are here from riots, corrupt officials etc. The first part of the movie is what you would call a slow burner with not much action happening but plenty of character development. To some this might be boring but it’s all enjoyable stuff by Lam. However it is in the second part that everything kicks off and gets noticeably darker.

prison on fire screenshot

As Yiu is not a part of a gang and a bit naïve he is made to be a scapegoat by a power struggle between two factions. It’s great seeing the friendship between Yiu and Ching develop as the storyline takes place over the course of several years – they’re a good contrast to each other. Apart from the evil warden, the other chief villain of the story is a prisoner called Mickey who becomes a thorn in the side of our two friends. He is transferred to another prison after he attacks Ching with a piece of glass and things get better for Yiu and Ching. However, one year later with things having settled down, the two are shocked when they discover Mickey is back in their prison and hasn’t forgotten about the issues he has with them. He sets the pair up leading to their lives being in danger. The story builds up to it’s conclusion very well indeed in that you can see that tension is growing and that something will eventually give and it does.

Chow Yun-Fat is brilliant in this movie and gives it his all as Ching, the prisoner with a carefree attitude but who knows exactly the prison politics that are taking place. What I loved about Chow Yun-Fat’s portrayal of Ching was he changes somewhat from when the viewer first sees him. His playfulness is transformed into blind rage by the end as he has been pushed to the limit and it all explodes in an orgy of violence. Ringo Lam knows how to get a good performance out of Chow Yun-Fat. They’ve collaborated in several movies over the years. Tony Leung also pulls in a fine performance as the vulnerable Yiu. You really feel for him when he attempts to kill himself. Roy Cheung plays the vicious warden who kills several inmates by whacking them across their heads with his truncheon.

This is an excellent movie by Ringo Lam and is definitely one of his best. Coupled with the outstanding performances by the cast, for HK movie fans this is a must-see movie. Don’t miss it.

Sadako’s Rating: 4 stars out of 5

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Shirome (2010)

Shirome dvd

The female idol group Momoiro Clover are asked to take part in an experiment which revolves around an urban legend deity called Shirome. This deity is supposed to grant a wish to anybody that really wants it to happen but should that person not be sincere about their wish then Shirome will drag their poor unfortunate soul to hell or curse them for the rest of their life. Momoiro Clover have always wanted to appear on the annual New Year’s Eve Kouhaku programme (a Red vs White singing contest) and they will be asked to perform a song and then say their wish to Shirome. The girls will be taken to a secret location unknown to them where they have been told that several people have killed themselves. They have to search for a specific room inside the location and seek out a large butterfly mark which is supposed to show that Shirome is present. Even before they set foot at the location, several strange things begin to happen around them. Cameras taping them are acting up and weird orbs appear. Eventually it is time for them to head off to the location and it is found to be an abandoned school. What will happen to the girls once they go inside the building and will Shirome grant their wish?

If there’s one thing I’ve learnt over the years in watching any J-horror movies starring music idols they’re usually no good and this one unfortunately hasn’t made me change my mind. This is yet another one of those ‘found footage’ horror movies. It’s been said from other sources that Momoiro Clover were unaware that they were being set-up to take part in a fake documentary for this movie but IMO it seemed to me they were ‘in on it’ from the very start. I’m not sure if director Koji Shiraishi is a fan of the group and their management asked him to promote them but I found this to be a poor horror movie. If your idea of a good time is to watch a bunch of teenage girls screaming and crying then fair enough but I was disappointed with it and it’s fair to say this was the worst Koji Shiraishi movie I’ve seen so far. As with my review to Cult, this movie started out promisingly enough but my enthusiasm didn’t last for long. The movie is rather uneventful and it isn’t scary or tense in the least. The storyline is straight forward and to the point. The girls are constantly asked ‘if they are willing to sell their soul to the devil’ for the chance to appear on Kouhaku. Taking part in Kouhaku is a big deal for any music artist in Japan as nearly half the population tunes in for the 4 hour spectacular (though I’d rather watch Downtown’s 24 Hour punishment game which airs at the same time than this!!). Not much happens apart from seeing some orbs floating and some things banging around the girls at the school. There’s one or two creepy moments but on the whole it isn’t a good movie and it gets very tiring by the end. I know I’m criticising the very low budget for the movie but the crude special effects are pathetic to say the least. I’m guessing that Shiraishi’s tactics of baiting the group’s fans to check out the movie helped with the box office takings.

Shirome

Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against Momoiro Clover. I like the girls themselves – they are very sweet and you can’t help but warm to them even though I don’t like their music. They are seen as the next best thing in idols apart from the likes of AKB48, SKE48 etc and their popularity has skyrocketed in the past 2 years. Their acting does leave a lot to be desired and what was the point of having them perform a song twice in the movie (if only to please their fans). It did get annoying hearing them squeal like babies often. At the time of the movie being released, MomoClo (that’s what they’re called in short) weren’t that big of a group. Nothing nasty happens to any of the group during the movie although right at the climax one of the girls seems to be possessed by the spirit of Shirome……until you see what happens next after part of the end credits have been shown.

The only people who are going to enjoy this movie is Momoiro Clover fans. It’s an uninspring J-horror movie if i’m being honest and I wouldn’t recommend it to anybody.

Sadako’s Rating: 1.5 star out of 5

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Clannad (2007)

Clannad_movie dvd

Tomoya Okazaki is a high school student who doesn’t get along with his father since the death of his mother when he was a child and this has affected him. He is moody and sullen and only attends school as he has nothing better to do than hang out with his friend Sunohara. He keeps getting a strange dream that he is alone in an unknown world. One morning on the way to school he meets a girl called Nagisa Furukawa who asks if she can accompany him up the hill to school. He isn’t too bothered about the request and allows her to follow behind him. He discovers that Nagisa is repeating her third year as she was off the previous year due to illness. After meeting her again on the school roof, she tells him that she wants to restart the defunct Drama Club and has prepared some posters featuring some old mascots called The Dango Family. Even though the school council rejects her application and even defaces her posters that she has placed all around the school, due to intervention by school teacher Ms Ibuki the club is allowed to run. However as nobody joins, Tomoya and his friend Yousuke agree to join the club as backstage hands. Nagisa wants to do a soliloquy at the school festival based on a dream she keeps getting (the same one as Tomoya). Tomoya’s relationship with Nagisa deepens as he is introduced to her eccentric family who run a bakery. Will the two of them begin dating?

I watched the Clannad anime series about 5 or 6 years ago and enjoyed it very much but I passed up on the second series (After Story) due to negative comments about it. That was a mistake on my behalf as this movie compresses events in both series down to a 90 min movie. Two different companies have made their own version of Clannad. Kyoto Animation did the anime series whilst Toei did this movie. There are some subtle differences between the two which has divided opinion amongst fans namely the characterisations of the main players but I’ll go on about that in a bit. Surprisingly enough, this movie came out a month before the anime series was aired on Japanese TV (I’m not sure if Toei wanted to get one up on Kyoto Animation?).

clannad screenshot

I’d actually forgotten just how good Clannad really was until I watched this movie but I started to remember a lot as the storyline progressed. This movie concentrates more on the progressing relationship between the 2 main characters instead of spreading it out among the secondary roles in the anime series which wasn’t too bad a thing. What I noticed was how different Nagisa and Tomoya are from their anime counterparts and this is the main bone of contention amongst fans. Tomoya is far more angsty and resistant to Nagisa’s charm and Nagisa herself is far too cheerful and lively. She was quite a shy character in the anime if I remember rightly. As I haven’t seen the Clannad: After Story series I had missed out on the darker aspect of the storyline which is explored in this movie as well. The final episode of Clannad ended with Tomoya confessing his love to Nagisa and this is the point where I stopped watching it. In After Story the story continues after they have graduated high school with the couple marrying and even having a child but there’s a shocking turn of events as Nagisa dies soon after giving birth to their daughter Ushi which leaves Tomoya devastated and spirally into depression for 5 years. Thankfully the movie ends of a happy note reuniting father and daughter again as Tomoya has left Ushi to be raised by Nagisa’s parents. I did feel that the ending of the movie was rather rushed.

The animation is on a par with the anime series. It is crisp and the colours are vibrant. The haunting Dango Family song which was the ED theme for the anime wasn’t in this movie and I was so disappointed with that. Perhaps due to having watched the dubbed version of the movie maybe it wasn’t possible for the translators to create a straight forward English version of the song but the one they came up with isn’t half as good. I’m just wondering if the original song is used in the subbed version of the movie? At least the OP theme is played at the beginning of the movie. Even though I’m sure it was difficult for Toei to try and cram as much of the anime storyline into such a short space of time I think they did a brilliant job. The pacing given the time limitation is pretty good.

On the whole I think the Clannad movie is a worthy alternative take to the 2 anime series but I definitely prefer the series as it offers more character development and time to develop the storyline. I would recommend that anybody wishing to check this out to watch the anime series first before plunging into this movie. I will be aiming to watch After Story very soon. Recommended.

Sadako’s Rating: 4 stars out of 5

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Nobody (1999)

Nobody 1999

Three friends (Taki, Nanbu and Konishi) who work for an advertising agency are relaxing in a bar when they pass comment on 3 well-dressed men sitting close by. The men however have heard their comments and an altercation between the two parties nearly break out. Rather than having a fight, the friends decide to leave the bar. Unfortunately Konishi has left his umbrella in the bar and heads back to retrieve it but who should come out of the lift that goes up to the bar but the well-dressed men who gives a severe beating to Konishi before disappearing into the night. Vowing revenge, they return back to the bar the next night but the men don’t show up. A week goes by and the trio are walking back home through an alley when they come across one of the men. Payback is sweet as they beat him into unconsciousness. Worrying that they might have killed the man, they scour the newspapers but find nothing. Then they start to get strange phone calls saying that the beaten up man did indeed die. Taunting the trio that it isn’t over between them yet, things start to spiral out of control as the mysterious men begin a campaign of intimidation against them. But who exactly are these men – yakuza, salarymen or the police?

This is a fast paced and suspenseful thriller that for the most part delivers on excitement and machismo. Just a shame though that the plot falls apart in the final 5 mins which makes you wonder just what the hell you’ve been watching. It starts off though as a typical revenge movie as our 3 flawed heroes are menaced at every turn by the bad guys – either taunted by phone call or followed by car. It’s then you begin to ask questions about the plot as there are so many holes in it – how are the two surviving villains able to contact the trio? Is there somebody passing information about them on to the baddies? I was happy enough to let stuff like that slide until the twist at the climax which was so ridiculously far-fetched that it falls into b-movie territory and makes a mockery of what has taken place before it. Taki is back to square one again with nothing being resolved.

Nobody 1999 screenshot

I liked how the villains make a point of using the ‘divide and conquer’ routine with the trio. Konishi who was the first to be attacked by them does a silly thing of agreeing to meet up with them at a restaurant. Expecting to talk and end the bad blood between them, he is unfortunately knifed to death whilst on the phone at the restaurant. They then turn their attention to Nambu who meets a grisly end after being followed by a car so the only person left is Taki who has his hands full after betraying his girlfriend on a one night stand with a beautiful woman he meets who is on a shoot with his company. But is this woman all she’s cracked up to be or does she have a hidden agenda? Well I won’t spoil that for you!

The movie is high on mood and atmosphere and it’s been shot extremely well especially the night time scenes. There’s an 80’s feel to the movie even though it was filmed in 1999. The tense storyline does have several violent scenes with a dash of blood as well. The acting isn’t special at all – I’m not criticising Riki Takeuchi, Masaya Koto or Hideo Nakano by that statement. It’s just that nothing stands out from their performance. Character development is minimal.

This isn’t too bad of a movie and it does have some good parts but this is a prime example of a story that relies on style rather than substance. It does entertain you and keeps you on your toes as you’re never sure what’s going to happen next but I just wished that there had been a better ending rather than the mess they came up with.

No trailer I’m afraid.

Sadako’s Rating: 3 stars out of 5

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Cult (2013)

Cult poster

Three Japanese TV idols are given the task of investigating a normal residential house whose inhabitants (a mother and her young daughter) are being plagued by strange goings-on. They are not looking forward to doing this task but their management company pushes them to take part. The three girls are joined by a priest before entering the house. He is there to perform an exorcism on the property but he feel that he needs help so he contacts his master to come down. At first things seems to have gone well and the priest’s master is confident that the exorcism has been a success until things start going wrong. The master is attacked and sent to hospital and the young daughter looks to have been possessed by an evil demon. She is found eating her pet dog upstairs. A young shaman then turns up ready to battle the evil forces at the house. Who or what has taken over the house and can the cocky shaman defeat it?

Director Koji Shiraishi seems to like making horror movies as he’s helmed a number of them over the years. Noroi is probably the best example of his work but other movies like Carved and Occult are very enjoyable as well. I was expecting another cracker with this movie but in the end it just left feeling disappointed and underwhelmed. The major problem with the movie is it just doesn’t what it wants to be – an outright horror or a dark comedy. The story is set up like a Paranormal Activity clone with cameras set up in various rooms in the house and various odd occurrences are picked up by them. It’s obvious our 3 idols are woefully unprepared for what’s about to hit them. To be honest during the first 30 or so minutes I was beginning to like this movie very much. It was tense, scary and exciting but as soon as the young shaman named Neo appears it all falls apart. Various sub-plots are then introduced such as a local cult who are trying to bring a demon God into this world through the evil forces in the house and the mother/daughter who live there are not who they appear to be. The evil in the house is seen to be spreading it’s power outside of the house and is targeting anybody that has tried to interfere with it. It just gets more ridiculous by the time the climax comes around. As things come to a head and the demon finally manifests itself, the movie has descended into no more than a parody of what it started out in the beginning. Was this the director’s intention – who knows?

I know that Koji Shiraishi’s movies are low budget but the special effects in this one is horribly bad. You only have to witness the mutant tentacled dog spirit to see how terrible and embarrassing it looks onscreen. Even the spirits in the house look like CGI floating worms! Surely Shiraishi knew how poor the effects looked so either he didn’t care or didn’t have time to do anything about it so he left them in the movie. He may have gotten away with such effects in previous movies but it really cheapens the whole production here.

Cult screenshot

The acting from the cast is OK I suppose though it gets hammy as the more absurd plot devices come to the fore during the second half. The 3 lovely teen idols (Yu Abiru/Mari Iriki/Mayuko Iwasa) who portray themselves come across as rather sweet and a bit naïve. I can’t say I’ve heard about any of them. Ryosuke Miura is probably the standout as Neo – the shaman with attitude who looks like he’s come straight out of pages from some manga!

I did have high hopes for this movie and it had potential at first to be a frightening spectacle. Unfortunately due to the director not knowing which direction to take, it ends up being a bit of a mess. It finishes on a cliffhanger so I’m not sure if there will be a sequel or not. If there is, there’s got to be a big improvement in all departments. I know that Shiraishi can do a lot better than this.

Sadako’s Rating: 2.5 stars out of 5

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a man once superman

Soo-jung is a television programme maker who decides to quit her job due to her hatred of people and for not being paid for a couple of months but also to save her sanity as her hair is beginning to fall out and she is hearing the voice of the narrator of the fake tear jerker documentaries she produces in her sleep. Taking a small video camera from her workplace and aiming to head for Africa to film some lions and eventually joining her boyfriend in Mongolia, she makes a mistake in falling asleep at a train station. Her bag is snatched by a thief and she gives chase to the culprit. She is almost run over by a truck but she is saved by a strange man in a Hawaiian shirt who gets her bag back as well. When she asks who he is he says he is Superman and his mission is to save the planet. He claims that a bald villain has put a fragment of Kryptonite inside his head which has nullified his powers. Soo-jung thinks the man is a nutjob and arranges for the men in white coats to pick him up. Upon his arrival at the hospital, doctors are amazed to discover that there is something stuck inside his head but what it is they don’t know? Then Soo-jung investigates the man’s background and finds out about his tragic past.

This is a very good and moving tragic comedy drama which tugs at the heartstrings. To those that are familiar with Korean comedy dramas you should know the structure of these kind of movies – the first half will contain all the humour then it gets thrown out of the window during the second half when the heavy stuff gets thrown in the viewer’ faces. It is said that the movie is based on a true story. Anyway, for the first 50 or so minutes the viewer follows Soo-jung as she starts filming this man who thinks he’s Superman going about his business in saving people. To be honest even viewers watching the movie will think he’s a deluded individual who isn’t doing anybody any harm but then you’re hit with who this man really is in that he had a nice happy family and how his world was destroyed in a car accident which claimed his wife and young child. What’s even worse is the viewer sees him desperately trying to save his injured family from the upturned car which is leaking fuel and there are scores of people watching from the sidelines. Nobody lifts a finger to help him. I was appalled that these people were content with watching two people die. The experience changes something inside him. There is also a revelation about what is the root cause of the seizures that come over him all of a sudden. You won’t be surprised to find out that it isn’t kryptonite that’s stuck inside his brain after all. With this movie being about Superman, there are of course plenty of references to the real DC Comics superhero dropped here and there in the script including a scene where the man is day dreaming that he’s Clark Kent working for the Daily Planet.

A man once superman screenshot

Hwang Jung-min is superb as the hero with a heart. He’s an infectious character that you can’t help but you warm to easily especially when you see the joy on his face when he is able to help somebody so you really feel for him when his backstory is finally revealed. As his health becomes worse, the memories of his past that he had kept locked away come back and his personality changes because of it. The happy person who was full of life disappears to be replaced by a distraught individual who has overwhelming feelings of loss and being helpless. He keeps talking about a final mission that he has to fulfil and Soo-jung has no idea what he’s talking about until there’s a terrible fire in an apartment building. A little girl is trapped with no way of escaping until the imaginary Superman appears. Knowing that he failed to save his own family, he feels compelled that this time he won’t let an innocent die and so he dives into the burning building. What happens next I won’t spoil but it’s really sad and heartbreaking though you could see this coming a mile off.  There are sequences where you think the imaginary Superman can really fly and use his powers until you realise they are only in the man’s mind. The aftermath of the fire is a good example where you believe everything has worked out OK but the reality of the situation is completely different. Jeon J-Hyun also pulls off a great performance as Soo-jung. At first she can’t believe what this man is doing but once she finds out his real name and background she warms up to him and she understands the man’s behaviour. They become friends and his empathy is passed on to her. In a way through their interaction with each other, both characters find meaning to their lives especially so with Soo-jung who only cared about herself before.

Overall, this is a brilliant character study of a man that has been deeply affected by a traumatic experience. It’s poignant, sad but also full of hope and the scriptwriter has to be congratulated for coming up with a heart-warming story despite it ending on a downer. Korean cinema at it’s best. Highly recommended.

Sadako’s Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5

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