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Archive for November, 2014

Site Update

see you soon

There will be no site updates for the next 2 weeks whilst I go away on holiday to Japan, it’s been a long 2 years since I was last in Tokyo. I am aiming to catch a number of movies whilst I’m over there such as the new Takashi Miike one As The Gods Will and Parasyte. Expect a slew of reviews when I return in early December.

See you when I get back.

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Library Wars (2013)

Library Wars

During the 80’s in an alternate version of Japan, the government creates a task force called the MBC (Media Betterment Committee) which is a military unit that confiscates any books from libraries that contain offensive material. An opposition movement (Library Defense Force) is formed to protect such books and move them to their own libraries. It is now the year 2019 and rookie recruit Ika Kasahara has joined the LDF. She made the decision to join them as when she was younger the MBC tried to roughly take a book she was reading from inside a library but she was rescued by an officer of the LDF. Kasahara wants to meet the ‘Prince’ that rescued her. Tensions reach fever pitch between the MBC and the LDF when the MBC declare that they intend to storm the LDF headquarters to retrieve more books that need to be destroyed. A battle between the two groups is imminent but who will come out on top?

Based on a novel, this is a movie that doesn’t know what it wants to be – an action movie or a romantic comedy. This indecision by the director really hurts this movie. It opens very dramatically with the MBC troops entering a library and massacring the people there. I did think at this point it was going to be an all-action epic but sadly it isn’t although the final 30 mins is a big shootout between the MBC and the LDF. There are shades of Orwell’s 1984 and Fahrenheit 451 in the plotline. You’ve got two military groups with opposing views on censorship laws butting heads against each other. It tries to give a warning about civil liberties being threatened in the future if we’re not careful. Although the action scenes are well done although slow in showing up onscreen, the same cannot be said about the embarrassing comedy and the dire romantic aspect of the movie. The director Shinsuke Sato has said that the censorship aspect of the story is not the main theme for the movie. It’s the romantic will they won’t they tale between Kasahara and Dojo that’s given the honour. Fair enough if you enjoy this kind of thing and I know this movie did very well in Japan with teenagers when it was released but I felt it was too cheesy for my liking and not enough action. The characters are your usual cliched stereotypes. Besides the censorship story doesn’t really go into that much depth anyway although the viewer is given some background knowledge right at the start of the movie of the gradual changes that transformed Japan into a Big Brother society. As for the action scenes which are rather scant until the last 30 mins it’s a case of too little too late. The running time of the movie is over 2 hours long which is a tad too generous for my liking as things tend to drag until the big battle between the MBC and the LDF.

Library Wars screenshot

The first half of the movie revolves around Kasahara’s recruitment to the LDF and the hard physical training she has to endure. Kasahara shows her judo fighting skills in the gym when she manages to pin her fellow recruits until her superior officer Atsushi Dojo (who unbeknown to her is actually the man that saved her all those years ago) puts her in her place. Dojo doesn’t want Kasahara in the team as her reason for joining isn’t good enough (looking for her hero) and she tends to not listen to orders. A subplot involving Kasahara’s female colleague and a man too shy to ask her out felt to me like it was just wasting time. Thankfully things pick up during the second half as a truce agreed between both groups is broken and a full scale assault on the LDF headquarters by the MBC takes place.

Nana Eikura does OK as the lead female Kasahara. I haven’t seen her in anything since 2007 so she looks very grown up (facially and physically) from when I last saw her in the drama Operation Love when she was still a teenager. Junichi Okada plays Dojo, the commanding officer that doesn’t like Kasahara at all and tries to make her quit the LDF. Chiaki Kuriyama has only a small role as Kasahara’s colleague so if you’re one of her fans you’ll be disappointed with the amount of screentime she has. It’s like Chiaki is somewhat moving away from roles that have defined her career so far and taking up comedy roles instead. I don’t have any complaints about that as given the right script she does comedy very well.

Overall, this movie didn’t turn out as I expected it to be. I was hoping for a darker, grittier storyline BUT despite my grumbles I still enjoyed it to a certain degree. Don’t expect any deeper meaning to the plot, after all this is just a popcorn movie.

Sadako’s Rating: 3 stars out of 5

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Three_Against_the_World

Charlie Chan (not that Charlie Chan!) is a detective that is charged with protecting the Koran that is being shown at a museum. There are however people that are interested in stealing this precious artifact such as a top fighter named Ma Ju-Lung and a skilled thief called Cho with his daughter. Chan has to keep one step ahead of the two if he wants to prevent the Koran from being stolen. To complicate matters is the fact that Cho’s other beautiful daughter has fallen for Chan and her loyalty become divided. Before the trio square off against each other, they must join forces against a greater threat to their plans. Who will eventually come out on top?

During the late 80’s and early 90’s. Andy Lau starred in a number of movies – some were memorable, others were not and faded into obscurity. This movie isn’t that well known to Western fans but that’s not to say this movie is bad because it isn’t. It’s a fun action heist/comedy caper which is very entertaining. The Westernised title is rubbish to begin with as it’s not the three people teaming up to take on the world, it should be more like Three Against Each Other which is more in line with the plot. I think the proper English translation is something like Dragon Trio Fight Over Treasure. I wouldn’t say the movie is one of Lau’s best at all but there’s more than enough to entertain his fans over 90 mins. Lau is backed by a great cast such as the beautiful Rosamund Kwan, Teddy Robin and martial artist Tsui Siu Keung.

Three-Against-the-World screenshot

I believe the lavish sets and costumes for this movie were rehashed from when Jackie Chan was filming Miracles: The Canton Godfather so production values are quite high. This isn’t an all-action martial arts spectacular although the last 15 or so mins has many impressive set pieces. The fight choreography is by Yuen Wah so at least the viewer will know that his standards are usually pretty good. The story is light in tone and although it isn’t a laugh-out-loud movie there are plenty of amusing moments to make the viewer chuckle. Andy Lau also gets to take part in a bizarre piano duet with his co-star Teddy Robin half way through the movie although I’m sure the lyrics have been mistranslated as they sound stupid. It doesn’t really serve any purpose other than to showcase Lau’s talent as a singer. Double crosses and even triple crosses is the order of the day as each party tries to get the upper hand in trying to get the Koran although most times Charlie Chan has a trick up his sleeve to foil the would-be thieves. It does get a little bit ridiculous and tedious during the second half of the movie as a number of fake Korans are bandied around the characters as red herrings so you don’t have a clue who has the real one. Where the characters have gotten their hands on these fake Korans is never explained? Are they being sold at a local market and anybody can buy them??

Andy Lau is great as Charlie Chan who as well as being likeable is a bit of a charming rogue with the ladies. Although Lau isn’t what people would call a martial artist he does get a chance to show the limited skills he has as a fighter. I’ve always had a soft spot for Rosamund Kwan and I enjoyed seeing her in this movie. She’s absent for the majority of the first half although you get glimpses of her. It’s in the second half she comes to the fore and takes more of an active role in the storyline. Teddy Robin surprises everybody as the character Cho during the climax. Teddy Robin isn’t that tall (not sure if you can call him a midget?) but when you see him take on Andy Lau and Tsui Siu Keung and actually gain the upper hand against the pair it’s incredible to see. The only mistake the filmmakers do is that Teddy Robin’s stunt double is noticeably taller than him and you will notice the height difference during the fight!! I got the impression that the whole cast had a ball whilst filming this movie and it shows in their performances.

Three Against The World might not be Andy Lau’s crowning glory in his glittering movie career but if you’re one of his fans you should not pass this opportunity up of watching this movie. The mix of comedy and martial arts works well and I found it a lot of fun.

No trailer but here’s an action scene from the movie

Sadako’s Rating: 3 stars out of 5

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Her Vengeance (1988)

her vengeance vcd

Chieh Ying is a female employee at a Moulin Rouge type nightclub in Macao when 5 drunken men come inside and start making a nuisance of themselves. Security finally persuades them to leave the establishment but they aren’t happy and blame the woman for their eviction. Chieh Ying finishes her shift for the night and walks off home but she is followed by the same men. She is grabbed and then dragged into a cemetery where they violently gang rape her. They eventually leave after having their fun by walking away laughing and in the process giving her a dose of a sexually transmitted disease. After arriving home in which she shares with her blind sister, she confesses what has taken place. Her sister convinces her that she must have her revenge and kill them all as the men were also responsible for the death of their father. Chieh Ying agrees to go to Hong Kong where the 5 men live and contacts her sister’s ex-husband, a bar owner who is now crippled in a wheelchair. It seems these men were responsible for blinding the sister and severly injuring her husband. He gives her a job in the bar but will not help her in her quest for vengeance. Chieh Ying finally sees one of her attackers one day and her plan for revenge begins…………………

This is a particularly nasty HK Cat III movie which is as brutal, unrelenting and bleak as it comes. It’s a movie full of despair, hate, blood and darkness. There’s no humour or a happy ending – just a full on visceral movie of a woman on a mission to avenge herself and her family. There are apparently 2 versions of this movie out: one has the gore and nudity scenes cut out whilst the other (the uncut edition) has everything in it. I’m reviewing the full uncut version here.

Directed by Ngai Kam Lam, the man who helmed the ultra gory and OTT movie The Story Of Ricky, I think it’s fair to say that this movie isn’t easy to watch especially the harrowing rape scene and the revenge attacks that follow. It follows a similar plotline to I Spit On Your Grave in which a young woman turns the tables on her attackers. The perpetrators of the horrific rape incident are a vile bunch of individuals that deserve what’s coming to them and the devious graphic acts that Chieh Ying use to extract her revenge makes for gripping viewing. You have to feel sorry for the character of Chieh Ying as not only does she have to go through such an ordeal but when she goes to a completely unsympathetic doctor to treat her STD he says she has AIDS (which she doesn’t have) and that her hair will fall out and her breasts will shrink. The rape incident leaves the old Chieh Ying dead and what emerges is a cold and calculating person whose only motive for living is to kill her attackers. Chieh Ying lures her first victim into a false sense of security as he thinks he’s going to get his wicked way with her inside his car. She asks him if he remembers raping her but he doesn’t and when the time is right she manages to tie him up in his seat with rope, grab a pair of scissors she’s hidden away, cuts one of his ear’s off (a-la Reservoir Dogs) and taunting him at the same time ‘do you remember me now!’ before choking him to death with the rope.

HerVengeance screenshot

Things don’t go exactly as planned for Chieh Yang’s next victim as she throws acid on his face and tries to stab him in the gut. Unfortunately he manages to escape the attempt on his life and he now knows that Chieh Ying is after the rest of the gang. If you thought that things couldn’t get any more violent and bloody you’re in for more shocks as Chieh Yang uses a hatchet and a sharpened iron rod to dispatch two more of her attackers which leaves two men left. In order to lure Chieh Yang out, they pay a visit to her blind sister’s apartment at night. She throws herself from the apartment balcony to her death rather than being subjected to the same ordeal as her elder sister. When Chieh Yang’s crippled ex-brother in law finally decides he must have his revenge on the two men, things are headed for a gory finale in his bar with a number of traps set up and all 4 people determined to kill each other.

Pauline Wong is brilliant as the vengeful woman Chieh Ying. She captures the hate she has for her attackers through her eyes. For a change, Lam Ching Ying gets to play somebody who isn’t a priest of some sort. He gets a chance to sink his teeth into a meaty role as a cripple who despite being stuck in a wheelchair shows the viewer that he can still take care of troublemakers in his bar by the power of his hands. The viewer will instantly grow to dislike the group of 5 men who attack Chieh Ying. There’s no explanation as to why her family were attacked by these same individuals in the past. I really like the colours that the director uses for several scenes e.g the rape scene is bathed in a blueish tint that really makes the horrible act even stronger and harsh. The cinematography is definitely one of the highlights of this movie. Be aware that when I say this movie is graphic I really mean it. There’s no holding back on anything so please stay away if you cannot stomach extreme acts of violence.

Even though this is such a grim movie, I thought it was really well made with fine performances from the cast. If the storyline sounds like your cup of tea then seek this gem out even though finding the full uncut version is really difficult. Recommended.

Sadako’s Rating: 4 stars out of 5

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magic-cop-dvd

In a small rural village, a man (Uncle Fung) who banishes demons for a living and uses old Taoist methods lives there with his beautiful niece. A dead young girl in the village becomes a zombie and it is only through considerable effort she is stopped as even a bullet in the leg does not do anything to halt her. It is found she has been injected with a drug that makes her seem invincible. The man along with his niece heads to Hong Kong to find out who is supplying the drugs. He teams up with 2 police detectives who are only too keen to help him out as both have taken a shine to his niece. They discover that the zombie girl was in fact a drugs mule and soon the trail leads them to a powerful Japanese evil witch who is behind the drugs and using dead people as drugs couriers. Can they defeat the witch who has an endless supply of magical spells at her disposal?

Wrongly advertised in some quarters as the fifth installment of the Mr Vampire series, this movie is hugely exciting and entertaining to watch. The combination of police drama, superb action set-pieces and ghost hunting along with a fast frenetic pace employed by director Stephen Tung help make this movie one of the best HK fantasy actioners from the early 90’s. It is a highly imaginative movie which uses Chinese folklore tales to good effect. Unlike the Mr Vampire series which has traditional hopping vampires and is set in the past, this movie has a contemporary setting and uses zombies instead and one evil badass Japanese witch. Although some elements of the movie does have some humour (mostly involving a bumbling cop helping Uncle Fung), the plot is mostly serious in tone. An aspect of the story can also be taken as the old vs the new with Uncle Fung’s traditional methods coming up against the present in which Fung isn’t too impressed with modern day society especially with equipment such as fax machines etc.

The plot builds up very nicely and during the stunning climax the evil witch goes toe to toe in a long spell casting contest with Uncle Fung in a fabulous fun-filled finale on top of a building. It does get a little bit far-fetched as she is set on fire and thrown down a lift shaft but she comes back up as a flaming corpse to chase the heroes around a room by using sound to track them down as her eyes have been burnt so she can no longer see. It culminates in a satisfying ending to the movie.

magiccop screenshot

Lam Ching-ying takes the leading role as Uncle Fung. He is brilliant in this movie especially in his fight scenes when he takes on a couple of young and buff fighters in Frankie Chan and Billy Chow before taking on Michiko Nishiwaki. Lam also choreographed the slick fight scenes and instead of concentrating on long scraps he keeps them short and sweet. Seeing him kick ass on a bunch of bodybuilders in a gym is superb. It’s a shame that Western fans only recognise him for doing these kind of roles as he was unfortunately typecast as a monk in many movies. Wilson Lam plays Officer Lam who is highly skeptical of Fung’s Taoist skills and is a bit of a ladies man. Lam and Fung clash as Lam has his eye on Fung’s beautiful niece and he is very protective of her. Fung doesn’t take too kindly to the way that Lam treats his female colleagues (i.e slapping their arses) but gradually the pair set their differences aside to crack the case. Wong Mei-Wa is only in this movie to look beautiful and act in peril as Fung’s niece. Michiko Nishiwaki is superb as the leader of the drugs gang – a particularly nasty witch who seems to molest her pet white cat when she is doing some of her evil spells. Those that don’t want to see a visibly distressed cat should look away from these scenes.

There’s a lot to enjoy in this wild and unpredictable movie with a wonderful performance by Lam Ching-ying. It is well worth checking out if you can get a hold of it. Recommended.

Sadako’s Rating: 4 stars out of 5

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The Demon (1978)

The Demon

A woman with 3 children who is struggling to make ends meet dumps the children with their father who partly owns a printing business with his wife before disappearing. The couple are close to the poverty line as they are and having 3 more mouths to feed doesn’t help the situation. The wife despises the children as it reminds her of the infidelity that her husband has committed over the years behind her back. The father tries to take them back to the woman’s home but she has cleared out of her apartment and there is no chance of tracing her. With his wife constantly nagging at him to get rid of the kids, the father’s thoughts soon turns to murdering them.

This harrowing movie about child abuse makes for some difficult viewing and what makes it even worse is the main offender is the children’s father in what is the ultimate betrayal of trust between a child and parent. The father isn’t what you might call a strong character – he’s harassed and bullied by his domineering wife Oume and she is the one that plants the seeds of murder in his mind. The title of the movie may point to a number of persons in the movie – it doesn’t refer to what people might normally perceive as a demon (no horns or tail on this demon). I thought at first it was directed at the evil stepmother who wants the kids dead but it’s probably more appropriate for the father. He may not have been an evil person when the viewer first meet him but there was something inside him that changed when the children were dumped with him. You would think he would sympathise with the children’s situation given that he was abandoned as a child as well. Some people are saying that the eldest child could be the demon of the movie but we’ll get to his story later on.

The first of the three children to suffer is the youngest (a toddler) who can’t defend himself. Due to neglect in care, he becomes painfully malnourished and is left in the hands of Oume while the two other children are out playing and the father is doing some errands. He comes back to find the child face down and lying prone underneath a sheet upstairs with his wife sorting something out on some shelving. It’s implied that she may have murdered him possibly by asphyxiation but it’s never really explained. Seeing her carrying on with her work whilst the child lies dead at her feet is diabolical but that’s the type of woman she is. There’s hardly any grief shown by the father. I did find my blood beginning to boil during this scene.

the-demon1978-screenshot

The middle child (a cute little girl of around 4 to 5 years old) is the next to go. The father takes her on a trip to Tokyo with the intention of leaving her there when she’s not looking. His first attempt at doing this in a toy store fails miserably but he succeeds at the observation deck of Tokyo Tower. While she’s looking through the coin operated binoculars, he slyfully walks away and into the lift to take him down to ground level. Just as the doors of the lift close, the girl turns around and spots him but it’s too late. As she has no idea where her father lives, another problem is sorted for him and his wife. That’s the last the viewer sees of the girl though you hope that she’s been adopted by a nice family and looked after properly.

And finally we come to the eldest son Riichi who’s not as stupid as his father thinks he is. He sort of knows what’s been going on and that both his father and stepmother are out to get him. Again, the father takes him on a bus trip to the coast with the intention of abandoning him but he knows his son will know his address so he comes up with a drastic and dastardly plan of throwing him over a cliff in a beautiful location. But before all that, he tries to poison the boy in Ueno Park, Tokyo by putting cyanide inside his sandwiches but the boy finds the taste of the sandwiches a bit weird so he spits out what he’s eaten out. The fury of the father is trying to force the food down his throat. It is only stopped when a walking couple comes across what’s taking place and the father stops what he’s doing. The father’s nefarious plan to kill his son takes place when the last bus to go back home has gone and it leaves both of them on top of a cliff facing the sea. He waits for his son to become sleepy, lifts his body up and lets it go over the cliff. Naturally the viewer thinks it’s curtains for the boy but there’s a twist to this tale which I will not spoil. Eventually the cops cotton on what’s been taking place and well I think I better leave at what happens next. One thing becomes obvious in that despite everything the kids go through they never once lose faith in their father.

Ken Ogata is outstanding in this movie as the father and he goes through a range of emotions which are perfectly expressed. He won an award (the Japanese equivalent of an Oscar) for his portrayal of a desperate man who commits acts of cruelty towards his own children.

The Demon is a gut-wrenching movie and one of the best I’ve seen on the matter of child abuse. It isn’t an easy movie to watch but the plot is gripping and you’ll be on the edge of your seat with the horrific events that take place. Recommended.

No trailer I’m afraid

Sadako’s Rating: 4 stars out of 5

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Chicken-and-Duck-Talk-1988

Hui is the owner of a cooked duck restaurant which has a very loyal customer base that come there regularly despite the fact that place is very unhygienic. The staff that work for him feels they are unappreciated and recieve low pay but Hui doesn’t seem to care. The dominance of Hui’s place ends when a new fast food restaurant named Danny’s Fried Chicken open right across the road. The owner of Danny’s intends to crush Hui’s restaurant so they can try and buy the place. Despite Hui thinking that Danny’s will not attract a lot of customers, he is forced to rethink when people start going in droves there and one of his trusted workers Cuttlefish is fired and leaves to find work in the new place. To try and get his old customers back to his joint, Hui is forced to try out some gimmicks in the hope that it’ll help his business and for a while it does until Danny’s owner resorts to some dirty tricks by forcing rats into the restaurant from the ceiling. The Health Inspectors come there and close the place down. What will Hui do now that his restaurant is closed and how does he intend to get his revenge on Danny’s owner?

This is one of Hong Kong’s most celebrated and highly acclaimed comedy movie. It was a big crowd pleaser at the time of it’s release. Considering it was made over 25 years ago, it has aged remarkably well. It’s a satire movie of a traditional restaurant taking on a large corporation which use cut throat methods to destroy their opposition. It was written and directed by the main star of the movie – Michael Hui. If you don’t know who Michael Hui is then you know nothing about the HK film industry where he’s seen as a bit of a national treasure in the province. Along with his two brothers (one of whom stars alongside him in this movie), Michael revived the HK film industry during the 70’s which was in a bit of a doldrums due to it being dominated by the Shaw Brothers for so long. This very funny comedy was made at the height of Hui’s popularity. I’m usually wary when critics give praise to a movie so much and I was prepared to be disappointed. However, after viewing this movie I can say that the plaudits that have rained down on this movie is quite rightly justified.

Chicken and duck talk screenshot

This hilarious movie has many laugh out loud moments and most of the laughs are due to Hui’s performance as the grouchy boss of the duck restaurant who doesn’t give a toss about keeping his place neat and tidy and uses cheap tactics to try and win back his customers from Danny’s but fails. Even though he’s not a nice character, you can’t help but like him. He comes to his senses near the end and tries to change his ways. He even has to swallow his pride at accepting money from his mother in law to spruce up the restaurant. I can’t tell you the numerous amount of times I laughed over the course of the movie. Hui dresses up as an Indian woman in one funny sequence in order to infiltrate Danny’s but is discovered by the owner when the polish he’s used to blacken up his face starts to come off!! Another example of the superb humour which is seen in this movie comes in a scene in which some hygiene inspectors come to Hui’s restaurant after reports of rats there. Hui and his staff use soup bowls to try and hide the live rats that are dropping from the ceiling and they come up with a variety of excuses such as doing exercises and dancing in order to lie to the inspectors. This ruse however is eventually found out by them.

Kudos has to go to Michael Hui who is quite simply brilliant in this movie. Everything from his performance to the way he’s co-written the script is great. The interplay between Michael and his brother Ricky is fantastic. You only have to see their famous fight/chase on a ledge of a building in chicken/duck costumes to appreciate the chemistry they have with each other and another scene in which Ricky tries to find out Michael’s secret duck recipe by using saucepans and mirrors to spy on him. There is a message in this movie in that shiny flash new fast food restaurants by corporations might look good on the outside but to savour the taste of proper HK food you have to go to a traditional outlet instead.

Overall, Chicken And Duck Talk is an amazing movie. It is definitely one you should track down if you enjoy laugh out loud comedies. I really enjoyed myself watching this thoroughly entertaining movie. Definitely recommended.

Sadako’s Rating: 4 stars out of 5

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