Saturday, April 30, 2011

Piranha 3D

Alexandre Aja's reboot of Joe Dante's original is a real guilty pleasure, Piranha 3D has absolutely no redeeming features whatsoever but is ridiculous fun from start to finish. Heavily based on the Jaws template, Aja amps up the exploitation elements to eleven with blood, gore and skin on screen almost constantly. Originally filmed in 2D but retrofitted to 3D afterwards, it makes it feel even more like a drive in movie from days gone by.

When an underwater earthquake frees a shoal of prehistoric piranha from a subterranean lake, all sorts of bloody hell breaks loose at a spring break weekend in Lake Victoria. That is essentially the plot in its entirety. Piranha 3D is 90 minutes of mindless trash that lacks any kind of filmmaking merit, but that manages to entertain anyway. It's the kind of movie that sets its stall out to deliver on gore and nudity and little else, your enjoyment of the film will depend on if this is enough to sustain the running time for you. I enjoyed every minute, without ever thinking what I was watching was really any good!

Piranha 3D features a surprisingly decent cast including Elisabeth Shue and Ving Rhames, along with cameos from Richard dreyfuss (wasted) and Christopher Lloyd (fun). For British viewers Kelly Brook features prominently and for horror fans Eli Roth has a cameo. To be honest it isn't the kind of movie to praise performances, everyone does what they need to, but a special mention must go to Jerry O'Connell for his incredibly obnoxious porn director.

The dvd features the movie in 2D or 3D (with 2 pairs of 3D glasses included), I only viewed the 2D version (The anaglyph 3D process gives me a headache!) and it looks and sounds excellent.

Piranha 3D is not a subtle film by any means, its full of dumb dialogue and even dumber actions. It delivers exactly what it promises with no pretensions of anything else. It adds nothing to the genre, in fact it could be argued it can only harm it, but unlike the majority of recent horror fare it's trashy fun. Make your own mind up if that is enough for you or not!

Friday, April 29, 2011

Hong Kong Movie Locations : PTU

Johnnie To's PTU is another favourite of mine from Milkyway image, it features some incredible night time photography of the streets of Hong Kong, and aside from them being deserted it gives an excellent feel of walking around late at night in this amazing city.

The style of PTU has lead to some great posters being produced for it, the one above being a favourite and the one below also being a nice design. I have the Hong Kong one but haven't got a pic of it, I'll post that another time.

The alleyway where Lam Suet loses his gun, caused some real frustration for me across three different visits to Hong Kong. Its a great moment in the movie and I thought it would make a cool location to visit. I knew it was in central, even though much of the rest of the movie was filmed in Kowloon, and even the scenes around this one are set in Kowloon, but thats Johnnie To's creative Hong Kong geography for you!

I did actually find the alleyway on my first try, but I dismissed it as being the wrong place and kept looking, something didn't feel right about it. Second time I came to the same place but again decided it wasn't right, it must have been how much different it looked in the day time against on film that threw me. Third time around I actually watched the dvd again while in HK and ventured again in the dark and sure enough it was the same place I had been before, how stupid did I feel?

It felt great being there at night, but it proved difficult to get a good shot as the metal sidings on the building played havoc with the camera flash.

Looking down the alleyway

Another location I found, is featured in the film just after the beating of the suspect who has to resuscitated. Looking up from Cameron road to Tom Lee music on Cameron Lane in the heart of Tsim Sha Tsui. This is a very busy area and even at around 11pm I had no chance of getting a shot without anyone in it!

I also looked for the China cafe, which features prominently in PTU but has also been used in at least one other movie, Beast cops if I remember correctly. I couldn't find it but thanks to this page it will be easy next time.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Mail Call And A Few Thoughts On Video Quality

The postman visited again today, its been a while since my last delivery and this time I went for something different. VCDS.

Just to be clear, I don't buy vcds anymore, as far as I'm concerned it was never a great format to start with and nowadays it feels as archaic as VHS, however many movies that I haven't seen are available quite cheaply on ebay on this format. A guy in France was selling quite a few titles, all with pretty low starting prices and offering reasonable shipping rates. So I thought what the hell!

Here are the titles

Troublesome night 8 was thrown in free for buying six vcds from him, I had never heard of a few of these but for less than £2 each including shipping it was worth a punt.

They may all be a bag of crap but I see this as part of my growth as a human being. Let me explain, this turnaround was inspired by Kingwho? the fact is I'm a terrible snob about video quality and I'm trying my best to care less about it.

The reason I'm snobbish about it is I have a pretty awesome Home cinema setup that has taken years to get right, don't get me wrong its not a pro install or anything like that but it does feature some well chosen components (lower mid range kit but the best I could afford) that are well set up. It was expensive (to me at least) but as I love movies so much, it was worth it. I love watching movies on it and unfortunately vcds just don't cut the mustard.

Yes I know its the content that matters but I want to see the best quality version I can. I find it hard to ignore if a better version is available, especially if its a favourite. I see this as a first step. Now maybe instead of buying the same movies over and over, my spare cash will go on different movies and that has to be a good thing!

Anyone care to comment? What kind of system do you have? Do you care at all about video quality (You don't have to answer that one Kingwho?) Or is it just me around here that does?

Tuesday, April 26, 2011


James Gunn's Super will draw inevitable comparisons with last years Kick ass, as both films attempt to show what could happen if a person without super powers decided to become a costumed crime fighter in the real world. The similarities do not end there, the two films share a similar tone, with both of them being out to shock with a mix of brutal violence and sick humour, more on that later though. In terms of the final result however the two films are quite different, where by the end of the film Kick ass actually became what the film was attempting to parody, Super sees its vision right through to the end.

Things aren't good for Frank D'Arbo (Rainn Wilson), he's a 40ish cook working in a diner, married to Sarah (Liv Tyler) a recovering alcoholic and drug user who has lost interest in him. When the inevitable happens and she leaves him for local drugs baron Jacques (Kevin Bacon), Frank takes it really badly. In denial he tries the police, suggesting Sarah has been kidnapped. When this doesn't work he spirals deeper into the depths of despair, and after a vision from God he decides he must fight evil and save Sarah himself.

The Crimson Bolt is born, looking like a fat Daredevil but without the horns, his first attempts at fighting crime are predictably useless. In order to do it right Frank does some research at the local comic book store where he meets Libby (Ellen Page), who fills him in on the comic lore he can use in the fight to save Sarah. When he sees just what he is up against in the form of Jacques' henchmen, he realises he is out of his depth (and needs a pipe wrench!) and pushes himself ever closer to the edge of insanity in search of the skills he needs to defeat the evil drug lord and save his beloved.

Super will divide audiences into love it or hate it, I can see no middle ground with this movie. Not only does it have something to offend just about everyone, but it has a tone that is irreverent and flippant in the extreme towards every subject the film deals with, including religion, brutal gory violence and the mental health issues the characters clearly have. Its interesting that Super has a middle aged protagonist compared to the teenager in Kick ass, you would expect the teen based film to have more attitude, but this is not the case. Gunn's movie has if anything, too much attitude for many viewers and the film is going to feel like the director is holding his middle finger up to the audience throughout the whole film.

Super plays out as a jet black comedy vigilante movie but with superhero costumes, or alternatively a character study of a sad, over the hill loser who can't take it anymore. Losing his wife to the evil Jacques tips him over the edge into the realms of madness. Its actually both, and this is another issue viewers may have with Super, it feels deliberately schizophrenic and as a result you never quite know where you are during the course of the movie. Of course this can also be seen as the films greatest strength, at a time where comic book movies are everywhere, to have one as unpredictable and surprising as this is very refreshing.

The cast assembled by Gunn is very impressive, Rainn Wilson carries the movie fantastically well. For all his characters self loathing and psychosis, the only times you stop rooting for him are when you know he has gone too far, adding to the complexity of the film, it isn't long though before you are back on his side. His delivery of lines as The Crimson Bolt are extremely funny and he handles his comic action scenes superbly. Kevin Bacon is hilarious as the sleazy, smarmy Jacques, and again his line delivery is excellent. Ellen Page's profane Libby seems at first to be similar to her other Juno style roles before branching out into something very different, she seems like she's having a blast and is great fun. A special mention here for Nathan Fillion, superb as always as The Holy Avenger, in a very unflattering costume.

Technically the movie is adequate, it looks fine but some of the cgi effects work looks poor. The soundtrack is excellent with some great songs and a solid score from Tyler Bates. The hand drawn animated musical opening credits also deserve a mention, they may look cheap but they're tremendously good fun.

For all the irreverence and flippancy though, Super has heart and its this that makes the movie as successful as it is, without it the films combination of hard core violence, queasy laughs and smarts would have been fun, but hard to love. With the heart that Rainn Wilson provides Super is surprisingly touching yet still as black as night.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Taxi Hunter

Anthony Wong Herman Yau
Dvd cover
Taxi hunter is another of Herman Yau's collaborations with Anthony Wong, unlike The Untold story and Ebola syndrome, which are both category III rated this one is a category II title. Don't let the softer rating fool you though, while Taxi hunter isn't as extreme as those two movies it still packs a punch.

Ah Kin (Anthony Wong) is a mild mannered, almost nerdy insurance salesman, everything is looking good for him, he's in line for a promotion at work and has a lovely wife who is pregnant with his child. When she suffers pregnancy complications, a sequence of events is set in motion that leads to the emergence of Ah Kin's dark side.

Anthony Wong screen capture

Where to start with Taxi hunter? Well I can only imagine how the real Hong Kong taxi drivers and their governing body would have reacted to the depiction of them in the film. Just about driver in the movie is a real low life at best, and most of them much worse! The films inspiration was from real life, with Hong Kong taxi drivers apparently pulling similar kind of tricks to ones portrayed in the movie, although not all of them I hope.

As stated before, Taxi hunter is relatively restrained for what is essentially an early nineties Hong Kong exploitation movie and is arguably a better movie for it. Sure it would have been fun for it to have the usual excesses of category III fare, but that would have taken away from the solid drama that features in the film.

Anthony Wong screen capture

Taxi hunter does have a couple of flaws, the biggest being the character and performance of Stephen Chow's regular sidekick Ng Man Tat. He does not belong in this film, he is there as comic relief but is completely unfunny, its certainly not that I have anything against the actor. In fact I find him very funny in his Chow movies, here its just like he has wandered onto the set of this movie from something else entirely. The other issue I have with the film is the lengths Yau goes to, to make it clear what a nice guy Ah Kin is and generate sympathy for him. A little less of forcing the character and a little more ambiguity could have made for an even more interesting movie than what we actually have.

Anthony Wong screen capture

The negatives of the film are easily outweighed by the positives though, and just for a change its Anthony Wong that makes the film what it is. Playing against type in the early stages of the film as the timid insurance salesman, Wong is completely convincing. He's also great during the scenes with his wife, showing real tenderness towards her. Obviously this is not the first time Wong has played a killer so when he snaps we know what he is capable of but this is different from his usual psycho due to the restraint shown by both the actor and director. It isn't all serious though as he looks like he is having great fun during a Taxi driver inspired moment of talking to camera. An excellent performance that holds the film together and does manage to elicit sympathy despite what his character does.

anthony Wong Herman Yau
The much more fun vcd cover
Herman Yau does a great job directing Taxi hunter, I may not agree with all the choices he makes in terms of where the story goes and regarding some of the characters, but the film looks really great for what must have been a really low budget shoot, with some great night shooting of Hong Kong, I love this kind of stuff. He also has a fantastic car chase towards the end of the movie, which again considering what he must have had to work with is pretty incredible, and its one of those guerilla style ones where they can't have had permission to shoot it. Taxi hunter also features some impressive stunt work throughout the film, that really sells the action sequences.

The dvd from Diskotek is very impressive, not in features alas as only a few trailers are included but the anamorphic image is very nice looking much better than I anticipated, looking pleasingly film like. The only problem being some actual print damage, but I'd take this over botched attempts to clean it up anyday!

Its not perfect but I really enjoyed Taxi hunter, it takes elements from various western movies and blends them into something uniquely Hong Kong. Fans familiar with Yau and Wong's more infamous collaborations may consider it to not be strong enough, but for me in this instance it works in the films favour.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Hong Kong Movie Location : The Mission

I've made no secret that Johnnie To's The Mission is in my top two Hong Kong movies ever made and so I was extremely excited to visit the location of the movies crowning glory, the shopping mall shootout. Picked out from the end credits of the movie, the Tsuen Wan plaza was the place I had to find.

Tsuen Wan is a little off the tourist map but is served by the excellent MTR underground rail service and was pretty easy to find. I assume not many tourists visit based on the surprised faces and odd looks we received from the locals.

Tsuen Wan plaza
Once inside the mall we headed straight for the central area where the escalators are and tried to figure out which floor the main part of the shootout was filmed on. I had taken only two photos and was lining up a third, when we were approached by an angry looking man and three security guards, we were asked to leave and told that photos were not allowed. I tried to explain, but the manager of the mall was having none of it and insisted that we leave. I told him I would take no more photos and put the camera away, as his English wasn't great and my Cantonese non existent, I think as much out of irritation as agreement he said okay. We were allowed to look around the rest of the mall, but we had two guards following us until we left! It was pretty funny really.

It turns out I was on the wrong floor for this next shot, but by the time I realised we already had our chaperones!

It was a real shame, I could have taken some great shots but had to make do with just these two, it was great though looking around the place, replaying the movie in my head.

The Tsuen Wan plaza was recently refurbished and looks quite different now. As well as The Mission the mall was also used in I love Hong Kong. There aren't any decent shots of it in that movie really but here is one to give an idea.

More movie locations to come soon.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

3D Sex And Zen Makes UK Newspaper Shock

The UK daily newspaper Metro today published a story about the success of 3D Sex and Zen : Extreme ecstasy. The article makes much of the films first day box office being higher than that of Avatar, cue the bluey jokes. Click the pic to read the article.

It was a real shock to see this on my way to work this morning, the fascination with 3D seems to know no bounds, add some softcore sex and you have a formula a tabloid newspaper cannot resist, even from more than 6000 miles away!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Elisabeth Sladen RIP

When I got up this morning I saw (here) the terribly sad news that Elisabeth Sladen had died yesterday aged 63. For many Doctor Who fans around my age she was their favourite Who companion and went onto gain a whole new legion of fans from her appearances in the reboot of Doctor Who and in her own spin off show The Sarah Jane adventures for the CBBC children's channel. This show for me set a benchmark for modern children's television. A show that despite being "a mere kids show" often had more depth than much of what passes for adult programming these days. All held together by the wonderful presence of Elisabeth.

Her final appearance in Doctor Who in The End of time, which was a difficult watch anyway will now be an even more heartbreaking one.

Elisabeth Sladen, a very talented actress who will be sorely missed by many.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Just One Look

Just one look directed by Riley Yip Kam Hung is set in 1970's Cheung Chau, a small island off Hong Kong, this location is perfect for Yip's coming of age story, infused with film love and nostalgia.

Fan (Shawn Yue) blames local gangster Crazy (Anthony Wong) for killing his father (Sam Lee), who died in the local cinema toilet while Fan was there watching a movie as a boy. During the next ten years Fan is determined to seek revenge but is too scared to confront Crazy. More stuff happens involving girls (Charlene Choi and Gillian Chung aka Twins), Fan's best friend Fishball Ming (Wong Yau Nam), movies and more.

Just one look is a film where a synopsis cannot do justice to the actual film, much happens that is of little consequence, either in terms of narrative or meaning, yet everything feels in the right place and time. Yip has a real talent for this kind of balancing act, where feel is more important than plot and atmosphere more so than pace. Yip's earlier movie Metade Fumaca, while different narratively left me with a similar feeling to this and I would highly recommend that movie too.

Using the fantastic Cheung Chau locations, Riley Yip has crafted a sleepy paced little movie, using humour and pathos to wonderful effect. The film draws us in to our own pasts, making little things that happen recognisable from our own lives, even those of us half a world away from Cheung Chau. This is the key to falling for the film, wallowing in the nostalgic mood it so successfully creates, taking you back to being on the edge of adulthood but still far enough away from the reality of it. This is particularly true for fans of cinema and even more so for fans of Chinese cinema (which we all are, right?) From using the cinema billboards as part of the storytelling to more obviously inserting the characters into the films themselves in fantasy sequences, the movie plays on how we used to feel as film viewers longing to be in the film worlds on screen.

Shawn Yue carries the lead role of Fan very well, but really the film belongs to the supporting cast, Wong Yau Nam is excellent as Fan's best friend and the two of them have some really good chemistry together. The Twins do pretty well too, Charlene is good but is a little sidelined, and Gillian pulls off a difficult role very well considering she isn't given very much to work with. Sam Lee is fun in his little cameo and Eric Kot is very funny as the Kung fu master, however the best performance in Just one look is Anthony Wong's. Another in a long line of fantastic characters he has delivered over the years, Crazy is alternately hilarious and touching, especially the scene on the beach with his son.

I really don't think I can (or want to) fault Just one look, it successfully achieves everything it sets out to do and left me with a lovely warm feeling inside, without being cloying, and that is something thats difficult to do.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Run And Kill : Cat III Part 6

Billy Tang's Run and kill is a notorious example of the category III genre, I remember it being spoken about in hushed tones by fans who had seen it back in the day. I had mistakenly thought it was a horror film due to hearsay, and having finally seen it, I would have to say its notoriety is deserved due to one scene, which I am not going to spoil but I will say it had me exclaiming "Holy shit" at my screen.

My second Billy Tang movie after Dr Lamb, Run and kill is completely different yet still recognisable as Tang's work. A brutal revenge action movie that starts deceptively, looking like a family comedy but turns in to hell on earth come the finale.

Everything seems to be rosy for Fatty (Kent Cheng), he has a wife and child and he runs his own business. When he returns home from work early, and finds his wife with another man he goes into a tailspin, leading to a night drowning his sorrows in a bar. Completely drunk Fatty makes the biggest mistake of his life, accidentally ordering a hit on his wife and setting a chain of events in motion that beggars belief.

Kent Cheng doing what he does best

Run and kill is as strong a deterrent to ever getting drunk again as you could ever see, what Kent Cheng's character and family go through as a result of a drunken misunderstanding should be enough to make even the most avid alcoholic stay sober! The nihilistic tone of Run and kill seems almost at odds with the blackly comic side of the film, where just when you think things couldn't get any worse for our portly hero, they do, massively.

Simon Yam has a ball as yet another of his psycho characters, handling the brutal violence with a level of glee bordering on the worrying side of enjoying it too much. He has proved over the years to be an incredibly versatile actor, who can play just about any role but he does seem to have a special affinity with the psycho roles he played in the early nineties category III craze.

While Kent Cheng isn't the best actor in the world, considering I'm more used to seeing him playing comic relief characters, he handles the mental disintegration of his character in Run and kill pretty well. Cheng's willingness to show himself as a drooling slob at the start of the movie is refreshing, particularly in an industry so obsessed with vanity, it really adds to his character. However even for a character who is obviously a soft touch, I'm not sure his reaction to finding his wife with another man is that convincing, but that is really the script more than Cheng's performance.

Billy Tang does another great job here, much like Dr Lamb the film is very impressive technically. Featuring some great claustrophobic photography, with tight close ups being particularly effective on Kent Cheng's sweating face as his situation turns from bad to worse. The action is excellent too, with the hit in Cheng's apartment a really good example, again its very tight inside the small flat and what the stuntmen and actors achieve here is great. Just one caveat, I won't spoil it, but the scene with Cheng's mother and a stuntman!


The dvd I watched is the German one, I was going to buy the HK dvd but that version is cut. After Kingwho? and I covered Intruder I wanted to find a dvd of that movie and Ken from sogoodreviews recommended the German dvd of Run and kill as it is uncut and features Intruder as well.

The dvd is anamorphic, has English subtitles and is pretty good, the compression could have been better as the two films are on the same disc but overall I'm very happy with it. It even has a reversible sleeve so you can make Intruder the main film. I may go back to Intruder and review the dvd as the previous post was based only on the vcd.

Another poor German cover

Run and kill is a very enjoyable, solid action movie with some strong category III overtones. It certainly isn't just a one scene film, although the notorious reputation of the movie does pretty much come from one scene, but that is doing the rest of the film a disservice. It boasts an excellent performance from Simon Yam and pretty good performances from the rest of the cast. Technically the movie is very good, and I would love to have seen what Billy Tang could have done with a decent budget.
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