Sunday, January 30, 2011

Wong Kar Wai Chronicles Part 1 : Fallen Angels Blu Ray

The film

Fallen angels is considered a sequel to Chungking express, however originally the idea was for its story to be a third part of Chungking express, but at some point Wong Kar Wai decided to stick with two stories in that film and saved the ideas he had to use at a later date. I seem to remember reading somewhere in an interview with WKW that investors offered him funds to make a film about a hitman and that as long as it it had the hit scenes he could do what he wanted, a dangerous thing to say to WKW and I can only imagine what the investors made of the film when he delivered it to them, as this is a film featuring a hitman as only WKW could ever make. Fallen angels has numerous scenes that echo scenes in Chungking express but with roles and genders flipped around, all dealing with the familiar themes and obsessions of WKW, loneliness, alienation, time and space. It is the idea that we often share the time and space together but lack the ability to communicate within these boundaries that create the alienation and loneliness that drive his films.

Leon Lai and Michelle Reis play a hitman and his partner who sets up the hits, she secretly longs to be with him but spends all her time in the same space as him but at different times, Leon Lai's hitman doesn't notice and meets Karen Mok's Blondie. Takeshi Kaneshiro plays a mute who shares other peoples space in the form of their business, out of hours and insists on serving people with his services, whether they want it or not, he lives with his father in the Chungking mansions, he meets and tries to help Charlie Young's character to get her boyfriend back all the while falling in love with her. As in Chingking express the stories and characters intersect with each other to create a larger picture.

I am not the biggest fan of Leon Lai's acting but he does okay with his role here as he is so blank anyway, the rest of the cast are excellent though, with Michelle Reis, Charlie Young and Karen Mok all lighting up the screen, but it is Takeshi Kaneshiro who provides a very funny and touching centre to the film without ever saying a word. The chemistry between Kaneshiro and Chan Man Lei who plays his father is fantastic and the scenes between them are the heart of the film.

The blu ray

Any Hong Kong film fans who have been holding out on upgrading to blu ray, wait no longer. After a patchy start with many of our favourites released in shoddy editions which are no more than upscaled dvd transfers, Kino have restored faith in HK movies on blu ray by releasing this disc, Fallen angels is presented in 1080p with DTS-HD MA audio,  and it is no exaggeration to say seeing the film in this presentation was like seeing it for the first time. I have never seen Fallen angels in a cinema, only ever on vcd and what I thought was an adequate dvd release ( I was wrong). Seeing the film on this disc, it is easy to see why critics were swept up in a frenzy of hyperbole when the movie was released, so much of the film was hidden by the poor quality versions I had seen before.

The art of Chris Doyle's cinematography shines through in this transfer, it really was exciting to see it. Even for anyone seeing the film theatrically at the time of release I cannot imagine it looked this good. Unfortunately I am unable to take screen grabs from the disc at present but if you go to Dvdbeaver via they have quite a few with comparisons of previous releases, to be honest though I don't think they accurately represent just how good this blu ray is. I am not trying to say in anyway that Fallen angels on blu ray is demo material in the way that the latest summer blockbuster maybe, it isn't pin sharp (and it never could be), but that is not the point, it is about the cinematography and I cannot imagine a more accurate representation of Chris Doyle and WKW's intentions. The depth of the image and the added range of the colour scale are the things that make this such a fantastic disc, rather than what viewers may normally look for in image quality. The DTS-HD MA soundtrack is also excellent with some real depth to the soundtrack, a massive improvement over previous releases.

Extras include an interview with Chris Doyle (7 mins) very interesting as ever, talking about colour , shooting actors and his relationship with WKW and the rest of the team. I have a question though, is this guy ever sober?

Three featurettes are also included. Only you (7 mins) is an interview with WKW on the idea behind Fallen angels and its relationship to Chungking express. Whom you miss (4 mins) is a very entertaining profile of Chan Man Lei who plays Takeski Kaneshiro's father in Fallen angels, but who was also the actual manager of the Chungking mansions hotel at the time of filming. A beautiful evening (4 mins) is a behind the scenes look at the end scene in the restaurant with commentary from WKW. The extras included feel like a tease as they are over far too quickly, they include behind the scenes shots and cut scenes/discarded ideas and they just leave you wanting more, however unlike most dvd extras I will rewatch them, and probably multiple times. All of this these extras are in SD, however a stills gallery and trailers for Fallen angels and Happy together in HD round out the blu ray and the trailer for Happy together looks incredible and as a result that blu ray is on its way to me.

If you like Fallen angels or if you haven't seen it before this is the only way to see and hear it. Go on you know you want to.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Hard Boiled UK Quad Poster

UK quad poster for Hard boiled, I like this one but I don't think any of the designs I've ever seen has completely nailed it, this is about as good as it gets unless anyone knows of anything better?

A bonus poster for a tour of the UK that John Woo did at the height of Woomania in 1993, I really like the simplicity of this, the fact that I made it to one of the dates to see Bullet in the head and The Killer on the big screen and met John Woo makes it even better... and yes I obviously geeked out!

Monday, January 24, 2011

Beast Cops

Gordon Chan and Dante Lam's 1998 film Beast cops has a justly deserved reputation as one of the best Hong Kong movies since the 1997 handover, it received eight nominations at the 1999 Hong Kong film awards, winning five of them including best picture.

During the mid nineties the popular Young and dangerous series of films had been king of the box office, and Beast cops was marketed to a similar audience as those films, easy to understand as the films share many genre tropes and have a similar grungy look, this may explain the disappointing box office performance of the film, as Beast cops is a completely different film to that series, it is much more ambitious, and viewers looking for the Young and dangerous kind of action film would have been disappointed with what they got here. Beast cops is punctuated with some action scenes but it is not an action film, it is a character piece focusing on brother Tung played with fantastic skill by Anthony Wong. It has an independent film feel, and seems to have been made almost like a reality show with characters during the film addressing the camera with answers to questions that are never asked, some shots also seem like they were shot guerilla style on the Hong Kong streets, reinforcing the naturalistic feel.

I could go on about how good the film making is, as the photography, editing and direction are all excellent, I could talk about the supporting cast, Roy Cheung and Sam Lee both do very good work with not very much to work with, I could easily bore you to death with just how bad an actor Michael Wong is, although everyone knows that, but all of this pales into insignificance as the only thing to talk about here is Anthony Wong. He completely and utterly dominates the film, it is his film and his alone.

Brother Tung is such a strong presence in his scenes that while watching the movie I almost felt like I was there with him, on the streets of Hong Kong. He takes what could have been a pretty generic cops and triads story and turns it into something else. Tung has to juggle his life between his job as a cop and his position as a brother to the triads, while trying to keep on top of a gambling addiction and get closer to the woman he wants to love, Tung's situation is complicated by the arrival of Michael Wong's character as his straight laced boss and upheaval in the triad gangs caused by a situation that he is implicated in. You can feel the confusion and pain in Tung's head as the moral shades between black and white expand and contract depending on the situation he finds himself in, until inevitably things come to a head and something has to give.

Tung is having one of those days

Anthony Wong's performance is heartfelt, funny, ferocious and just plain awesome, turning from humour to desperation, frustration and drug fuelled rage, Tung always feels like a real human being with the camaraderie towards his cop friends and triads, and even tenderness with Stephanie Che's character. This performance is the kind that if it was an American actor in the role, the only one I could think of that could do it justice would be Harvey Keitel, and that is high praise from me.

I just cannot leave the Michael Wong thing alone, how did anyone ever cast him in anything? He hasn't improved over the years either, Overheard proved that. He didn't manage to spoil Beast cops though which I something, and he did really make me laugh with his comedy dancing in the nightclub scene.

Check out my moves
I viewed the Hong Kong legends region 2 dvd, and it is a very impressive presentation of the film, the megastar dvd was practically unwatchable on my system, this however looked great and if you like the film it is well worth the upgrade. The dvd extras include interviews with Gordon Chan, Anthony Wong and Stephanie Che and a feature length commentary by Bey Logan with Gordon Chan.

Just in case you didn't get it yet, Anthony Wong's acting raises Beast cops into one of the best Hong Kong films of the last fifteen or so years, an absolute must see.

Friday, January 21, 2011

The Killer US Poster

After posting about the Hong Kong poster for The Killer, here is a pic of the US version I mentioned. I really need to find a better way to take photos of posters though.

Which of the two do you prefer?

Box Full Of Blood, Testosterone And Lots Of Sweat

A box of manly goodness just arrived from my friend the postman, the scent of blood and sweat all over it. Inside were Gordon Chan and Dante Lam's Beast cops, this is the region 2 Hong Kong legends dvd, which I will be covering in more depth very soon, having had a quick look at it the image looks fantastic, a massive improvement over the old Megastar dvd. Looking forward to seeing it again, Anthony Wong is amazing in this.

Next up Chuck Bronson in The Mechanic, I'm a big fan of the Bronson and this is one I've never seen, and what better time to see it than now the Jason Statham remake is due for release.

The Walter Hill collection is a box set of six of Hill's movies, it includes The Warriors, Southern comfort, The Long riders, The Driver, Johnny Handsome and Extreme prejudice, that last one is where most of the blood and sweat came from. If you haven't seen it, Extreme prejudice is one of the most fun westerns I have ever seen, with an incredible cast all trying to out do each other. Its basically a riff on The Wild bunch and just awesome.

Speaking of The Wild bunch, the last item in the box was the Sam Peckinpah biography If they move...Kill'em! An amazing filmmaker but by all accounts a seriously flawed man, this should be a fascinating read.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Canadian Vengeance Trilogy Blu Ray Set

Following my post about the bargain price from on the Vengeance trilogy blu ray set, mine has now arrived and it is really nice. The four discs come in thin blu ray cases housed within a slipcase, nothing like the US version tin but the blus are identical except for Oldboy, which has the lossless 7.1 audio track that is missing from the US box set. Comparing the set to the UK discs, Lady Vengeance has both colour and fade to white versions whereas the UK disc only has the fade to white, and more extras are included across the films. Great films and a great set, unfortunately the price has gone back up but keep checking as I'm sure it will come down again.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

The Killer Original Hong Kong Poster

A late reply to KingWho?, here is my Xmas swag 2010, it is only one thing but its a goodie. The original HK poster for John Woo's The Killer.

I already had an original of the US release poster, but I remember seeing this one on a wall on a dvd extra or tv documentary that I can't remember now, and thought it looked cool, I have wanted one ever since then and luckily for me my wonderful wife snagged one for me, it was just a little late in the post but well worth the wait. Hope you like it as much as I do.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Most Anticipated Asian Movies Of 2011 UPDATED

Updated 14/07. I have added links to further coverage/reviews of the films listed where I have now seen them.

2011 is looking like being an excellent year for Asian film, here is a list of the movies I am most excited by, these are the ones on my radar at the moment, hopefully many more will appear throughout the year. Due to release schedules some of the films may not appear in the UK this year but that is what imports are for.

Flying swords of Dragon gate

This is Tsui Hark's remake of a remake of Dragon gate inn, he was a producer rather than director on the 1992 version but the film had Hark's fingerprints all over it. Hark has reportedly changed the storyline for Flying swords, but this should not be too much of a problem however, as long as it is not to shoehorn in the 3D aspects of the movie, as yes the 3D bug has bitten in China too, hopefully it will be unobtrusive and Flying swords will have a similar feel to the excellent 1992 version.

Flying swords of Dragon gate is not due to be released until late 2011 and with Jet Li starring I am sure excitement will be at fever pitch by the time it arrives. The last thing I will say about this film is that Zhou Xun is going to have to go some as the inn owner to top Maggie Cheung's performance in the 1992 version.

Click here for first footage from Flying swords of Dragon gate


Benny Chan's Shaolin is one of the big films for Chinese new year and is out in the far east at the end of this month. Another remake, this time of the early eighties film Shaolin temple, the movie stars Andy Lau and Nicholas Tse and looks like the type of big budget martial arts movie that China/HK does so well.

It will be interesting to see how the martial arts look from Andy Lau in particular in Shaolin as despite his appearance showing evidence to the contrary he is not getting any younger. The trailer looks pretty spectacular and I am hoping it will be a return to form for Benny Chan, who showed promise earlier in his career but has since made more than his fair share of rubbish.

Click here for my Shaolin review

Let the bullets fly

Jiang Wen's Let the bullets fly has already been out in China since December and so is very likely to appear in the UK at some point this year, and I cannot wait, advance buzz has been incredibly strong on this film so far and I think it will only get stronger as more people see it.

Starring Chow Yun Fat, Jiang Wen, Ge You and Carina Lau, Let the bullets fly is another attempt at an Asian western, but this one seems like the one to really satisfy where previously others have failed. The buzz is that it is very entertaining, very funny and that the action is great too, what more could you ask for?

Click here for my Let the bullets fly review

13 Assassins

Takashi Miike's 13 Assassins is another film that was released in its native country last year and it is scheduled for release in the UK in springtime I think. I am so excited to see this film, think of it this way, its seven samurai plus six more!

As if I wasn't already itching to see 13 Assassins, I heard the Toronto film festival podcasts from the GGTMC guys where they covered 13 Assassins (amongst others) and Large William and co raved about it in ways so that I could almost see the film in my head. I am not the biggest Miike fan but when he does films where he is not going all out to shock I think he has some real talent (I love The Great Yokai war for instance). Really cannot wait for this.

Click here for my 13 Assassins review

The last two I am going to mention are the two most likely to not make 2011 out of the ones I have listed, firstly Wong Kar Wai's The Grandmasters. The long rumoured Ip man film is due for release this year but given WKW's history I won't be holding my breath. I suppose you could ask the question, do we need another film about Ip man? Well maybe not but this is Wong Kar Wai and Tony Leung  working together again and nothing bad can come of that, added to that action by Yuen Woo-Ping and I am stoked.

Click here for images from The Grandmasters

Secondly Johnnie To's Life without principle, this Milkyway production seems to be similar in gestation to PTU and Sparrow, in that it was started without a complete script and was changed and is changing as time goes on and may not be released anytime soon, the only constant seem to be that the film will star Lau Ching Wan and Richie Jen. The movie started life as death of a hostage and Johnnie To has stated that he does not know where the story is headed or even know the tone of the film he is aiming for but given that PTU and Sparrow turned out so well I am sure it will be worth the wait.

Click here for the Life without principle trailer

What is everyone else looking forward to?

Monday, January 10, 2011

Burning Paradise Dvd

I'm not sure how I missed it but in June last year Discotek media released the 1993 Ringo Lam movie Burning paradise on dvd, I am surprised I missed its release as it is one of my favourite Hong Kong films of the nineties and it is a film that has always been poorly represented on home video, previously the best release was a French dvd that was unfortunately not English friendly. I gave the Discotek release a spin today and it is a revelation compared to how I have seen the movie before, first on a VHS from the original HK VCD release and then the UK Made in hong kong VHS release, on both it was very hard to see anything in the dark scenes. I am therefore very pleased with this release, the image quality is very good, while it was never going to look like a new release considering the films age and budget and the conditions the film must have been made in but what Discotek have achieved is remarkable given that it is a niche release and that money would not have been available for a comprehensive restoration. Some wear is present on the print but for such a dark, dusty and smoky film the detail and compression is very impressive. I think that it must be licensed from the French dvd release but where as that release was PAL formatted this seems to be true NTSC.

Soundwise the dvd features the original language track with English subtitles and is pretty solid, an alternative English dub track is also available, which I haven't checked out as I am not interested but it may appeal to some. A short interview with Tsui Hark is included as an extra on the disc, Hark served as producer on Burning paradise and was asked to direct it but declined as he was working on other projects, but it was he who suggested Ringo Lam as the perfect candidate to direct, he speaks of disagreements with Lam over the direction of the movie and that he just told him to do what he wanted, given the tone of Burning paradise is quite similar to Hark's The Blade, I wonder if Hark put ideas into that film that could have been for Burning paradise originally? A few trailers round out the extras on the dvd.

The only negative I can say about this release is that the sleeve looks really cheap to the extent that I thought it maybe a bootleg version of the dvd, but others have said the same so I guess it is just to keep costs down and obviously the disc quality is more important.

Burning paradise, like its director Ringo Lam seems to be overlooked when people discuss the best of Hong Kong film, maybe having a good quality dvd will go someway to rectifying this.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Vengeance Trilogy Bargain

The Vengeance trilogy blu ray box set can be had for a limited time (not sure how long) from for $27 Canadian or so including delivery. It worked out at £18.01 to the UK. Reports say it is region A only though.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Top Ten Movies Of 2010

My favourite movies of 2010, most of them received a cinema release in the UK during 2010 but one or two didn't, its my list so I can bend the rules!

10. Rec 2
Jaume Balaguero and Paco Plaza's sequel carries on directly from the end of the first Rec. Expanding on the original concept and taking it in new directions while still piling on the scares and action, this was the most exciting film of the year, and all in a tight 85 minutes.

09. Amer
I have blogged about this already, A tribute to the giallo genre, but not a giallo, this feels like an experiment, as it does not have a traditional narrative and as such will not appeal to everyone, however this film engaged my senses in a way that nothing else could get near.

08. The Man from nowhere
Lee Jeong-Beom's Korean blockbuster is a hard boiled, pulpy, brutal action revenge thriller, the type of film that South Korea produces quite frequently, the thing that makes this one different is the feeling of real emotion amongst the melodrama and ultraviolence. It looks awesome, is blackly comic and has some great bad guys.

07. Batman: Under the red hood
A DC animated production, this is the best of all the animated Batman movies, covering the comic storylines A death in the family and Under the hood. A fast paced, exciting and moving exploration of the guilt Bruce Wayne feels, this is quite heavy stuff for a DC universe animated film and all the better for it. It has some great voice work and the animation is excellent, highly recommended.

06. Kick Ass
Matthew Vaughn's genre changing comic book adaptation Kick Ass was one of the most purely entertaining movies of the year, a whirlwind of action and comedy, that has flaws, but flaws you don't really care about as you are having such a good time, perhaps most impressively of all it makes changes from the comic book that actually improve the storyline. Great performances from just about everyone involved but a special mention has to go to Nic Cage, who seems to be back from his wilderness years, after this and Bad Lieutenant, maybe he can be forgiven for The Wicker man?

05. The American
Again I have previously blogged about this film, so I will just say ignore the bad mouthing the movie received, yes it is slow but that is a positive in this case and Clooney is fantastic in it.

04. Dream home
Pang Ho-Cheung's Dream home is a very funny, very gory satire of Hong Kong life, specifically the ridiculous property market but also touching on other pressures of living in Hong Kong. Mostly though it is all about the blood and gore, making it a film definitely not for the squeamish. It is unusual for a film maker like Pang to make a film that is essentially a slasher movie and he and the audience have tremendous fun with it. Many people who have commented on Dream home have had issues with the flashback structure of the film, I really loved it though and fail to see how it could have worked in anything like chronological order. Josie Ho puts in a fantastic performance as the woman who reaches and goes beyond breaking point, it also has two of my favourite posters of the year.

03. Vengeance
Johnnie To's Vengeance (technically a 2009 film but not released in the UK until 2010 and criminally only on dvd and blu ray) is the most under rated film of his career. Met with critical indifference from critics and fans alike, with comments suggesting it is Johnnie To lite. I disagree entirely and would suggest that this is one of To's most sombre movies, having an almost supernatural feeling of impending doom, this being most prevalent during the night time shoot out in the park. Vengeance still has amusing moments though amidst all the darkness and is never less than thoroughly enjoyable.  The other major criticism of the movie is the broken English spoken between the characters but when you have a Frenchman who does not speak Cantonese and Cantonese speakers who do not speak French it makes sense for them to communicate in (broken) English. Hallyday is good as the French hitman turned chef and To's regulars are all on top form as usual. Maybe Vengeance will be re-evaluated in years to come, it deserves to be.

02. Scott Pilgrim vs. the world
Edgar Wright's film version of Bryan Lee O'Malley's Scott Pilgrim graphic novel series, this was without a doubt the best time I had in a cinema throughout the whole year. It is very much a love it or hate it movie and its easy to see why, it is unlike any other film I can think of in style or story, it has a very specific demographic to aim at and the trailers and marketing for the film failed completely to connect with anyone who did not already know what Scott Pilgrim was. What Edgar Wright achieved with Scott Pilgrim is nothing short of astounding, packing in more imagination, excitement and fun into less than two hours than all the rest of this summers comedies combined. The pace of storytelling, information and editing is relentless making it a tiring film to watch but one that is very rewarding. It is not perfect however, either as a film in its own right or as an adaptation of the books but how on earth could 1200 pages of comic be crammed into a less than two hour movie? As a huge fan of the books though I would have liked a little more character time for the girls, specifically Kim and Envy as they really suffer, Kim just comes across as a bitch and Envy is just an evil ex plot device and both are so much more in the books, just another twenty minutes could have made a huge difference, that is about my only problem with a film that gets so much right, casting and performances are practically perfect, I even like Michael Cera as Scott where many fans haven't, the soundtrack is fantastic with Beck's Sex Bob-omb songs being just how I imagined them when reading the books. The real star of Scott Pilgrim though is Edgar Wright, he just knocks it right out of the park.

01. Gallants
Clement Cheng and Derek kwok's Gallants is my favourite film of the year, it may not be the best in technical terms but I have already seen it three times and each time it gets better and better. Seventies fight film stars Bruce Leung Siu-Lung and Chen Kuan-Tai are magnificent as the pupils of Teddy Robin Kwan, who has the film stealing role as the aging playboy/sifu who wakes from a coma after thirty years. Gallants has some great old school fight action, it is hilarious and most importantly and what makes it my favourite of the year is it has a massive heart and real emotion. I am not going to say anymore other than if you haven't seen it yet, see it now and if you have, then watch it again.

Some honourable mentions, Bong Joon-ho's Mother almost made the top ten but I'm not sure how much I would want to re-watch it. Martin Scorsese's Shutter Island was amazing for the first hour or so but fell away towards the end, although I am about to give it another go. Toy story 3 and How to train your dragon were both very entertaining. From Hong Kong I really liked Detective Dee and Bodyguards and assassins, but I suppose the big two that are missing are The social network and Inception, both of which I liked but while The social network was a solid really well made film and has a great central performance from Jesse Eisenberg I think it has been overrated. As for Inception, I love the imagination and the fact it treats its audiences intelligence with respect but the zero-g fight aside, the action scenes go on too long and could have done with drastically trimming down.
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