Posts Tagged ‘Action’

Samurai Rebellion dvd

In 1725, aging henpecked samurai Isaburo Sasahara is living a miserable life in an arranged loveless marriage to his wife Suga. An order comes from Lord Matsudaira basically forcing Isaburo’s son Yogoro to marry his mistress Ichi as she slapped the Lord in the face and ripped his clothes. Although Isaburo and his family are against this, Yogoro agrees for the good of the family. Isaburo expects Ichi to be a bit of a brat but instead finds her to be a quiet and humble woman who becomes a good obedient wife to Yogoro. They fall in love and produce a daughter Tomo. Just as things seem to be settling down, news comes on the grapevine that Lord Matsudaira’s young son has died and he wants Ichi to return to his castle so that he can produce an heir with her. This does not go down well with Yogoro and Isaburo. Although Ichi also refuses to go back to Lord Matsudaira she is tricked and kidnapped. Isaburo and his son decide to stand up to their Lord who wants both of them to commit harakiri for not following his orders. They refuse and a confrontation is inevitable so Lord Matsudaira sends out assassins to wipe them out. Will Isaburo’s family survive the onslaught of people sent out to kill them?

Samurai Rebellion is probably not that well known to Western viewers but it certainly deserves to be. It’s a brilliant movie which is filled with well-developed characters, is beautifully shot and superbly directed by Masaki Kobayashi. It has a great storyline about a patriarch who is forced to choose between following orders and the social injustice placed upon his close family by Lord Matsudaira. It highlights the disgraceful treatment placed upon women during that time period in that it doesn’t matter about Ichi’s feelings in the whole situation just as long as Lord Matsudaira is happy that’s all that matters. This is not your typical straight forward samurai movie with a ton of action involved (although there is plenty near the end), there’s a lot more emotion in this story revolving around love, duty and honour. The plot and the tension builds up slowly and it’s only during the final third that violence is introduced to the plot and it gets rather exciting for the viewer culminating in a rather tragic but satisfying conclusion. Even with the rather downbeat ending, Kobayashi still gives up hope in the very final scene. Once you start watching this movie you’ll find it hard not to get yourself immersed in the wonderful plot.


The cast are superb in their roles and Toshiro Mifune is on top of his game here as Isaburo and this movie shows that he could give an excellent performance even whilst not under the direction of Akira Kurosawa. He’s not as intense as he normally is and rather reserved for a change until the last 30 mins of the movie when all hell breaks loose and there’s some fantastic swordfighting action as Isaburo takes on all comers when he tries to escape to Edo with his tiny granddaughter in tow and the net is closing in on him by Matsurdaira’s assassins. There’s a touching scene in which he kisses little Tomo on her forehead before hiding her carefully and taking his final stand against the gunmen hidden in long grass which is choreographed extremely well. Yoko Tsukasa is perhaps the next to stand out in the cast and the viewer will feel a lot of sympathy towards her character of Ichi. She’s a graceful, intelligent and beautiful person. Ichi is such a likeable character who is tossed around like a toy between people.

This movie is as close to perfection as you can get with Toshiro Mifune giving one of his best ever performance. Samurai Rebellion is quite underrated but I would urge any Asian movie fan not to pass it up. It comes highly recommended.

Sadako’s Rating: 5 stars out of 5

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Battles Without Honor 5 Final

Before I start I must apologise for not putting that many reviews up this month, the reason being is that I’m trying to watch all of the IMDB Top 250 movies which has meant that I haven’t really watched that many Asian movies. Anyway onto the review:

It’s the beginning of the 70’s and Shozo Hirono is in prison after the events of the last movie (Police Tactics) and the yakuza groups have changed tactics since the police were putting a lot of pressure on them. The yakuza in Hiroshima reinvent themselves as a politicial organisation such as the Tensei Organisation. Despite trying to put up a front to the public that they’re all respectable people now, behind the scenes there is turmoil brewing. The chairman Takeda tries to stop his underlings from being violent but it’s hard for some of them to change their ways and as a result of various actions Takeda finds himself in prison for several years. The substitute chairman Matsumura finds the Tensei Organisation collapsing all around him as various factions start bickering amongst themselves with the leader of the Otomo group allying himself with other factions to try and take over from Matsumoto. Hirono’s sworn brother Ichioka is also stirring up trouble in order that once Hirono is out of prison he can walk back into Hiroshima and take control. With Hirono’s imminent release, the Tensei Organisation is nervous about what to do with him. Do they persuade him to retire or take him out?

Battles Without Honor Final Episode screenshot

The final movie in the 5-part Battles Withour Honor series whilst intriguing is not as good as some of the other entries I’ve seen. It’s more of a talky movie and although there are several violent skirmishes throughout it’s not as bloodthirsty as previous installments. The usual fragile alliances and backstabbings which formed the backbone of the movies continues in this one. The main protaganist in the other 4 movies – Shozo Hirono is barely seen for the majority of this movie and only takes a main part in the storyline during the last 30 mins. The plot this time round is more or less showing us the changing of the guard in the yakuza. Old timers such as Takeda and Shirono who may have wielded great power 25 years ago just after the end of the World War II are now coming to the end of their reign and the young pretenders are beginning to take over. I expected seeing as this was the final episode in the series to see an epic conclusion but I was disappointed more than anything. It ends with a whimper instead of a bang. I thought the story might build up to a big yakuza battle at the climax but there’s nothing of the sort taking place. I was expecting an ending to Hirono’s grudge against his enemy Yamamori but it stays unresolved. The main problem is that with Hirono out of the picture the movie is just not as interesting when he’s not around and when he finally does take a major part to play his mindset is different. The time he’s spent in prison and writing his memoirs has made him realise that the bloodshed that’s been spilt over the years just isn’t worth it anymore. Even with the old guard stepping down, the violence in Hiroshima continues with the younger members vying for control of the various gangs. Director Kinji Fukasaku has to be congratulated for managing to weave such a complicated plot throughout the 5 movies which takes place over a course of 25 years. It is so easy to find yourself lost with all the characters that the viewer is introduced to with many perishing in the violence that takes place. One wonders how the yakuza recruit so many inept members as they cannot seem to kill properly with several scenes in this movies showing how useless they are. They manage to miss their targets regularly when firing off their guns and even then it seems to take them a round of bullets to finish somebody off!

Although he’s not in the story for long, Bunta Sugawara delivers another great performance as Hirono who has wisened up considerably whilst in prison. He can see how futile it is to continue being a gangster. He’s not that young anymore and if he continued in the game he’d more than likely end up with a bullet in his head. The rest of the cast are effective in their roles with the standout being chipmunk faced Jo Shishido who goes OTT as Otomo, a yakuza boss who flies off easily in a rage.

Barring the disappointing final entry, the Battles Without Honor & Humanity franchise has been an incredible set of movies and their popularity would see Kinji Fukasaku unveil another yakuza trilogy called New Battles Without Honor & Humanity from 1974-76 with Bunta Sugawara but playing an entirely different character. I’m looking forward one day to checking them out.

No trailer I’m afraid.

Sadako’s Rating: 3 stars out of 5


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super hero taisen

Captain Marvellous, the leader of the pirate themed Gokaiger sentai team has seemingly gone bad and teamed up with the Dai Zangyak organisation which consists of the most memorable villains to ever face the sentai teams in order to wage war on the Kamen Riders. His fellow teammates doesn’t seem to understand this term of events. KR Decade meanwhile has also teamed up with the Dai Shocker group as it’s leader to destroy the Super Sentai teams. Past and present Riders and Super Sentai teams are caught up in the conflict amidst some confusion as to why this war has been started. Each leader insists that in order for their respective teams (super sentai/rider) to survive the other must be destroyed. Is there a hidden agenda used by both Marvelous and Decade which would explain why they’ve turned bad and could it be that they are being manipulated by Dai Shocker and Dai Zangyak for their own nefarious needs?

super hero taisen screenshot

If you didn’t already know this, there are basically 2 superhero franchises over in Japan which has been entertaining kids for well over a quarter of a century – Super Sentai (better known in the West as the various Power Ranger teams) and Kamen Rider. There have been various crossover movies in the past featuring 2 super sentai or 2 riders teaming up to defeat evil but never before has there been a movie where both franchises come together in one movie to duke it out. Depending on whether you’re a serious fanboy/fangirl or just a person that occasionally dips in to both franchises there’s much to enjoy in this movie. It’s a lot of fun and I thought it was even better than the All Riders vs DaiShocker movie. You’d think that both sets of fans would lap this movie up and although it did extremely well at the Japanese box office there’s been a mixed reaction from them. A lot seem to be confused as to why Captain Marvellous (Red Gokai) would team up with his sworn enemies to take on the Riders. I completely understand with Tsukasa aka KR Decade as he’s a total badass and it’s something he’s done before. There’s also the fact that because there’s over 200 heroes filling the screen that it was hard to give the majority of them any decent screen time. Another complaint is why doesn’t any of the Super Sentai teams apart from the GoBusters use their mechas to take on the Big Machine at the movie’s climax. That’s a fair enough comment I thought. As I’m unfamiliar with what happens at the end of both Gokaiger and KR Decade series I can’t say anything on the plotholes that came with the story which made it a real mess in the fans’ eyes. It’s quite a simple story as such with 4 characters from various series trying to figure out why Marvellous and Decade have gone rogue. It didn’t really matter to me that apparently some roles were totally out-of-character from who they usually are. All I saw was an epic movie that delivered on cool cameos, some time travelling courtesy of the Den Liner and plenty of action/fight scenes. The acting by everybody including the camp villains was good. The big rumble which sees the heroes squaring off against the villains was a bit too short for my liking but I still came away feeling very satisfied and happy after the movie finished. Hell, I even thought KR Fourze was less annoying than usual in this movie!

If you’re prepared to ignore the so-called apparent flaws in the storyline as pointed out by hardcore fans and take the movie on face value alone there’s plenty of fanservice here to really entertain you. I loved it and thought it was one of the best tokusatsu movies I’ve seen in a while. Recommended.

Sadako’s Rating: 4 stars out of 5

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1986 Gyunggi Province. The body of a young woman is found brutally raped and murdered. Two months later, a series of rapes and murders commences under similar circumstances. And in a country that had never known such crimes, the dark whispers about a serial murderer grow louder. A special task force is set up in the area, with two local detectives Park Doo-Man and Jo Young-Goo joined by a detective from Seoul who requested to be assigned to the case, Seo Tae-Yoon. Park personifies the policeman who goes with his instincts and his fists, bloodily challenging every small-time crook in the area to confess. In contrast, Seo pores over evidentiary documents related to the case and inevitably the clash of styles leads to tense rivalry. From the fact that not a single hair is ever found at the scene, Park takes off to search the area’s temples and public baths for men with pubic hair disease, while Seo finds a pattern in the evidence of women wearing red on a rainy day as the victim’s profile. On a rainy day, the detectives set up a trap in order to forestall another murder. The next day however, yet another woman is found murdered. The solution to the murders grows fainter and drives the detectives to ever greater despair.

I will go on record here to say this is probably the finest Korean movie I’ve ever seen. It’s a masterpiece. Powerful, gutwrenching, even humorous at times with a taut script, this movie about South Korea’s first ever serial killer is one that nobody will ever forget after watching it. It’s also based on a true story in which 3000 suspects were questioned and 1.8 million cops were involved according to the prologue. Despite the police’s best efforts, the killer was never found and is still at large in South Korea. It seemed the killer was calculated, meticulous and always one step ahead of the police in everything he did. The story begins in 1986 with the discovery of a woman’s body with her hands tied in a drainage culvert, this sets off a chain of events in which more victims turn up. Each victim has been strangled by their own stockings. The two local detectives on the case including their chief are clearly seen to be completely out of their depth. They also don’t seem to have a clue as to how to keep a crime scene clean until the forensic team arrive with kids and even tractors trampling over vital evidence. Enter Detective Seo Tae-Yun from Seoul who provides a different approach to the case. Instead of using brutality to coerce a confession out of suspects, he uses a more rational way of trying to find the killer. It’s inevitable that he and the local detectives clash. But even with Seo Tae-Yun on board with some clues being found, it becomes apparent that the police force is becoming desperate to nail this sadistic killer. Pinning their hopes on a man with smooth hands after a confession from a female victim who wasn’t killed and the fact that he sent a request for a song ‘Sad Letter’ to be played on the radio on every night a woman is killed, the 3 detectives begin to investigate him. With some evidence sent to the US for verification because South Korea didn’t have DNA testing at the time, they hope that it will prove without a shadow of a doubt that this is their man.

memories-of-murder screenshot

The story is so engrossing and compelling. It sucks you right into the investigation and you definitely feel the frustration of the detectives building up as more bodies turn up. It might not have the Hollywood theatrics of Se7en or The Silence Of The Lambs but don’t believe for a second that this movie is inferior to them in any way shape or form. The movie also gives a good history lesson about the state of South Korea during the mid 80’s when it was still under a military dictatorship with martial law being declared at night with an air-raid siren going off, social unrest happening on the streets and schools participating in an emergency rehearsal in case of an attack by the North. Director Bong Joon-ho has crafted a fantastic suspensful thriller with beautiful haunting cinematography and an amazing soundtrackwhich keeps you on the edge of your seat throughout the 2 hours or so running time. If I had to pick out highlights from the movie it would come down to the fantastic chase scene during the night and a brilliant free-for-all brawl at a restaurant as tensions boil over from one of the detectives who has been suspended due to overuse of violence on a suspect. Don’t expect to find a happy ending to the story though there is an intriguing final scene at the location of the first murder.

The acting from Song Kang-ho, Kim Roe-ha and Kim Sang-kyung as the detectives on the case is excellent and it’s sad to see them fail in their task to being the killer to task despite giving their all to the case day after day. It’s interesting to see how the relationship between the 2 country detectives and the city detective develop as the story progresses. Initially there is a rivalry between them due to their differing styles of investigating – the country pair are either lazy or plain stupid as they blatantly frame suspects and play the good cop/bad cop routine in order to get a confession but all three men become bound together by frustration as each clue they find brings them no closer to catching the real suspect.

Memories Of Murder is an unmissable movie. It’s an exceptional movie in all aspects and I have no hesitation in highly recommending it.

Sadako’s Rating: 5 stars out of 5

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Hard Romanticker

Gu is a hard-nosed Korean-Japanese hoodlum living in Shimonoseki, Japan. When friends “accidentally” kill the grandmother of a ruthless North Korean-Japanese thug, a whirlwind of violence and revenge is set to explode. In the process, Gu, having no fear, pisses off a string of other criminal gang members and Korean-Japanese thugs who all want him dead. There’s also Detective Fujita lingering in the shadows looking for Gu, but where is he? To escape from it all Gu lucks his way into a managerial job in another city for a hostess club, run by a suave man named Takagi. Instincts tells Gu that Takagi is more than he seems. In fact, Takagi works for a rival gang and may be involved with drugs. Gu’s grandmother drops by to inform him that his best friend has been killed. This persuades Gu to return to Shimonoseki to settle the score. All hell is about to break loose.

This movie takes a very violent look at the criminal underworld involving the Zainichi (Korean-Japanese). Those who enjoyed the “Crows Zero” movies which involved a lot of male testosterone gang violence will want to take a look at this movie though unlike those movies this one doesn’t have any sympathetic characters (apart from Gu’s grandmother) portrayed in it at all. The story is based on the experiences of the director Gu Su Yeon when he was younger. It is set in Shimonoseki, a city where there is a high percentage of ethnic Koreans live in Japan. Koreans living in Japan aren’t looked at favourably by the Japanese people and to say that life isn’t easy for them is quite an understatement. The plot focuses on a cocky and charismatic young man who’s quite an unpleasant and vicious character (same goes for the majority of characters in this movie). He goes around upsetting nearly everybody with his devil may care attitude which naturally makes him a lot of enemies. He’s not averse to even beating up his superiors with a motorcycle helmet when two of them attempt to rape a young woman in their apartment. That might make him seen like a champion of women of sort to some viewers but later we see again just what a nasty piece of work he really is. Gu is seen trying to date a high school girl named Mieko Nakamura who catches his eye but when he finds out that she has been having sex with his friend his payback is brutally raping her in a park. The treatment of women in this movie is rather appalling and they are seen as merely sex objects to be treated badly by the men. It’s only a matter of time before Gu is going to be subjected to his own brand of medicine so when he picks on North Korean gang leader Park and his 3 cronies in a cafe with a metal bar who he thinks has murdered his close friend, the beating Gu receives is more than deserved. If it’s spectacular street violence you want and see, it’s got it in droves here with a lot of people being beaten up, murdered and even stabbed. The fights are choreographed well and even looks real. Even with all the violence going on in this movie there is some dark humour peppered throughout and a cool funky jazz soundtrack. Movie fans who are familiar with Japanese 70’s crime movies such as the Battles Without Honor series will see that this one has got that feel to it. I’m not sure if this was the director’s own way of paying tribute to those kind of movies?

Hard Romanticker screenshot

Shota Matsuda who is best known in the past couple of years from the drama Liar Game gives a terrific performance as the badboy Gu. He plays a character so different from Akiyama here. Matsuda has some Korean blood from his late father’s side who was half-Korean and acted in some violent movies during the 70’s so I’m sure he watched a couple of his father’s work to draw inspiration for his own role. The character of Gu is quite amusing in the way he swaggers around town like he owns the place, slapping some of the other thugs across the head and just doing whatever he wants whenever he wants regardless of the consequences he might face in the future.

Due to the violence on display and the harsh treatment the women receive, Hard Romanticker certainly won’t be to everyone’s taste but if you like these kind of fast paced rough and tumble movies you should find it very enjoyable.

Sadako’s Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

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Zombie 108

A scientist creates a deadly virus that unfortunately gets released after a tsunami and nuclear disaster in Japan. The virus spreads all over the world and turns people into the living dead. In an unknown city somewhere in Taiwan, SWAT teams are called in to evacuate civilians from an infected area. They cross swords with an armed gang who are unaware of the danger they’re in and refuse to move. An armed battle commences between the two until they have to join forces when a horde of zombies arrive on the scene. In the midst of this chaos, a strange perverted man is kidnapping women and keeping them locked inside his basement cell for his own sick pleasure, a young mother who was trying to leave the city with her young daughter being his latest victim. Will she able to escape from this monster?

zombie-108 screenshot

Hailed as being the first Taiwanese zombie movie ever made, perhaps the young director that made this shouldn’t have bothered in hindsight as this is one of the worst Asian movies I’ve had the misfortune of watching and I can’t believe I wasted 86 mins of my life with this piece of junk. It’s hard to even find anything positive to say about it. The trailer makes it look like a good movie but believe me it’s not. The plot is hardly new or original borrowing many elements from other zombie movies. There’s nothing you haven’t seen before. Director Joe Chien has made this movie into an incoherent mess and it feels like it’s been made by an amateur. It’s all over the place. There’s no atmosphere or a feeling of dread associated with the story, all Chien cares about is giving the viewer some nasty rapes, a little bit of gore and carnage. It’s like you’re watching two different movies which somehow ends being mashed up together in the end. There’s no structure in the story, it just moves from one random scene to the next with too many characters floating about. The director should have just focused on one main plot and concentrated on making it interesting. Is the movie also played for laughs at times? It’s hard to tell. You have to ask why did the director want to also rip off the Texas Chainsaw Massacre with his sleazy perverted female kidnapper that looks like Leatherface? The director himself plays this character. It feels like Chien made the decision to forget about the story and concentrate instead on the exploitation side. Perhaps he was aiming for a certain type of viewer with this old school Cat III style movie and not for the general masses? With the amount of nudity by the women and the sleaze on display it appears to be the case. The pace of the movie is fast but the way the movie has been shot is quite distracting to watch. The special effects given that it’s a low budget production is passable enough but if you’re after a ton of bloodletting you’re going to get disappointed. The death metal soundtrack the viewer is subjected to over the course of the movie gets annoying very quickly and worse of all the acting by the entire cast is atrocious. The script is very badly written. Chien also finds it necessary to put some anti-Japan propaganda in this movie as well which should have really been left out. Fine, everybody knows about the tension between China and Japan at the moment but politics shouldn’t have a place in a movie like this.

Do yourself a favour and avoid this movie like the plague. I can’t tell you enough how bad it is. A complete and utter failure. A disaster all round. I cannot recommend this to anybody.

Sadako’s Rating: 1 star out of 5

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Rurouni Kenshin (2012)

Rurouni Kenshin

It is the year 1868 in the dying days of the Bakumatsu era and the movie plunges us straight into the Battle of Toba-Fushima where Imperial forces triumph over the ruling Tokugawa Shogunate ushering in the Meiji era. Himura Kenshin is the most feared assassin in Japan, his skills in combat having earned him the title of “Hitokiri Battousai.” Fast forward 10 years on and Kenshin Himura has now become a wanderer who offers aid and protection to those in need as atonement for his past deeds. During this time he comes across and helps a headstrong young woman named Kaoru Kamiya when a warrior who is also calling himself Battousai nearly kills her. It seems this man has assumed Kenshin’s former identity in order to carry out some murders and he is working for a ruthless businessman named Kanryu Takeda who is lining up his pockets by dealing in opium. Kenshin is invited to stay at Kaoru’s dojo which was previously run by her father. A young woman also turns up at Kaoru’s place. Megumi is a pharmacist on the run from Kanryu who she works for. His goons soon arrive creating trouble when they ask Kaoru to sell the dojo as Kanryu wants the place for his opium operation. Kenshin with his inverted blade cleans house with the lot of them but Kanryu isn’t a man to give up easily. With a couple of ex-samurai warriors at his disposal, Kanryu hatches a plan to poison the local kids through the water in a well, kidnap Megumi and hold her as a hostage. Kenshin and his new friend, a street brawler named Sagora Sanosuke decide to take the fight to Kanryu and make their way to his mansion to settle things once and for all. Kanryu though is ready for them with his own secret weapon. Things get even worse for Kenshin when the fake Battousai kidnaps Kaoru in order to goad Kenshin into reverting back to his old murderous self. It boils down to a showdown between the two but will Kenshin who has vowed not to kill again go against his own wishes in order to defeat his more powerful opponent.

I came into watching Rurouni Kenshin with zero knowledge about the manga and the anime on which this movie has been based on. I knew it was very popular in Japan but that’s all I was aware of so I wasn’t really sure what kind of movie to expect. I kept thinking to myself should I watch some of the anime and get acquainted with the characters first before checking out the movie just in case I get completely lost in the story. I was also aware that there had been some grumblings from long-time fans. Making an adaptation of a popular manga was always going to be difficult for anybody as you’ve got to create a movie that will not only satisfy the fans whose expectations will demand that it be faithful to the source material but also cater to those that know nothing about the manga. It’s impossible to make everybody happy but fans should be open to some changes as no director can ever make a movie that is 100% faithful to the manga. Then there’s the additional problem of trying to cram everything into the movie. Where do you stop and what do you leave out?

Rurouni Kenshin screenshot

I thought this was a rather enjoyable movie and there’s nothing to worry about for newbies with no previous knowledge either. You’re not plunged into a story where it is assumed the characters are known to the audience. The beginning of the movie plus the addition of a flashback scene to the origins of Kenshin’s X mark scar on his face gives the viewer some background knowledge on the main character. The plot is a bit predictable in that you can see where the story is heading. There’s nothing new or original in that aspect. The fight choreography though is spectacular with some intricate wirework added to the proceedings at times. It’s fast and exciting with an intense swordfight at the climax (probably the highlight of the entire movie). I wouldn’t say this movie is suitable for young kids as there is some blood being shed during the fight scenes. There’s a very good balance of drama and action in the movie. The characters in the movie are appealing enough. There’s a hint of a love triangle going on between Kenshin, Kaoru and Megumi but it’s never developed properly. The movie rattles along at a good pace and it builds up to the inevitable final showdown between Kenshin and the fake Battousai (a person he knows very well from the past). The running time was sufficient enough (2hrs and 15 mins) though I did think the middle section started to sag a bit. The cinematography helped to enhance the mood and atmosphere of the movie.

Takeru Sato is fantastic as Kenshin Himura. When I first saw him onscreen I thought I recognised him from somewhere and that’s when it dawned on me that he was Kamen Rider Den-O. He is believable as the mannerly young man with a dark past and he portrays the two sides of Kenshin extremely well. I’m not sure if Emi Takei’s character Kaoru was supposed to be the leading female in this movie but it felt like she was overshadowed somewhat by the alluring Yu Aoi as Megumi. Megumi it has to be said is the more interesting character of the two due to her involvement with the villain Kanryu in creating a new type of opium. Both Emi Takei and Yu Aoi are very easy on the eye. I liked the character of the swaggering brawler Sagora Sanosuke and the incredibly large sword he wields. Teruyuki Kagawa is suitably OTT as Kanryu Takeda. I’m not in a position to say whether they stayed true to the characters that appeared on the pages of the manga or not. I’ll leave that up to the fans to argue over.

Rurouni Kenshin is a big-budget action-packed blockbuster which should appeal to long-time and non-fans alike. I found it very entertaining. This movie did extremely well at the Japanese box office because there’s already news that a sequel is on it’s way.

Sadako’s Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

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KR MovieWarCore

This movie is split into 3 segments:

Message For W – Preparing for her wedding with Ryu Terui, Akiko Narumi becomes depressed. She becomes involved in a fight with Shotaro Hidari and Phillip as they battle a Pteranodon Yummy. Akiko isn’t happy that Terui is thinking of changing into KR Accel on their wedding day so she takes his Gaia memory and driver so he can’t transform. With the power of the Gaia memory, Pteranodon Yummy has Akiko watch the past of her father Sokichi Narumi. The mystery of why Sokichi came to become Kamen Rider Skull is revealed.

Nobunaga’s Desire – The mummified remains of the samurai warrior Oda Nobunaga dressed in armour is discovered with Kousei Kougami starting a revival experiment. However things go wrong and gets worse when Dr Maki gives Nobunaga the power of 3 dark core medals to change into a mindless Greeed and go on the rampage. Eiji witnesses the samurai attacking a man and transforms into OOO to fight the creature however it manages to escape. Eiji comes across an injured young man who is injured and seems lost. He discovers the man has amnesia but somehow he knows his name is Nobunaga. He tries to take care of him not knowing that he’s the creature he fought before. Pretty soon Nobunaga’s true purpose is discovered and Eiji must transform into OOO to battle the creature once and for all.

Movie War Core – Using the past memories of Kamen Riders, an evil energy-based giant appears. The evil entity identifies itself as Kamen Rider Core and demonstrates its devastating powers. In order to stop Kamen Rider Core, Kamen Rider W & 000 head to the subterranean core of the Earth to destroy the source of it’s power and engage in an epic battle against Kamen Rider Core. The fate of the world hangs in the balance.

KR Movie War Core screenshot

Having not seen that much of Kamen Rider W or OOO (I’ve probably seen more of OOO than W), I came into watching this movie thinking I’d be lost with the plot if it connected back to an arc from both series but this was more of a standalone movie than anything else so my fears were unfouded. Out of all the three stories it’s possibly the first one with the origins of KR Skull that’s the best. The story doesn’t really link to the overall plot of the movie but it was an interesting story and KR Skull is such a cool looking character. A rider wearing a white fedora hat! His segment which is like a tribute to the film noir detective genre is about a Spider Dopant infecting people in a city with spider bombs which can transfer over to another person if they touch them and then explode. It also gives the viewer more background information on Sokichi before Shoutaro joined him as his assistant. The OOO part of the movie also doesn’t really link with the last segment but that doesn’t make it any less enjoyable. The story introduces us to the black core medals but doesn’t really explain why or how they were created by the creepy Dr Maki who carries a strange puppet of a child called Kiyo-chan on his arm. Another regular character in the OOO series in Ankh doesn’t have that much of a role in this movie which I thought was rather odd. He pops up at certain times but adds nothing of any significance to the plot. Knowing that he’s quite a popular character, I thought the scriptwriters might have given him more screentime. And then we have the actual crossover itself as W and OOO battle KR Core which is a rather short segment indeed. It only runs for 15 mins and I was disappointed it was so short. KR Core is a great looking fiery monster having been created using a combination of the Pteranodon Yummy’s Gaia Memory and the 3 black core medals that flew off into the sky after Greeed Nobunaga had been defeated but for such a fearsome creature he’s defeated too easily. What we have in this segment is a big battle with W and OOO taking on KR Core while Birth and Accel fight the Pteranodon Yummy. I laughed when they showed a scene with Shoutaro and Eiji going underground and Ankh mysteriously turns up. Shoutaro’s face and surprise when he sees Ankh’s floating disembodied hand is very funny. It’s just a shame there isn’t a lot of character interaction between W and OOO. The ending to the movie is a little bit stupid. After KR Core’s defeat and everybody has gone back to normality, Eiji climbs out of a manhole cover to discover he’s in Rio De Janeiro and comes face to face with a Japanese samba dancer! How the hell does that happen? It’s a funny scene I’ll say that but there’s no explanation as how he manages to turn up in Brazil of all places.

Fans have commented that this movie contradicts many things from both series but not having watched W and OOO to it’s conclusion yet I can’t really say anything about that. The action and special effects are fantastic as they always are in the KR movies. All in all, Movie War Core has plenty of action and excitement to satisfy KR fans and keep them happy.

Sadako’s Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

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Enter The Fat Dragon

Ah Lung is a country bumpkin who works on a farm feeding the pigs. An opportunity arises for him to go to the big city (Hong Kong) and help out in his uncle’s noodle shop. Just as he is settling down to working there, a gang of thugs who is making a nuisance of themselves in the area starts some trouble. Being a devoted Bruce Lee fan who can fight like his idol and imitate the great man, Ah Lung sends them all packing. However whilst Ah Lung is out on an errand the gang return and demolish his uncle’s restaurant. As a result he is out of work but with the help of two friends he gets a job cleaning dishes. It’s not long however that Ah Lung is embroiled in a plot by a gang who kidnap a woman he likes and wants to sell her to a billionaire named Pai. Ah Lung sets out to rescue his girl but first he must defeat 3 of Pai’s deadly bodyguards…..

After the death of Bruce Lee in 1973, a slew of Bruceploitation movies were released in Hong Kong that tried to cash in on his name and featured many actors trying to copy his style. Sammo Hung who was a very good friend of Bruce and worked with with him on Enter The Dragon wasn’t very impressed with these johnny come lately’s shamelessly cashing in on his friend’s name so he made this comedy tribute movie to him. Sammo might not look like Bruce Lee but my word he can imitate him superbly. Probably the best person to do it. He even strokes his nose exactly the same way that Bruce did, delivers his noises and is pretty much a master of nunchuks like his friend. Sammo even uses Jeet Kune Do with some kung-fu in the fights. The storyline is mostly episodic in nature and is about how Ah Lung’s fighting keeps getting him into trouble. The fight scenes on display is exciting, fun and fast and get better as the movie wears on. You’ll never see a more agile fat guy than Sammo Hung. It’s hard to believe how good a martial artist he really is. I’m not sure if the climatic showdown in which Ah Lung faces 3 foreign fighters was Sammo’s homage to Game of Death but it features a funny scene of a Chinese man who is blacked up with an afro wig (obviously a parody of Jim Kelly) going one on one with Ah Lung. You can’t help but laugh at the scene. There’s a telling scene in the movie in which Sammo delivers a scathing criticism of the copycat Bruce Lee movies produced at the time when he visits a film set and gets into a fight with a second rate Bruce Lee impersonator and promptly beats his ass and the film crew as well! His put-down comment of “amateurs” after the fight is brilliant. The slapstick comedy is a little bit hit and miss but when it works well it makes you smile. Sammo even has time to poke fun at Jackie Chan’s Drunken Master! His character of Ah Lung comes across as lovable and charming and you can’t help but like him.

Enter the fat dragon clip

Animal lovers might get a little offended in the opening scene as Sammo’s character practices his kung fu on some pigs. It’s hard to say whether the pigs were hurt by Sammo’s kicks. From a lot of HK movies I’ve seen from the 70’s and 80’s, animal welfare wasn’t a high priority on any film set!

All in all, a fantastic early Sammo Hung production considering it was done on a very low budget and a must see for fans of martial arts.

No trailer but here’s a clip where Sammo fights a Bruce Lee impersonator

Sadako’s Rating: 4 stars out of 5

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movie wars ultimatum

Split into 3 segments as per usual for the Movie Wars series.

Set 5 years on after the end of the series, the movie follows the KR Fourze characters after they’ve left high school and begun their careers. Gentaro Kisaragi is now part of the teaching staff at Amanogawa High School and his sidekick Kengo is a researcher at Kyoto University where he is studying the cosmic energy that powered most of KR Fourze’s gadgets and that of the Zodiarts who were the bad guys in the series. A foursome group of Amanogawa students form the ‘Monster Alliance”. Led by Saburo Kazeta and possessing psychic powers, they threaten the peace of the school. The group doesn’t realise they are being manipulated by a man called Kagehito Banba who holds a Zodiart Switch. It’s up to Gentaro as KR Fourze to sort them out. In the KR Wizard portion of the movie, Haruto enters the Underworld through an unknown gate after many sightings of monsters in the real world. He runs into a young woman named Yu Kamimura who can transform into Bishoujo Kamen Poitrine and use magic like him. Although they have a duel they eventually team up to become allies and investigate where the monsters are coming from. Finally in the last section of the movie, the three Akumaizer from the Underworld plan to invade the land of the living by using a Monster Army. Kamen Riders Wizard and Fourze must join forces with their allies and fight to stop the Akumaizer and their Monster Army.

This is the 4th in the annual Movie Wars series and this time there are 3 other Japanese tokusatsu superheroes added to the story in the form of Inazuman, Poitrine and Akumaizer-3. I wasn’t familiar with any of them but it was nice to have a crossover with 3 unfamiliar shows. Inazuman was a superhero who had his own TV show in 1973 and was similar in look to Kamen Rider in that Goro Watari the human transformed into a blue moth-like hero who attacked the villains with his long yellow scarf! When I first saw him come on screen I thought it was Doctor Manhattan from Watchmen. Bishoujo Kamen Poitrine on the other hand was an attractive female magical superhero that was specifically targeted towards younger viewers during the early 1990’s. For the final segment of the movie a trio of characters from the 1975 show Azumaizer-3 make an appearance. The trio in the TV show were demons that chose to help out the human race though in this movie they seemed to have turned to the dark side. All 3 shows didn’t have the longevity of Kamen Rider and only lasted for 1 season but that’s not to say they weren’t popular. There has been many crossover movies in the past between various Kamen Riders and Super Sentai shows but not with other tokusatsu shows. It seems these tokusatsu crossovers won’t end with this movie either as during the Spring of 2013 we’ll have KR Wizard, the super sentai heroes of the upcoming new series Kyoryuger and Space Sheriff Gavan coming together to face off against The Space Ironmen Kyodain (the villains from the KR Fourze feature) in the movie Super Hero Taisen 2.

Movie wars ultimatum screenshot 2

I’ve made my feelings on KR Fourze well known in some of my reviews and that hasn’t changed after watching this movie. I found the Fourze segment tedious, boring and full of cringeworthy comedy. Thankfully the action more than made up for the awful acting that was on display plus there was an appearance in the opening scene by the beautiful mysterious female agent in black called Inga Blink who can handle herself pretty well in combat. She made her debut in the KR Fourze movie that came out in August. I wonder if that is why there was so many men in the audience for the screening I went to as she does show quite a lot of cleavage in her tight costume!! The first female Kamen Rider in KR Nadeshiko also makes a return to help out Fourze. Thankfully things pick up for the better in the KR Wizard segment. KR Wizard has been doing very well in the ratings in Japan. The characters are interesting and it seems like the people behind the show have gone back to the core principle of what made the KR series so popular. Out goes the OTT slapstick comedy which blighted Fourze so much. I did like the character of Poitrine who has quite a flirtatious personality. It was great to see a couple of past KR Riders such as OOO, Decade and W amongst others turning up to help Wizard and Fourze in the big battle at the end against the evil Azumaizer-3 trio in their armoured truck. The usual quota of pyrotechnics is on display in this movie, no KR movie is complete without an array of explosions going off at some point!

It’s probably not the best KR movie I’ve seen over the past couple of years but there is plenty on offer to entertain the kids with a lot of action and excitement to make sure after watching they’ll have a smile on their faces.

Sadako’s Rating: 3 stars out of 5

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Fly With The Gold (2012)

fly with the gold new

Koda is a supplier for radical extremists and criminals who’s approached by an old university friend Kitagawa with a plan to steal 1.5 billion yen in gold bars from a vault under the main branch of Sumida Bank. Kitagawa puts together a team which consists of a banking system engineer named Noda, a North Korean spy Momo who is posing as an engineering exchange student, Kitagawa’s younger brother Haruki and a former elevator technician called Jiichan. After some careful planning, the six men carry out their audacious task but will they able to pull it off?

When I first read the plot summary for this movie I was expecting to see an Ocean’s 11 type of caper but what I saw was nothing of the sort. This is a gripping heist movie set in Osaka which has some exciting action sequences and a suspensful climax as the bank job naturally goes wrong. The first half of the movie sets about introducing us to the characters with a lot of the focus on Momo, the deadly North Korean spy who when he is not posing as a student is working at a food stall. Kitagawa has been keeping tabs on his apartment by spying on him through binoculars. He suspects that he is not all that he seems to be. Kitagawa’s hunches come true when one night after Momo has returned to his apartment, his enemies armed with guns come looking for him. Kitagawa along with Koda rush headlong to help Momo out and the three manage to escape but the consequences of helping the young North Korean out will come back to haunt Kitagawa later in the movie. Once the team has been assembled they set about carefully poring through the floor plans to the bank they’ve managed to get hold of and how they think they’re going to successfully steal the gold bars. There’s a major problem before they even manage to set the ball rolling as Momo’s enemies track him down. Even Kitagawa’s family isn’t spared by them as his pregnant wife and child are victims of a hit and run incident in a busy shopping street. It doesn’t distract Kitagawa to cancel the heist though. Tensions start to emerge between the team as Noda starts to become nervous. The plan is for Kitagawa, Koda and Jiichan to pose as elevator technicians and say to the bank security guards there’s a problem with one of the elevators whilst a series of explosions underground in another part of the city which will simultaneously go off with a bomb below the bank will distract the police long enough for the criminals to get inside the bank vault, steal the gold, make their way to the roof of the bank, haul the gold down by rope to the waiting getaway van below driven by Noda before they themselves use the rope to clamber down the side of the building and drive away. The best laid plans usually never come off smoothly and this is what happens for the gang.

Fly with the gold screenshot

There’s a strong cast for the movie which includes the main role for Tadanobu Asano along with Satoshi Tsumabaki. Normally young female Japanese adults wouldn’t give a second look at this type of movie but with the addition of Korean idol Changmin from the duo TVXQ as Momo and another young hearthrob in Junpei Mizobata I saw quite a few women in the audience in the cinema the day I went to Shibuya to see it. It’s more of a movie for men than anybody else but the moviemakers saw some sense and perhaps knew that if they added some young attractive men it would appeal to the ladies and bolster the takings for the movie as well.

I enjoyed the movie even though it does take some time for it to get going. It’s probably only around half way through the movie that the main plot of planning the bank job gets under way. I also think a good 30 mins should have been cut to quicken the pace of the plot. It’s a solid enough movie with enough thrills and spills to keep your interest and whilst it doesn’t contain the fun element that made the Oceans trilogy so popular it’s a worthy watch for Asian movie fans.

Sadako’s Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

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aka The Emperor’s Sword

Orichalcum is a mystical metal material that gives great powers to the life form that possesses it. Many aeons ago, the Orichalcum split into three and landed on Earth. The metal then took the form of three relics: Skanda’s Vajra, the Jew’s Cross, and the Sword of Alexander. Anyone able to re-unite these three Orichalcum relics would then obtain the powers of a God. Now two rival alien factions are in a heated race to reunite the Orichalcum. They land in Edo-era Tokyo where the relics are thought to exist. A tall devil-may-care warrior by the name of Genkuro now possesses the legendary Sword of Alexander. He’s unaware of the sword’s importance as it was a gift from his dying grandfather. Genkuro then encounters Princess Mai and her bodyguard Sasuke who are escaping from the Tokunaga army. It just so happens that Princess Mai has been possessed by one of the rival aliens named Ran. Genkuro, Princess Mai, and Sasuke join forces to find the other two Orichalcum relics before the evil alien Dakusha does so. The fate of the universe is at stake.

This is a fast paced sci-fiction fantasy comedy set in the past involving aliens, zombies, ninjas and a man with a huge sword. You don’t usually see aliens and zombies turning up in samurai period movies at all. Surprisingly the mix of genres that director Yukihiko Tsutsumi brings to this movie works well for most of the time which is all done very tongue in cheek. It’s hard not to like this movie when you’ve got ample doses of camp comedy (one unfortunate joke right at the end shows a mountain in the shape of a penis!!) and good action sequences with quite a hefty dollop of gore thrown in. The storyline is simple and straight forward. It just follows the adventures of 3 people on a quest to find 3 mystical items whilst dealing with alien liquid beings who jump from host to host who are also after the same items. There are no great twists being offered in the movie. I thought at first this movie had the mark of Takashi Miike over it given the liberal amount of blood involved but he doesn’t have a hand at all in this production. It’s hard at times to know just for who this movie was targeted for – certainly not for kids with all the red stuff, decapitations and bodies cut in half so probably it was for teenage and adult tokusatsu fans. The storyline is suitably OTT (when you’ve got a dead bear coming to life and attacking a person you know it’s over the top!) and the hero of the movie is a first I believe in Japanese cinema in that he’s a son of an African man and a Japanese woman. The movie starts to fall into children’s super sentai territory when the main villain wth his green face appears to challenge Genkuro. Think of a far uglier version of Jim Carrey’s The Mask character! You’ve also got 2 demon like characters appearing too – one tends to vomit a load of bugs to attack. I’ve mentioned many times before that I cannot stand CG blood and there’s far too much of it again in this movie. The story tends to flag a bit during the 2nd half and becomes rather predictable. The movie builds up to the inevitable fight to the death between Genkuro and Dakusha.

I like Abe Hiroshi as an actor, he’s been one of my favourite Japanese actors for many years and he is quite effective in this movie as the hero Genkuro. Hiroshi isn’t usually associated with action hero roles but he does a credible job in playing a tall strong character who can wield a huge blade of a sword. He plays the character with a fine line of taking the plot seriously and just for laughs. He’s very good at doing comedy especially with deadpan characters such as the one he portrayed in the Trick TV series and movies. Princess Mai is played by Kyoko Hasegawa who’s possessed by an alien force which enters her through a cut on her hand. Hasegawa does her best to play 2 characters – the sweet Princess on the run and the tough alien inside her. It’s distracting at times to see the digital distortion on Mai’s face as she alternates between the 2 characters. The supporting characters perform admirably in their roles – the best being the beautiful Meisa Kuroki as a male samurai warrior although after taking one look at her and you’d know straight away that she’s far too glamorous to be a male. She doesn’t have much of an impact in the storyline as she tends to be in the background watching proceedings for most of the time.

Overall, this movie is a lot of fun and I enjoyed it. It’s got all the ingredients that will make it a cult movie in the future. If you like action and crazy comedy be sure to check it out.

Sadako’s Rating: 3 stars out of 5

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A traffic accident changes several people’s lives forever. In capturing wanted criminal Cheung Yat-Tung, Sergeant Tang Fei is involved in a shootout and car accident that puts the criminal in a coma. But in the process he also cripples a fellow officer, and accidentally kills the elder daughter of public prosecutor and single mother Ann. The car in which the girl was travelling is hijacked by the criminals and she is shoved into the boot. Unable to handle the guilt, Tang Fei succumbs to a fog of pain. Ann, meanwhile, pours all her love and attention to her younger daughter Ling. Three months later, the criminal Cheung Yat-Tung awakens from his coma. Ann, who had been working hard on bringing him to justice, insists he stand trial immediately. Then Ling is kidnapped by one of Cheung Yat-Tung’s thugs Hung and Tang Fei is determined to redeem himself and set things right after past mistakes. Will he able to rescue the little girl before she is harmed?

This movie starts with a bang and for the most part delivers throughout with its mix of human drama and tragedy with excellent taut action sequences. Hong Kong police movies have always been popular in the territory and whilst the majority look slick and have enough entertainment to satisfy the average cinema fan, there’s usually no real depth to the stories. Beast Stalker though is different as it has some emotion in the plot. It doesn’t win any prizes on originality and some will even see it as being perhaps a little bit predictable but as a tense thriller there is much to like here. It’s a movie which shows that actions has consequences and this movie shows it very well indeed. The car crash near the beginning of the movie is handled impressively. The scene is shot so well and the slow motion images of the passengers inside one vehicle as it tumbles around is effective and is easily one of highlights of the movie. The structure of the story with it’s twists and turns is intelligent and compelling.

The two main male characters are fantastic in their roles. Nicholas Tse does a great job as the tortured cop who ruins not just Ann’s life with the death of her daughter but several others as well. It’s harrowing to see Tang Fei’s realisation that he’s killed a child as he opens the boot of the criminal’s car and finds her body inside. Ultimately it’s not Tse thats the stand out actor in the movie but Nick Cheung as the one-eyed kindapper Hung. He doesn’t play the role as an OTT villain but comes across as a real person. The reason why he’s kidnapped the little girl Ling is revealed as the plot unfolds and again it links to the car crash. He comes across as quite a menacing person even though some viewers will have some sympathy for his plight. Suet-Yin Wong is absolutely adorable as Ling who proves to be a bit of a smart kid even when in danger.

Director Dante Lam excels with this movie and provides plenty of excitement alongside the drama to keep the viewer interested. There’s a car crash, some fist fights, gunplay and foot chases so action fans should be satisfied with what they see. The way that Lam manages to combine the emotional turmoil of the plot with the action has to be commended.

Overall, The Beast Stalker is a well written and hard-hitting tale about a man seeking redemption and whilst it isn’t perfect and has some flaws it’s certainly worth your time and effort.

Sadako’s Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

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The Queen’s brother Pan Bao is killed in a tournament by one of Yang Ye’s sons. Furious at this, she orders her father Pan Mei to destroy the Yang clan at the battle of Jinsha. All goes according to plan but for the fact that the 5th and 6th sons manage to escape from the trap that had been laid for them. Pan Mei must track down the remaining sons or he won’t be able to continue with his bigger scheme which is to overthrow the Emperor. The 5th son returns home but the stress of what has happened has turned him insane. Meanwhile the 6th son vows to become a monk at a temple but has a lot of anger inside of him. The temple refuses to take him in but he insists on being a monk. He takes a razor and shaves his hair off. Reluctantly the lead buddhist monk takes him in but he does not train with any of the other trainee monks. Back at the Yang clan residence, the mother hears that the 6th son is alive and sends her 9th daughter off to seek him out but Pan Mei’s spies are everywhere and follows her. She is captured at an inn below the temple that the 6th son is training. When the 6th son hears that his sister is a prisoner of Pan Mei, he vows revenge on Pan Mei once and for all.

This is a classic HK Shaw Brothers movie starring Gordon Liu. It’s a period piece set during the Sung Dynasty packed full of action and incredible swordplay fights. I would say this is probably the finest showcase for pole fighting you’ll ever see. It was a troubled production at the time of filming and it took 2 years to complete the movie as one of it’s stars Alexander Fu-Sheng had a serious injury which resulted in both his legs being broken. When filming resumed, Fu-Sheng was involved in a terrible high-speed car accident which claimed his life. It was Fu-Sheng’s character that was supposed to be the main focus in this movie but due to the tragic circumstances that happened, the plot shifted onto Gordon Liu’s character. The compelling storyline has no humour at all which considering that a lot of 70’s HK martial arts movies had at the time may be more to the fact that it would have been inappropriate due to Fu-Sheng’s death. If it’s action you’ve come to watch in this movie then you’ll have plenty to enjoy here. Each fight that follows just gets better and better and the final melee involving Gordon Liu’s character taking on Pan Mei’s forces at the temple with his pole is impressive. A visual spectacle in athleticism containing fantastic choreography with swords and poles. Just watch as the 6th son has his sister strapped to his back whilst fighting off the hordes of Pan Mei’s army. There’s some gore involved as Pan Mei’s army is decimated and a lot of the blood comes from seeing them lose their teeth!! This is to do with the training at the buddhist temple which rather than kill their enemies outright, their beliefs is to defang them instead. The weaponry on show is great and I loved the poles that Pan Mei’s army have which have a twisty grappling device on the end which is supposed to counter the threat of the Yang family’s poles.

It’s sad to see Fu-Sheng in this movie knowing it would be his final role. It is said he had a bright future ahead of him as a movie martial artist. A hell of a shame his career was cut short like it did. His character for the majority of the movie acts like a man whose mind has been irreparably damaged by witnessing his brothers and father being killed. He shouts a lot and even attacks his own mother and sisters thinking they’re Pan Mei’s troops. What can I say about Gordon Liu in this movie that hasn’t been said about him elsehwhere. He is just amazing. It’s painful to watch as he shaves his hair off with a sharp razor which results in his head being bloodied and then uses several temple candles to burn 6 dots on his head signifying how serious he is about being a buddhist monk.

This isn’t called one of the best martial arts movies for nothing. Everything you’ve ever wanted in a classic Shaw Brothers movie is in this movie. Do not miss out on watching this if you’re a serious martial arts fan. Recommended.

Sadako’s Rating: 4 stars out of 5

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Gojoe (2000)

It is a dark time in Japan. The Keike clan have been victorious over the Genji clan but each night some of their soldiers are being slaughtered by what many are calling a demon. A monk Benkei who was formerly a fearsome warrior hears of what is happening and is determined to destroy the demon. Benkei sees for himself what the demon is capable of during a night attack on the bridge at Gojoe when many Keike soldiers are killed. Benkei comes face to face with the demon but it’s not a fearsome creature after all but a powerful and skilled swordsman along with his 2 associates that are doing the killings. The swordsman is Shanao who has been chosen to lead the Genji clan into battle with the Keike clan but he wants to delay this mission (and accepting his title as Prince Yoshitsune) to have a confrontation to the death with Benkei on the bridge at Gojoe.

Director Sogo Ishii retells the legendary 12th century Japanese story of the famous duel between the monk Benkei and young Prince Yoshitsune on Gojoe Bridge. According to legend, Yoshitsune beat Benkei who then served the Prince but the version of the story served up by Ishii is different. It doesn’t matter if you’re not familiar with the legend because the story explains itself as it goes along. The story is a tried and tested formula of two protaganists linked in some way or the other who must face each other in a fight to the death. At first the movie is more of a supernatural tale as we see various Heike soldiers being beheaded in a fountain of blood by an unseen foe but this gives way to a story of political intrigue and maneouvering.

It’s a very creative and vibrant movie in terms of colour, cinematography and editing. Even though the movie is rather long at two and a quarter hours and was sometimes a bit slow, the story was so engrossing I felt the time just went by so quickly. It’s exciting, mysterious at times and has vast sword battles. The movie displays a lot of mysticism especially with the character of Benkei who is seen practicising his Buddhism through meditation and using his power to rid evil. It’s very much like another movie that came out around the same time called Onmyoji. I liked the fact that the battle between good and evil is signified by the constant motif of the blazing sun and this is demonstrated extremely well in a big fight between Shanao and his 2 followers, some bandits and Keike soldiers in a forest during an eclipse. The action scenes could have been better and I suppose it is perhaps the only thing I can really complain about the movie. There’s plenty of action and it is suitably violent but it’s all filmed in close-up with some parts obscured frequently by objects in the background. This is highlighted best when Shanao and his 2 followers are slicing and dicing their way through soldiers in some long grass. It may look great visually with all the blood being sprayed all over the place but it would have been nice to see more actual swordfighting moves being made by the characters and it is also difficult to follow at times. The confrontation between Benkei and Shanao at the climax was also a big disappointment. I was expecting a good old fashioned sword fight but it was more of seeing swords clashing against each other in the dark with sparks coming off them than anything else. Although there’s not a lot of character development in the movie, there’s quite a bit of emphasis on Benkei’s transformation from being a killer of women and children in the past to being a holy man. People question whether he has changed or not. It is only in the duel on the bridge that the real Benkei comes out to take his fury on Shanao.

With Ishii’s stylish imaginative direction and excellent performances from Daisuke Ryu as Benkei and the brilliant Tadanobu Asano as the deadly emotionless Shanao, this movie is a winner in my eyes. Recommended.

Sadako’s Rating: 4 stars out of 5

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