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Archive for October, 2014

ESPY

The International Psychic Power Group are a secret society of people with special mind powers (called ESPY) which is funded by the United Nations. Their aim is to stop evil doers from threatening the peace on this planet. One evil group (Anti-ESPY) has already killed 4 delegates on a train in Switzerland who were on their way to broker a deal between the East and West as tensions are already high which could spill over into a war. The Baltonian (a fictional country) Prime Minister who is over in Japan for a conference with the Japanese PM is next to be killed by this group which is led by a super villain named Ulrov. The good guys recruit a racing driver named Miki who is showing extraordinary psychic abilities and his pet alsatian dog Caesar. These abilities helped Miki from having a crash in his racing car on the circuit track. Miki’s first assignment with his new colleagues Maria and Tamura is to help protect the Baltonian Prime Minister. Will the ESPY group manage to defeat their enemy and prevent WWIII from starting?

This is a cool Japanese cult movie which is part action, part espionage and part sci-fi movie all rolled in one with a teensy bit of exploitation thrown in as well. You could say that this movie is a precursor to the 80’s movie Scanners as it shares similar plot threads. There’s a James Bond movie feel to it as well as the plot goes jet setting over Europe and Japan and features a larger than life super villain who wants to rule the world. The main focus of this movie is not on the newcomer Miki (though it is for a little while) but on the lovers Maria and Tamura who can read each other’s minds perfectly. The psychics in this movie know when danger lurks and can warn one another. They can also use the power of their minds to hurl heavy objects against each other and even stop somebody from pulling the trigger on a gun. Some of the psychics can even use hypnosis and teleportation to their advantage. I’m not sure why director Jun Fukuda wanted to add some sleaze to proceedings when Maria is kidnapped by the bad guys. They lure her lover Tamura to their strip club somewhere in Istanbul, Turkey where he is locked into his seat and forced to watch Maria who is under hypnosis doing a sexy dance in her underwear. If that’s not enough a token foreign black bad guy comes in, rips off Maria’s top exposing her breasts and just when he’s about to kiss her Tamura uses his psychic abilities to tear the black guy’s tongue off!! The violence on display is quite strong as you see people exploding (quite literally!!!).

espy screenshot

The head of the Anti-ESPY group named Ulrov definitely comes from the Bond school of villainry as he hides in a large mansion full of traps for the unwary and has a grudge against mankind. He doesn’t care if WWIII breaks out. Miki’s past comes back to haunt him in the final third after he spends the middle section of the movie moping about after having to kill one of the bad guys and he feels guilty about it. His old childhood friend Julie has sided with the bad guys and wants him dead. She sets a trap for Tamura in his car with a bomb about to explode if he doesn’t get out in 10 mins. Any chance of escape for him looks doomed with the doors and windows locked. Even bullets don’t seem to work but just when you think Tamura is going to die he finds his mojo again (having lost some of his powers after being viciously beaten up earlier in the movie) and he teleports himself out of the vehicle seconds before it’s destroyed. The action scenes are handled pretty well especially the shootouts but I thought the destruction sequences using small models were probably the highlight for myself.

Fans of the Lone Wolf movies can look forward to seeing Tomisaburo Wakayama as Ulrov. He doesn’t cut down anybody with a sword in this movie and his final showdown with the ESPY team is rather short lived. For a character that was portrayed as being a very strong psychic, he’s taken down quite quickly. A far better and more interesting villain is Katsumusa Uchida as a ruthless assassin named Goro. He shows off his skills with a gun in the opening scene of the movie in which he murders 4 UN delegates on the fast moving train from a car by using his psychic abilities. On the good guys side Masao Kusakiri is rather wet as the new recruit Miki who prefers to be in the company of his dog Caesar. The role of the lead ass-kicker in the ESPY team tends to be Hiroshi Fujioka as Tamura. He’s the one that is seen dishing out punches to the bad guys and taking a licking at times as well. The eye candy of the movie is Kaoru Yumi as Maria. There’s something about Yumi that reminds me of Keiko Kitagawa. I did check in case she was a relation of some sort but apparently she isn’t. There are one or two other supporting characters such as the head of the ESPY team and an old Buddhist monk (an advisor to the team) who dies after using up the remainder of his psychic energy to save the team from being killed in an airplane crash after the pilots are hypnotised by Miki’s friend Julie. The trigger of the hypnosis is seeing the aurora borealis.

Overall, this was a fun spy movie with a difference. It has a good pace about it which never lets up so that the viewer won’t get bored. It’s a shame this movie isn’t easily available to Japanese movie fans in the West. I really enjoyed it. Recommended.

Sadako’s Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

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Haunted School

At an elementary school, there is a wing that has been closed off to the staff and pupils with the reason being that it is haunted according to rumours. One day a school girl called Mika follows a beach ball that has a mind of its own into the wing. Hearing the sound of laughter she follows it to an old bathroom and the 3rd toilet stall where she is attacked. Mika’s older brother and her friends decide to go looking for her and enter the wing but find themselves trapped inside when the doors lock behind them. The only option left for them is to venture further in the building and hope they can find a way out and also find Mika. Their school teacher manages to get trapped inside the wing as well and together they must avoid the ghosts that lurk there.

This is the first of a series of movies which was targeted towards Japanese kids/teenagers during the mid to late 90’s and they became very popular at the time. The movie is based on a series of ghost story novels by author Toru Tsunemitsu. It’s a fun and creative adventure romp which reminds the viewer of similar movies that appealed to Western teenagers during the 80’s. I wouldn’t say it’s a particularly scary movie except for perhaps small children.

Haunted School screenshot

It’s more or less a chase movie with the children and their teacher trying to escape from the ghosts they encounter in the school wing. There are some interesting designs for the ghosts/demons from a flying glowing mischievous ghost that sneaks up behind somebody and sticks his tongue out to those that can see him, a 40 foot person whose large feet stomps down the buildings’ hallways and a biology lab specimen in a jar that comes alive. The best one though happens to belong to the school janitor who morphs into a terrifying half human/half demon spider that kidnaps Mika and cocoons her into his web before stuffing her inside a glass cupboard. A reference to the famous Hanako-san legend is made when Mika is kidnapped from a toilet stall although the spirit of Hanako never appears in the movie. There’s a small twist at the end revolving around a schoolgirl that just mysteriously turns up inside the locked old building and joins the gang on their adventure. I sort of had an inkling of what the outcome of this twist was going to be so when it did happen it didn’t surprise me at all.

The young cast members in general perform well in their roles, in fact they do better than the majority of the adults. Hirayama Hideyuki directs this movie competently enough making sure that the ghosts in the story are a little bit scary but not too frightening enough as to give the young audience any nightmares. The story has been written well and the reason for the manifestation of the ghosts is because an old small clay statue has been broken outside the wing. The production values of the movie is quite high so the old fashioned special effects for the spooks aren’t cheaply done. The effects for the upside down room that the gang come across is really good.

Haunted School is a fun movie. It will definitely appeal more to children than adults. I thought it was an enjoyable and entertaining movie and well worth checking out.

Sadako’s Rating: 3 stars out of 5

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SPEC Close Reincarnation

The concluding part to the SPEC movie double bill finds Toma and Sebumi discovering that the Simple Plan virus is nothing more than flu. Whilst it may not be harmful to normal humans, it is deadly to SPEC holders due the difference in their DNA. Professor J, a watery creature who can possess people by merging himself inside his victim goes on a rampage by killing a group of adult SPEC holders being held inside a police hospital and infecting SPEC children with the Simple Plan virus. Toma vows to hunt Professor J down for doing such a thing to innocent children. She plans to use her SPEC abilities not caring that a demon could take full control of her. However, in doing this, she fulfills Fatima’s 3rd prophecy with a plague of black crows being released and a nuclear holocaust starting. Various disasters take place with fiery planes falling from the skies and bullet trains exploding for no reason. The evil council (from the previous movie) is presumed perished from a nuclear bomb that goes off close to Tokyo. Jun and Sekai (the godly duo) reveal that Toma has been designated as Solomon’s Key (this is allegedly a 14th century grimoire which had incantations to revive the spirits of the dead) which will bring about the apocalypse and that Gaia wants mankind to end for being too greedy and materialistic. The Earth will be reset with the world being contaminated with radiation for 2 million years before being reborn once more. However, Toma vows that she will fight the duo’s plan even if it means sacrificing her own life.

A bit of a mixed bag is what I would call this movie with a very strange finish – a typical Japanese ambiguous ending you might say. The first part of the movie starts well enough with Toma bringing about the end of the world with several impressive sequences of various disasters being shown but then the story goes way off course. I found the movie to be a pale imitation of what made the SPEC series so enjoyable with the plot jumping all over the place – there’s talk about Avici Hell (one of the lowest depths of hell in Buddhist beliefs) and of crows appearing that are the souls of previous SPEC holders. Many fans have also complained about the cop-out ending. I’ve no idea what the hell goes on in the final third as Toma is left alone to fight off Jun and Sekai on the rooftop of a skyscraper but when that doesn’t work she asks Sebumi to do what he’s dreading to do – shoot Toma dead as that is the only solution to stop the apocalypse. Seeing Toma’s body being overwhelmed by demons and regurgitating a live crow several times was odd to say the least. She uses whatever energy she has left to try and defeat the demons but she has no choice but to beg Sebumi to kill her. The anguished look on his face says it all. Several dead SPEC holders from the series reappear to help Toma out but they are wiped out by Sekai. Toma eventually absorbs their souls into her body. It was great to see Satori (played by ex-idol Mano Erina) come back to do her quirky routine even though she probably only returned in a move by the filmmakers to please the fan boys. I completely lost the plot when it’s revealed that there is no apocalypse and that it’s all an illusion to confuse Jun and Sekai. I knew after that that any semblance of trying to figure things out was well and truly beyond me.

SPEC Close Reincarnation screenshot

There’s a scene right near the end which has angered many fans and that is after the world has returned back to normal a group of plain clothes policemen enter the rooftop, take one look at Toma’s prone corpse and Sebumi holding a gun and proceed to beat the crap out of him. I find it odd that they don’t ask any questions to him, they just dive right in and shower him with kicks and punches. It just makes no sense whatsoever for these officers to forget protocol and behave like common thugs. Who are they by the way? It is never revealed what happens to Sebumi afterwards – is he beaten to death? Arrested and thrown into jail for killing a fellow officer? Who knows? I really disliked the ending. There’s a hint that perhaps time has been reversed by Toma to the point just before the apocalypse begins. I can only assume that Toma has transcended herself into a god? Another thing which annoyed me is Sebumi is thrown off the skyscraper by Sekai with a wave of his hand. He eventually finds himself being put head first into a children’s sandpit miles away with only his legs sticking out. Any normal human being would never survive but as the viewer has seen before Sebumi seems to be indestructible because back he comes to help Toma out. Why did he have to scale the outside of the skyscraper to make his grand dramatic return instead of taking the stairs inside? There is talk by fans that the final scene shows both Toma and Sebumi alive in an alternate reality.

The two leads do what they can with the mess of a storyline. I can’t fault their acting. There are some wonderful cameos from comedian Dandy Sakano (of the finger pointing GETS game fame) who uses his famous catchphrase to try and stop Professor J early on in the movie in the police hospital. Dandy plays a SPEC holder but he and other adults are soon killed by the Professor in an amusing scene in which he uses Dandy’s catchphrase to wipe them out. Death by GETS!!! For a one trick pony comedian, I’m still surprised that Dandy is getting away with using his famous catchphrase even though the height of the GETS popularity has passed since 7 years ago. He even managed to grab a small slot on Adam & Joe Go Tokyo TV show in 2006 to explain the GETS game to bemused British audiences. Maki Horikita gets a blink or you’ll miss it scene in what is a direct link to the Ataru movie which I recently reviewed. Chiaki Kuriyama also appears for about 5 mins in which she tries to stop Sebumi from shooting Jun. Even though Chiaki’s character gave birth to Jun, it’s obvious she’s not human at all but a mother’s love is strong and she places her body between Jun and Sebumi so that he will not shoot. It doesn’t matter as Sekai grows tired of Jun and accuses her of being a traitor so he gets disposes of Jun and her mother.

It’s such a shame that things fell apart in this movie and I was so looking forward to seeing how things would come together to finish off the storyline. I love the series and the Heaven movie but these 2 movies spoiled everything for me. I’m sure SPEC fans will want to see this movie but be prepared to be disappointed.

I can’t find a trailer for this movie I’m afraid so the trailer from the previous movie will have to make do.

Sadako’s Rating: 3 stars out of 5

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Black Butler (2014)

Black Butler_Live_Action_Poster_001

After seeing the murder of her parents, Shiori Genpo sells her soul to a demon named Sebastian Michaelis who will help her to avenge their deaths. Shiori is a part of a secret force serving the Queen Of The West named The Queen’s Watchdog. They are responsible for stubbing out any criminal elements which are a threat to the Queen. As Shiori’s father ran his own toy company and only males are allowed to inherit his fortune, Shiori has disguised herself as her father’s illegitimate son, taken up the title of Earl and goes by the name of Kiyoharu. Both Kiyoharu and Sebastian have moved into the family’s sprawling estate and mansion which comes complete with a clumsy young maid and other personnel. Kiyoharu and Sebastian are investigating the mysterious mummification of several ambassadors. They narrow their search down to a night club which has organised a special event for certain people. Kiyoharu manages to wrangle herself an invitation to the event but finds her life may be in danger when she discovers what’s really going on.

This live-action adaptation of the popular manga/anime has had a mixed reception amongst fans. Most aren’t happy that the filmmakers haven’t stayed true to the original material. The manga and anime was set in Victorian England but in this movie the timeline has been moved forward to the year 2020 but the biggest gripe of all has been with the character of 12 year old boy Ciel Phantomhive who has been dropped in favour of a 17 year old girl (a descendant of the original Phantomhive family). There’s also a sort of a romantic angle going on between Kiyoharu and Sebastian. I’m guessing the reason for all the changes is to keep the story fresh instead of treading over old ground. Apart from hearing about the anime series, that’s about all I was aware about Black Butler until I watched this movie so I wasn’t sure what to expect. The movie kicks off with a good action sequence which sees Sebastian rescuing Kiyoharu from a human trafficking ring and dispatching all of the bad guys with a butter knife. The movie is fairly dark and involves a plot by an evil organisation to produce a new drug in the shape of a small marble. When the marble is broken and the vapour inside the bottle is inhaled by the person it makes blood comes out of every orifice before the body shrivels up and is mummified. There is an antidote by the evil organization which is only available to them. The movie is a bit of a stop start affair as there are far too many talkie bits just when you think that the movie is about to hit top gear. It hurts the flow of the movie but I guess the filmmakers were trying to drag the running time up to 2 hours. The pace of the movie does quicken near the end which sees Kiyoharu sacrifice herself when a case load of the deadly drug explodes and Sebastian rescues her with the antidote.

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This movie marked the return of actor Hiro Mizushima (best known for being Kamen Rider Kabuto) who had been on hiatus since 2010. He takes the role of Sebastian and performs pretty well in the part of the demon butler especially during his action scenes which are exciting and imaginative. Ayame Goriki does better in this movie than the last one I saw her in (Gatchaman). The verdict is still out whether I consider her to be a good actress or not but I thought she did OK in Black Butler. There’s a weird fascination for Japanese women who enjoy seeing other females dressing up as men (the Takarazaka group for instance) so seeing Goriki disguising herself as a man with an eyepatch will no doubt excite some women even though I don’t think she makes for a convincing man (still looks like a girl to me even with the short hairstyle). That being said, Goriki has a certain charm about her and makes for nice eye candy. The character of Jin the clumsy maid had an unexpected twist to her story though you sorta knew that something was up with her. Near the climax it’s revealed that Jin’s clumsiness is all an act and she reveals her true purpose in the Genpo household. She’s been tasked with protecting the heir of the Genpo empire.  There’s another character whose true intention is hidden throughout most of the movie. Kiyoharu’s Aunt Hanae is supposed to be an ally for her and Sebastian until she betrays Kiyoharu and sides herself with the bad guys. It was quite predictable that was going to happen.

Overall, Black Butler was a decent movie though I wouldn’t say it’s anything special at all. I think it will suit those who have no knowledge of the franchise than hardcore fans. There’s a hint that a sequel might be on the cards seeing that the big boss of the evil organisation is still out there and probably plotting revenge on Kiyoharu and Sebastian.

Sadako’s Rating: 3 stars out of 5

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SPEC-Close-Progress

Toma and Sebumi become involved in a frantic mission to find a virus called Simple Plan which has the power to kill SPEC holders. The pair’s boss Nonomura who knows more than what he’s telling is also on the hunt for the virus as he doesn’t want it to get into the wrong hands – namely a shady council of various people from around the world that want to unleash the virus. Watching the events unfold are a pair of people named Jun and Sekai. Not only do they have SPEC abilities but they seem to have ‘godly’ powers as well. Toma’s SPEC starts to go strange with a demon seemingly taking her over as she tries to contact her dead brother Youta. It kills her grandmother in an explosion at her house and badly burns Toma. Who will be the first to get their hands on the deadly virus – the powers of good or that of the evil council?

This is the first of 2 SPEC movies that was released in November 2013 to conclude the storyline that started off in the last movie ‘Heaven’. Those who have read that review know how much I love the drama SPEC. It’s one of my favourite recent Japanese dramas. Whilst I enjoyed this movie I did find it had some problems with it. The main problem I found with this movie is the storyline now gets a bit too complicated for my liking and introduces too many new characters. There’s just too much going on and instead of giving the viewer a nice simple plot to tie up loose ends it’s very easy to get lost in it all. I know I mentioned this last time as well so apologies if I seem to be repeating myself. The foreshadowing of a war between SPEC holders and the evil council that was hinted before is now also starting to take shape.

Although the series focused on Toma and Sebumi’s investigations, this movie is mostly about their boss Nonomura. He has an important role to play. Throughout the series he’s mostly been seen as a comical figure especially in his May to December relationship with the sexy young female police officer Miyabi. The humourous scenes between the pair doesn’t feature at all here. I don’t want to spoil things for all of you but the only thing I’ll say is Nonomura goes out with a bang (literally) by finding the virus and refusing to hand it over to the bad guys. He mails it instead to Toma and Sebumi. The bad guys might think they’ve got the virus but Nonomura has switched it with some viagra pills instead! I actually didn’t expect what happened to Nonomura to take place so I was a bit shocked. There is another twist in Nonomura’s tale but to say anything about that would be just wrong! In another plot revelation, the viewer finally gets to discover why Toma’s family were all wiped out. It’s something to do with Toma’s father refusing to help the evil Professor J (the man responsible for cloning Toma’s brother Ninomae) with his work. In his anger and to get some kind of payback, Professor J kills Toma’s entire family but why was Toma spared? It isn’t explained unfortunately!

spec-close incarnation screenshot

Another interesting part of the plot involves Toma’s SPEC ability going rogue and turning into a demon when she tries to use it. She even tells Sebumi to kill her if she starts to lose control. Toma’s ability to raise the dead has some side effects in that her powers start to degrade after time with the demon wanting her to turn against humanity. It takes all of Toma’s energy from making sure the demon doesn’t have full control of her. She feels that she can’t help her police colleagues as the risk in Toma using her SPEC ability again is the demon taking more and more control. I did find it a little bit convenient that Toma just happens to know a scientist that can miraculously provide an antidote to the Simple Plan virus. In the previous movie ‘Heaven’, there was talk about how the 3rd Fatima Prophecy would bring about an apocalypse to the world. This scenario rears its ugly head once again but it’s difficult to know what will eventually happen in the final SPEC movie. Will there be a war? Will there an apocalypse? Who knows! There’s a lot of information to take in for SPEC fans like myself!

Apart from the regular cast who are all brilliant as always, it was great to see former AKB48 member Yuko Oshima as Jun, one of a ‘godly’ pair of SPEC holders who are on the sidelines at the moment watching developments taking place between the rest of their kind and the evil council. Yuko’s SPEC character has an odd habit of hiccupping constantly when she’s talking. I found it to be a little bit annoying but I got used it to it eventually. I must stress as I’ve done with several movies that spin-off from TV drama series in that you won’t have a clue as to what is going on if you just dive straight in without having watched the drama series first.

Overall, I was left slightly confused as to what direction the final movie is heading after this one. The plot was rather heavy-handed, not really resolving anything but leaving enough teasers to make the viewer want to find out the inevitable outcome. I felt the script writers had over complicated matters instead of keeping things simple. It was still very entertaining and I’m really looking forward to the conclusion in the next movie. I just hope I won’t be disappointed. Recommended for SPEC drama fans.

Sadako’s Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

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the-golden-bat-poster

A teenage boy Akira who is a keen amateur astronomer finds out that planet Icarus has deviated from it’s normal orbit and is heading for a collision course with the Earth by looking through his telescope. Scientists though don’t believe him. One day he is kidnapped by men in black and taken to a secret institute called The Pearl Research where the people there do believe his story. Founded by a foreigner named Dr Pearl, the institute has built a powerful weapon (Super Destruction Beam Cannon) with the power of 1000 H-bombs that can destroy Icarus before it hits the Earth but they have one vital component missing – a special mineral for the lens. This mineral is found on an island in the Pacific. A team from the institute led by Dr Yamatone along with Akira and Dr Pearl’s granddaughter Emily head for the island and discover the lost city of Atlantis in the process. They are suddenly attacked by a gigantic drill shaped ship piloted by an alien named Nazu. He is the one behind the scheme of wanting Icarus to slam into the Earth as he doesn’t want to share the universe with any human beings. He will do anything to stop the Pearl Research team getting their hands on the mineral. But help is at hand for mankind from a hero has been asleep for 10,000 years at Atlantis and is waiting for the right moment to save the Earth and it’s people.

I’m sure the majority out there are aware of Japanese superheroes such as Ultraman, Kamen Rider and the like but I’m certain not a lot know about Golden Bat. Golden Bat was probably Japan’s first superhero and he was created way back in 1930 by writer Ichiro Suzuki and artist Takeo Nagamatsu. There has been several movies to feature him over the years and he even had an anime series in 1967. Don’t make the mistake that because he’s not talked about in the same breath as the other famous Japanese superheroes named above that he might not be so popular because apparently that isn’t the case. So how can I describe this superhero? Facially he looks like The Red Mask from Captain America, he laughs maniacally, he flies, beats up the bad guys with his baton and does a lot of stupid poses……….as superheroes do!!! He’s also got a pet bat which turns into a pendant. Golden Bat gives this to Emily so whenever she’s in trouble she can call him up with this pendant.

golden bat screenshot

This movie which is targeted towards kids is if I’m being honest rather silly and has a ridiculous villain named Nazu. Basically he looks like a rat with 4 eyes (that can shoot lasers), he has a metal claw for one hand and his costume is just some brown velvet curtains. Looks cheap, tacky and rather hilarious. Just for the look alone you can’t really take him seriously enough! He has a band of lackeys following him (a giggling idiot who enjoys torture and is Nazo’s second in command, a female shapeshifter and a werewolf man) plus some faceless goons dressed all in black. Just like the super sentai and tokusatsu shows of today, these faceless goons are the ones that are sacrificed first whenever their master is in trouble. Even though this movie is short at 73 mins, it packs a lot of action with plenty of fights and confrontations. I’m not sure if the director was inspired by those US serials that were broadcasted during the 30’s and 40’s which had a lot of cliffhanger moments but it somehow feels like one of them. The special effects is hit and miss but I was impressed with one scene which shows Nazo’s drill like tower ship bulldozing it’s way from underground to rise up into Tokyo’s skyline making it look rather threatening. Other visual wonders include a flying car (an idea from Gerry Anderson’s early 60’s Super Car series perhaps?) and a flying submarine similar to Atragon. For a kids movie it is surprisingly violent which shows children being choked by the villains and a scene with human hostages being thrown from a tall tower to their deaths. I’m sure this kind of thing wouldn’t have been shown to Western kids at the time!

Viewers will instantly recognize the face of a young Sonny Chiba in this movie. Back in the day before he became a tough bone-breaking action guy in Japanese movies during the 70’s, he starred in several low budget b-movie productions and this was one of them. Those hoping to see the great man kick some ass with his fists will be disappointed though. He hadn’t adopted that persona just yet, that was still to come. His character is relegated to being a bit part player though as it’s the Golden Bat that’s the main man here. I didn’t expect to see a Western actor have a role in this movie but Andrew Hughes performs as the founder of the Pearl Research Institute and has his lines dubbed into Japanese.

OK, so this movie isn’t going to win any awards for anything but I had a great time watching this fun movie with it’s weird crazy plot and a laughing superhero who hurries headlong into attacking his enemies. If you go into watching this movie with the right mind frame you’ll find it hugely entertaining.

Sadako’s Rating: 3 stars out of 5

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My Way (2011)

My Way poster

During the Japanese occupation of Korea, young Jin Suk and his family begin working for a Japanese farmer. The farmer has a son the same age as Jin Suk by the name of Tatsuo. The two boys share a love of marathon running and soon become bitter rivals as they grow up which culminates in Jin Suk being wrongly disqualified from a qualifying race to appear at the Tokyo Olympics after he has won. Tatsuo is named the winner instead. This act of injustice angers the Korean crowd who start a riot which is quelled by the Japanese soldiers. Jun Sik and the men of the riot are imprisoned and then conscripted into the Japanese army at the start of WWII to fight the Russians. He finds out that the man in charge of his unit is none other than Tatsuo. When the Soviet army attack his unit, he and Tatsuo are captured by them. On arriving at a labour camp, Jun Sik finds an old friend is in charge of them but he finds that his friend has changed for the worse when he betrays a fellow Korean who is then shot. Jun Sik and Tatsuo manage to escape from the Russians but find themselves drafted into the German army just as the Normandy landings are about to take place.

This excellent Korean movie can quite rightly stand alongside many Hollywood blockbusters such is the epic sweeping scope about it. It was all done on a modest $26 million budget – proof that you don’t need to waste over $100 million dollars like Hollywood to make a good movie. I think it was the biggest amount of money ever spent on a Korean movie. It’s directed by Je-Kyu Kang who knows about making good war movies as he was the man who also helmed Taegukgi – Brotherhood Of War (if you like your war movies definitely do not miss this movie). The premise about two Asian men fighting the Allies during D-Day might sound far-fetched on paper until you discover that the movie is actually loosely based on a true story about a Korean man, Yang Kyoungjong, who was forced to fight for the Japanese, Soviet and German army. He was captured in Normandy after the US Army overran the German defences. I loved the idea of a Korean and a Japanese man having their fates tied together from the time they were kids right into adulthood and how their relationship changes over the years from being rivals in marathon running to comrades in arms hoping that they’ll find a way back home.

The blend of war scenes with that of the rivalry between the 2 main characters is perfect. The running time motors along at a brisk pace and before you know it you’re at the breathtaking climax. Even though the movie is over two hours long, it is always interesting and never boring with plenty of incidents taking place although I did find it sometimes ridiculous how things panned out for the two foreigners. Take this scenario in the final third of the movie as Jun Sik and Tatsuo have planned to sneak off the front line in Normandy to catch a boat to go home but just as they’re about to make their escape the Allies start bombarding the Normandy coastline and storm the beaches. The two soldiers are forced to man the heavy guns to repel the American invaders off the beach. There’s a great twist right near the end which I won’t spoil for you and it is quite unexpected.

my way screenshot

The battle scenes in the movie of which there are 3 are well executed, realistic, brutal and intense. One of them has the Soviets attacking the Japanese army by tanks. The Japanese soldiers (some of which are Korean prisoners) with Tatsuo as their commander have been ordered to go on a suicide mission to destroy the tanks. The Normandy beach landings is also exhilarating to watch. It’s as good if not better than Saving Private Ryan with the camera taking you right into the heart of the action. The battle scenes does not shirk from showing the horrors of war. The cinematography is fantastic taking us from the Far East, snowy Siberia and finally to the shores of Northern France. It is spectacular and stunning. The filmmakers couldn’t have picked two better actors to play the two main characters in Dong-gun Jang and Joe Odagiri. They’re the biggest assets this movie has and their performances are faultless. In Joe Odagiri as Tatsuo we see his character begin the movie as an arrogant nasty person who changes over the years into being someone the viewer can warm to.

As this is mostly a testosterone movie, the only female with a small role as a Chinese sniper is Fan BingBing. It’s such a shame she’s not in the movie for long as I liked her character. The only gripe about this movie is it skipped certain things such as how the two men joined the German army. The viewer sees the pair escape from the Russians into the snowy wilderness and the next thing we see is Tatsuo as a German soldier. I would have liked to have seen the circumstances of how the pair became German soldiers.

Overall, My Way is a movie that has it all from superb battle scenes, well developed characters and an incredible story spanning the whole of WWII. It is not to be missed. Highly recommended.

Sadako’s Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5

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