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Archive for September, 2014

One nite in mongkok

A gang member is killed by a rival during a high speed chase in a car near Mongkok, an area of Hong Kong. A gang war is threatening to break out as the two brothers in charge of the gangs retaliate against each other. One of them hires an assassin to take out his brother. The assassin is an inexperienced young man named Lai Fu. Detective Milo and his team set out to capture Lai Fu before he does the hit by arresting the go-between Liu and his wife in order to get some information about the assassin. In order to save his own skin, Liu gives the location where Lai Fu is staying. However, Lai Fu is cleverer than that and manages to escape before the cops turn up. After saving Dan Dan, a prostitute from being beaten up by her pimp, she offers to be his tour guide in Mongkok for money. Lai Fu isn’t in Mongkok just to do a job as an assassin, he also wants to find his girlfriend Sue. Milo orders the police to tear down every bar, club and massage parlour in order to capture Lai Fu but he and Dan Dan once again are successful in evading them. However, the net is closing on the pair. Will the police eventually manage to arrest Lai Fu or will he be able to escape yet again?

This fantastic award-winning crime drama directed by the great Derek Yee is set in Mongkok, the most densely populated area on the planet. It’s a vibrant place full of shops and bars but a couple of unsavoury incidents did take place there between 2008-10 when plastic bottles full of corrosive liquid were hurled on shoppers from tall buildings. The story does not take place during one night but over several days and deals with people working in the seedier side of life such as pimps, assassins, prostitutes and triad gang members. It’s not your typical assassin movie. The main characters in the movie are Lai Fu and Dan Dan whose meeting starts off a chain of events that will end in tragedy. All of the characters that the viewer is introduced have their fates intertwined with each other. There’s a grittiness attached to the plot which director Yee exploits to the full. He also shows the viewer how beautiful Mongkok looks at night with all its neon lights. It succeeds in displaying a part of Hong Kong you might not be familiar with and the dark underbelly that exists there. The camerawork used by Yee is fantastic. As well as our two main characters, a lot of focus is on the police team under Detective Milo who are pissed off at having to work during Christmas Eve when the majority want to go home to their families.  A naïve rookie joins their ranks and unexpectedly manages to get himself into a lot of trouble during a raid on an apartment to capture Lai Fu in which he kills an unarmed man. Milo went through a similar experience when he was younger and it has haunted him since. However, lady luck is on the police’s side and the team manage to come away with their noses clean after finding some drugs in the dead man’s place. It’s interesting to see the prickly relationship between the veteran Milo and the eager and cocky new recruit. During the second half of the movie things get really tense as the net closes on Lai Fu with Milo relentlessly pursuing all avenues to get his man. Don’t expect to see a happy ending (not that I thought that was going to happen anyway) as the plot goes dark and events get bloody and brutal.

one nite in mongkok 2004

Daniel Wu and Cecilia Cheung are excellent in their roles as Lai Fu and Dan Dan and have great chemistry together. It’s good that Yee doesn’t go down the route of having the pair fall in love. There are hints that perhaps they do like each other but it never goes any further than that. Both characters share a common bond having come from the same area of China and being from poor families. I’ve never been a fan of Daniel Wu in the past. I think his acting skills are rather limited but he does a good job here as the shy and inexperienced assassin. It might be the best performance I’ve seen from him. Lai Fu is not what you would call a typical cold-hearted killer either and the viewer will feel some sympathy towards him. It’s heartbreaking to watch when he finds out that his girlfriend Sue may be a prostitute even though he is adamant she isn’t and when he discovers her face in a local paper and that she’s been involved in a car accident (she was a passenger in the car during the high speed chase at the beginning of the movie and has been badly burned after the car caught fire). Lai Fu might look weedy to some but he can take care of himself and proves to be handy with his fists even though he does get beaten up very badly near the climax. Lai Fu’s face is a mask of crimson after Dan Dan’s boss extracts revenge on him by smashing his head repeatedly on a brass door handle. I really liked how Yee linked the tragic events at the climax involving Lai Fu with the life ebbing away from the badly burned Sue at hospital.

A big part of why I wanted to watch this movie was because of the lovely Cecilia Cheung. She was amazing in the movie Failan and she pulls off another great performance here. Although her character of Dan Dan might seem on the surface to be a likeable woman, she is not averse to stealing money from Lai Fu’s rucksack after he takes off after a man who steals her bag. Lai Fu does find his money in her bag but does nothing about it and lets her keep it. Some people might say that Cheung’s prostitute is just too beautiful but I’m not complaining. I’ve read that her voice has been dubbed over as she couldn’t speak Mandarin properly. Alex Fong is also superb as Milo who’s a worthwhile adversary for Lai Fu with the rest of the supporting cast performing well.

One Nite In Mongkok is a very well made movie with an engaging and thrilling plot, well drawn out characters and it has tons of atmosphere. I found it to be extremely entertaining and would recommend it to HK movie fans.

Sadako’s Rating: 4 stars out of 5

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Shady (2012)

shady-dvd-case

Risa is a slightly chubby teenage girl with no friends at school. She is constantly bullied by a pack of girls led by Marisa who calls her “Pooh-san” as her surname is Kumada (Kuma means bear in Japanese). She becomes surprised when one of the cutest girls at her school Izumi wants to become friends with her. Izumi’s explanation is all the other girls are jealous of her looks. So the two outsiders hook up and become friends. As a result of Izumi’s friendship, Risa self-esteen grows and two become close. However, Risa soon starts to suspect that something is not quite right with Izumi and her false smile as she constantly wants to be around her. Even her feeding of the science room goldfish and her pet budgie at home are relegated to the back burner such is Izumi’s need for her attention. What Risa discovers about Izumi is the stuff of nightmares……..

This superb debut feature from director Ryohei Watanabe (who also wrote the script) is a very deceiving movie on the surface. The plot starts out innocently enough and perfectly captures a genuine friendship between two outsiders at school who find solace in each other. The two girls soon spend all of their time together with the friendship slowly but surely beginning to turn very intimate between them. The viewer is made aware early on that something is not quite right with Izumi but it’s hard to point out what exactly that is until the nightmarish reality is revealed during the second half. The subtle hints of the darkness that’s to come are there for all to see: the missing classmate of both girls, why is Izumi living alone in a big house and where are her parents? The movie asks the questions: how well do we really know our friends? Is any of them hiding a dark secret you know nothing about?

shady-screenshot

A big part of why this movie works so well is due to the incredible acting by the two leads in mimpi and Izumi Okamura. Their portrayal of two vulnerable individuals with an unhealthy relationship is superb and believable. Okamura is chilling as the psychotic schoolgirl. I was very impressed by her. mimpi is also brilliant as the girl whose demeanour changes due to her friendship with Izumi and it will be easy to sympathise with her given that the majority of us will have seen something similar happen during our time at high school. It’s true that having a friend boosts our confidence. The director must also be congratulated for the way he builds up this movie into such a nerve shredding experience. He takes things slowly revealing layers little by little until the full horror of the situation is unveiled. By the time the climax has come around you are literally on the edge of your seat and chewing your fingernails! The scares that come are thrust upon the viewer when you least expect them. It’s brilliant the way he twists what is initially an ordinary friendship tale between two girls into a terrifying psychological drama and this is due to his skill also as a scriptwriter. Watanabe has penned a taut storyline and the pacing of the movie is perfect. Even the camera angles and the colours used in this movie is fantastic. This movie has been universally praised in nearly all film festivals it’s been shown. You wouldn’t think that Watanabe was a newbie director as he’s handled everything like a veteran filmmaker.

Shady is an incredibly gripping and disturbing teenage drama about the sinister side of friendship from a promising new director. It’s a great start to his career and bodes well for the future. I look forward to Watanabe’s next project and hope it’ll be just as good as this movie. Highly recommended.

Sadako’s Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5

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Windaria (1986)

Windaria dvd

Aka Once Upon A Time

Set in a country which is dominated by a huge tree are 2 kingdoms named Isa and Paro. The two have kept a truce between them for a long time but the war-monger Paro kingdom is ready to launch an attack on Isa. Stuck in the middle of the two lies a small village of Saki. A young couple (Isu and Marin) live in the village. Whilst Marin is a quietly spoken woman, Isu is a dreamer who is looking to be a hero. He saves Isa from being flooded after a spy from Paro opens a floodgate. During a trip back to Saki, Isu is tempted by a high ranking official from Paro to work for them. The man promises Isu fame and fortune. As tensions start to increase between Isa and Paro, this creates a problem for Isa’s young princess Ahnas who is in a relationship with Paro’s Prince Jill. Paro’s king orders a full scale attack on Isa and the odds do not look good for them as they have no weapons apart from bow and arrows whilst the technologically advanced nation of Paro have guns and tanks. This attack pits Prince Jill against his fiancée Princess Ahnas. With Isu’s help, Paro is victorious in their battle. He forgets about Marin who is patiently waiting for his return. Isu is happy to party away in Paro after he is rewarded. Unfortunately for him, this lifestyle is about to be cut short after the Paro Royal family grow tired of his antics and plan to have him killed.

This grim and depressing anime movie was one I’d never heard about until recently. I don’t think it’s a well-known anime over here in the West. It’s a story about how futile war is and that nobody wins in the end. It involves characters who have a lust for power, greed for glory and commit adultery. The plot shares a lot with the tragic tale of Romeo and Juliet. The story is told from the viewpoint of 2 couples and a woman Druid who longs to see her lover again after 10 long years. He pilots what is known as a Ghost Ship where the souls of people that have died take their place. The main character is a poor young farmer Isu who dreams of being a hero in order to gain fame and fortune. He starts out as being a likeable but slightly egotistical character especially when he saves Isa from being flooded. However, Isu sells his soul to the kingdom of Paro for his own gain but pays a terrible price for his actions as he betrays not only his wife but destroys the kingdom of Isa and kills innocent people in the process. I found it to be quite a moving tale and certain viewers I’m sure will shed a tear or two by the time the end credits come round.

Windaria screenshot

Comparison of this movie with some of those produced by Studio Ghibli will be inevitable as they share the same anti-war and environmental themes but that’s where it ends. Unlike the family friendly Miyazaki movies of Ghibli, this has no happy ending. There are very few characters you truly like – probably the one you can sympathise best is Marin who is faithful to the end for Isu even when he forgets about her and is happy to fool about with other women at the Royal palace at Paro. It takes an assassination attempt by his female helper to make him come to his senses and he realizes after surveying the destroyed kingdom of Isa what he has done. The sad tale of Prince Jill and Princess Ahnas doesn’t have a joyous ending either. These star crossed lovers inevitably clash with each other on the battlefield as both take over their respective kingdoms after Jill kills his own father and Ahnas’ mother dies. Neither ruler wants to fight but they won’t back down either as it’ll be shown to be a sign of weakness. Ahnas decides that as both nations are at war that death will be the only way for them to be with each other. She stabs Jill to death whilst she shoots herself in the head with Jill’s pistol on a tranquil bridge in the middle of a forest. Thankfully there is a small chink of light right at the very end of the movie so that the story doesn’t completely end on a downer.

The old school style of animation might not appeal to many current anime fans but I’ve always said there’s a certain kind of charm in these 80’s movies so I enjoy them. There’s no point in criticising the style and how the character movements aren’t as fluid as now because technology wasn’t on the animators’ side back then.  What you cannot argue about is how well thought out, dramatic and believable the story is and how you become hooked into the storyline. You begin to feel emotions (be it sadness or anger) towards certain characters. I know I felt anger towards Isu for being so stupid as to betray his lovely wife. The wonderful soundtrack by Satoshi Kadokura is a joy to listen to and captures the mood of the doom laden storyline perfectly.

Windaria is a very good anime with its classic story of tragic romance and political intrigue. It’s unavailable on DVD (apart from an Italian language dub) at the moment though you can see it online. Be sure to catch the original Japanese version and not the English dubbed one as quite a number of cuts have been made to soften the plot and make it more kid friendly. Recommended.

Sadako’s Rating: 4 stars out of 5.

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Code of the forgotten eight poster

Shino is an assassin who has been through it all. After dispatching the latest bounty hunters that are after his head, he decides that enough is enough. Tired of all the bloodshed and violence he has witnessed, he wants to end it all and tries to commit suicide. He plunges from a bridge into the water below hoping that death will take him but unfortunately it doesn’t. When he wakes up he finds himself surrounded by 2 naked women who are trying to warm up his body. He has been rescued by the Bohachi, a clan who live their lives without any morals or ethics. They say they are ‘beasts wearing human skin’. They kidnap women, forcing them into prostitution until they become assassins. The clan asks Shino to join them as they deem him to behave like one of them. They give Shino a task to prove himself and it involves him having to close illegal prostitution dens that have sprung up. Shino is only too happy to aid the Bohachi but as he’s about to find out, if he doesn’t comply with them they will not hesitate but try and kill him after he refuses to have sex with one of the clan’s leading prostitute. Will Shino manage to survive the deadly attacks by the clan on him?

This is a fantastic exploitation movie by Teruo Ishii which is full of bloodshed and naked flesh. Ishii was probably one of the best imaginative directors in Japan and his exploitation movies from the 60’s/70’s when he was at his peak is regarded by some as his most defining work. Team him up with manga writer Kazuo Koike who created Lone Wolf & Cub amongst others and you had a match made in heaven. This movie shows how good he was at turning a genre on its head as what we have here is a period drama where he takes no notice of the usual boundaries for this type of movie. He does whatever he wants by including copious amount of nudity, sex and blood. You’ve got to admire the guy for being such a maverick and able to use the limited budget he had at his disposal to create such a cool movie as this one. By doing this he stood out from other directors. As controversial as some of his movies tended to be, nobody could argue that they were dull.

code of the forgotten eight screenshot

Code of the Forgotten Eight is an exploitation fans wet dream in which Ishii gives them everything they want from whippings and women being raped and that’s just for starters! Most of the female cast are completely nude for most of the movie and the OTT violent scenes means that blood is sprayed about like there’s no tomorrow! It is definitely not as nasty as his other works such as Joy Of Torture which was really brutal. You could say this movie is like an adult manga that’s come to life. The debauched story is helped by the presence of stony-faced Tetsuro Tamba as the anti-hero Shino who carries the movie on his own. He’s a bad-ass character who seems to be invincible as he takes care of anybody that tries to kill him but he is also a man tired of living a life full of killing. As he says near the beginning of the movie “to die is hell but to live is also hell”. His skill in using a sword is second to none. You don’t seem to know whether he’s straddling the line between good and evil and he just looks menacing. The story leads to an incredible finale as Shino goes up against a small army. Does he survive – well you’ll just have to watch this movie!!

Bloody, off-the-wall and containing more skin from the sexy female cast than a lot of exploitation movies, this is certain to offend some people but if you’re in the mood for some escapist fun I’m sure you’ll enjoy this tale. I certainly did.

Sadako’s Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

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Tales of the unusual

Tales of the Unusual is a 4 story anthology movie which are linked by a group of people stuck together at a train station during a heavy rainstorm. A creepy man in a black suit and sun glasses played by Japanese TV legend Tamori recounts stories to the group. The stories are:

ONE SNOWY NIGHT – a plane crashes in terrible weather on a snowy mountain. Only 5 manage to survive the ordeal with one female Mari having broken her leg. They decide to leave the confines of the plane as it is likely to fall off the mountain but having to carry Mari proves to be a hindrance to them. The best course of action is to make a bivouac and cover her with snow before the rest try and find shelter. They find a hut nearby and make a fire in order to keep warm. When the survivors go back to Mari they find she has tried to dig herself out with her head popping out of the snow. In trying to get her body out of the snow with a shovel they accidentally kill her. Back at the hut, the survivors are picked off one by one until only Mari’s friend is left alive. Has Mari’s vengeful spirit come back to get revenge?

SAMURAI CELLULAR – Oishi is a samurai chief clan in 18th century Japan who is a bit of a coward. Instead of leading his clan against his enemy Kira who killed his master, he prefers to fool about in bed with his mistress. One day whilst walking down a path he hears a mysterious ringing from a small silver box. Poking it with his sword, he hears a voice coming from it. He begins to talk to the voice who tells Oishi that he is from 300 years in the future and he wants confirmation from him if certain historical events are true. The voice tells Oishi that he is a famous Japanese person and that he will lead his clan into battle and become victorious even though he is a coward. Will Oishi do as history says he will do?

CHESS – Chess champion Akira Kato loses his crown to the computer Super Blue. This loss forces Akira to disappear from the chess competing circuit for a number of years. A rich businessman seeks out Akira and forces him to play a game of chess against him but this is a game with a difference. All the moves he makes on the chess board are real and involve real people who will be sacrificed which includes Akira’s wife. Can Akira win the game?

MARRIAGE SIMULATOR – Yuichi and Haru are a couple that met outside a cinema under a year ago and now they are planning the next step in their relationship by getting married. A wedding company has an offer in which the couple can try out a wedding VR simulator in which they are hooked up to a machine that can show them how their marriage pans out in the future. The simulator does not turn out as planned for the couple and it shows the two eventually getting divorced. After seeing this, they decide to cancel the wedding and break up. Sometime later they find out that they still love each other and become a couple once more…..until they wake up and discover they were still playing the wedding simulator.

Tales of the unusual screenshot

This is a spin-off movie from a TV series of the same name that was shown on Japanese TV – it is similar in tone to The Twilight Zone. It’s very rare for an anthology movie to have all stories that are strong and there’s usually got to be a weak one involved and this one is no different. The stories are really diverse encompassing 4 genres (horror, comedy, psychological drama and romance) so if you’re somebody expecting to see just horror stories then you will be disappointed. It makes for great viewing because of that as it should appeal to people across the board. Each creative tale directed by 4 different directors lasts 30 mins and they are completely unrelated.

The ones that I enjoyed the most was stories 1 and 2 with 3 being the one that didn’t do a lot for me. Story 1 is a brilliant horror tale of 4 people trapped in a hut during a blizzard after a plane crash. It’s effective in being really creepy and it even parodies The Blair Witch Project in one scene. There’s not a lot of blood involved but it does deliver in scares. The second story is more of a comedy tale than anything else. I did find it rather amusing with the character of Oishi being coerced by the person from the future on the mobile phone in carrying out certain actions that follow historical events and that his character does actually change because of this interaction. It is through this interaction that Oishi becomes the man that people in the future will remember him. There’s a bit of a twist right at the end of the story which I really found interesting. I’m not going to say what it is as I don’t want to spoil it for anybody but it was really clever. I don’t want to say a lot about story 3 as I found it to be a bit dull and uninteresting although I am sure some people will like it. The only thing I did like about it was the life sized recreation of a chess board. The last story about the couple has a good concept behind it. It’s rather sweet and touching. I was glad that things worked out for the pair by the time the story finished. As far as the Storyteller that links the stories is concerned, there’s no explanation where he comes from. He just appears all of a sudden with a creepy smile on his face. I’m not sure if he’s an employee of the train station whose job it is to entertain people with his stories if they find themselves having to stay there for a while? I thought there might have been a twist involving the Storyteller at the end but nothing happened.

Overall, I found this movie to be a bit of a pleasant surprise as I was really expecting this to be something akin to Creepshow (i.e horror stories). Those wishing to see a slick Japanese slant on The Twilight Zone will enjoy it. Definitely worth your while in checking out.

Sadako’s Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

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Puella madoka rebellion poster

Following on from the events of the first 2 movies: Homura, Madoka and the other girls are still fighting witches and attending school in Mitakihara City. Things however are slightly different and Homura is aware that something is amiss. The witch that killed Mami is now one of her friends, the rest of the magical girls don’t remember certain parts of their memories and Sayaka is able to control her Witch form. It’s discovered that the girls are trapped inside a barrier after Homura has not been able to transform from a magical girl into a witch by the Incubators. She has reproduced the city that she lives within this barrier and dragged her friends inside it. Can Madoka save her friends?

The 3rd and final movie in the Puella Magi Madoka Magica trilogy has divided opinion amongst fans especially those who watched the anime series and thought it ended perfectly (I can’t comment about that as I’ve never seen it). The creators behind the movies could have finished everything after the previous one and left it at that but it’s obvious that they wanted to finish everything with a bang and they came up with this story. The first hour of the anime is a little bit confusing seeing as how everybody is alive once more but if you remember during the last movie Madoka created the world in her image after she transformed into being a deity so it’s only natural that she would want the entire magical girl gang together with her. It’s only after you start noticing that Mami is friends with her killer (a witch named Bebe) that you begin to think that something isn’t right in this world. Also it’s like the story has turned into a generic magical girl movie with all the pretty transformation sequences, cute mascots and teamwork between the girls into defeating their enemies but this is also something to show the viewer how skewered this world is. It leaves you wondering if it’s a dream. It’s all part of Kyubey’s master plan where the world that Madoka created will be reverted back to its original state so that the Incubators can harness energy from witches once more and due to this nefarious plan it’s enough to change Homura forever.

Puella madoka rebellion screenshot

I really enjoyed the development of Homura during this movie and how there’s a big swerve involving her near the climax. Thanks to Kyubey’s interference in Madoka’s world, it has resulted in Homura being driven by grief and despair to turn into an evil deity (something the Incubators hoped would happen). Whilst Madoka was perfectly happy to give up everything and become a deity in order to save humanity and make the world a better place, the same cannot be said of Homura who is doing everything for own selfish needs, that is she’s not doing anything to help out the other magical girls but for Madoka’s love which she doesn’t want to share with anybody. Madoka and Homura may be deities but on the opposite end of the spectrum (Madoka’s is more of an Angel to Homura’s Demon). There’s a big fight between Homura and her former friends. They are reluctant to battle her but they have no choice but to do so as she has gone too far. I’m of the opinion that Homura isn’t evil but a tragic person that is driven by a love which is somewhat obsessive towards Madoka. Nothing else matters to her. She just wants a life to share forever with Madoka and be damned with everybody else.

Judging by how things end in this movie, I don’t think this storyline is over and there may well be another movie taking place in the future with the hints that the director has given to the press. I’m sure fans of the franchise will also demand another movie. Chances are there will be one and I would love to see it. I think everybody deserves a proper conclusion. I have enjoyed the Puella Magi Madoka trilogy so much. It’s been a thrilling ride watching the 3 movies and I’m sure anime fans will enjoy them as much as I have. Recommended.

Sadako’s Rating: 4 stars out of 5

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