Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Recent Buys Special : New Laserdisc Player And 200th Post

I wanted to do something special for my 200th post, and that special something is a new (well new to me at least) Pioneer DVL-909 Laserdisc and dvd combi player. I've been wanting to get hold of one of these for years, but I've always found them just too expensive. Ken from Sogoodreviews recently managed to get hold of one and this reminded me to have another look as my trusty, modded Pioneer CLD-1450 player is 20 years old, and frankly on it's last legs.

I've tried to pick one up on ebay countless times but never managed to actually win. I found this on a classifieds forum, the advert had received no interest, so I made an offer, which the seller snapped up. It's a great piece of kit and features both sides playback for laserdisc, which is clearly one of the coolest inventions ever.

All I need now are some lovely new Hong Kong laserdiscs to play on it, if you are looking to off load any, please send me an email.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Twist Category III Review

Danny Lee and Simon Yam are reunited in Lee's own category III potboiler Twist. What begins as a playful cat and mouse game between Yam's master thief and Lee's ragtag team of cops sinks into full on "torture porn" territory, highlighting Danny Lee's obsession with police brutality.

Yam (Simon Yam) plans and executes a daring heist of 170 million dollars. Lee (Danny Lee) of the O.C.T.B. is assigned the case and he and his team are quickly on Yam and his girlfriend's (Suki Kwan Sau Mei) trail. The cops (played by most of Lee's regular team, with the addition of Riki-Oh himself, Fan Siu Wong!) tail their prey but Yam is too smart for them, and humiliates the team at every turn. When the pair are eventually arrested, Yam's slimy lawyer leaves the police with nothing. With only 48hrs to hold them, how far are the cops willing to go to get their man?

Before getting into the film properly, I have to mention Danny Lee's hair. It's the same as it is in every film he made in this period except it's PERMED on top. It has a life of it's own and is almost a separate character to Danny. The perm is my favourite part of Twist, it amused me constantly throughout the movie, and people talk about Nic Cage having bad hair days!

Lee's hair is not the only entertaining feature of Twist, Simon Yam is great fun throughout the movie and  seems to be having a great time enjoying the company of Suki Kwan Sau Mei. They share a ludicrous and extremely funny sex scene, while the cops look on. Yam's wardrobe appears to be made up of cast offs from Judge, his character in Ringo Lam's Full Contact, the highlight being a quite incredible swimsuit. The movie also features Shing Fui On and Tommy Wong as Yam's heist cohorts, these parts lead to some hilariously unsubtle political commentary on China's human rights policies. As if all this isn't enough Twist also has some of my favourite subtitles for a long time, with "you shitty sucker" and "save my tits" standing out in particular.

As much as I was enjoying all this, I wasn't sure where the film was headed, or why it was cat III rated (the energetic sex scene aside). As we get to the last section of the film, it becomes clear as it gets exceptionally nasty with the cops resorting to torture to try to extract the information they require. The problem is Lee continues the film's relatively light hearted tone, treating many of these sequences almost as gags, especially a high powered enema. Even worse the invasive torture of Kwan Sau Mei by one of the female cops is horribly exploitative and filmed with the camera leering all over her body, making it very hard to stomach.

Overall Twist has so many plot holes and inconsistencies that I'm going to ignore them, as for all of it's flaws, it's an entertaining and fast moving cat III effort. It's a strange film really, it's probably too light for the real sleaze merchants, who may end up being bored waiting for the "good stuff" at the end. For others the ending may ruin what had been a pretty fun movie up to that point.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Electric Dragon 80000V Review

Beginning with a small boy climbing an electrical pylon, Ishii Sogo's Electric Dragon 80000v gives the viewer a 54 minute jolt as strong as the one the boy receives when he's electrocuted and falls from the pylon. When he comes round he's changed, he has the ability to not only absorb electricity but to communicate with lizards! He's also given to fits of violent rage where he discharges electricity through his fists. These violent urges can only be controlled by one thing, playing electric guitar loudly and badly.

Not a narratively strong movie by any stretch of the imagination, the film comes down to a confrontation between the boy grown up into "Dragon eye" Morrison (Tadanobu Asano) and Thunderbolt Buddha (Masatoshi Nagase), a criminal/vigilante who creates his own electric weapons, wears half a bronze head mask and sits in a (Low budget) Bond villain style lair. Sogo gives the characters little development but the film gets by on sheer insanity and style. The film has a lo-fi cyberpunk feel shot through with a David Lynch aesthetic. Gorgeous crisp black and white photography captures superb Japanese locations, and a real industrial vibe created by endless shots of electrical cabling and instruments. The Lynch feel is even more prevalent in the incredible soundscape of the film, using music, guitar noise and an amazing array of hums, buzzes and cracks of electricity. The amazing sound design is all brought to life via a raucous DTS 5.1 surround track on the dvd.

Electric Dragon 80000v has a distinctly experimental feel, but is still relatively accessible, it's actually very simple and it's debatable as to if any of it actually means anything but I had a great time with it. Asano is as cool as ever (although he's probably the least convincing guitar player in film history!) and while the narrative is slight to say the least, it's a superb audio visual experience, just be sure to crank up the volume.

Friday, September 23, 2011

The H.K. Triad Review

From writer/producer Wong Jing and director Clarence Fok, 1999's The H.K. Triad is an odd attempt at doing something different with the well worn Triad genre. When I say odd, what I actually mean is bizarre, but more on that later. The film attempts to cover a period from the 50's through to the 70's and the birth of the ICAC, the police of the police in Hong Kong by following the story of lifelong friends  Ho (Lau Ching Wan) and Lok (Francis Ng) as Ho moves up through the triad ranks and Lok is promoted in the police force. Until together, they become a seemingly unstoppable force in the underworld.

Complicating matters are the women in their lives, Ho's wife played by Diana Pang and Lok's played by Athena Chu. The H.K Triad is told in flashback from the present day, with Ho giving a seminar on the old days of the Triads to the police, with narration from Ho giving a Goodfellas style structure to proceedings without having either A. the budget to really accomplish the task or B. anywhere near the grandeur of that film.

One of the many unintentional moments of humour in the film is how they age Lau Ching Wan, considering at the start of the story I guess he's supposed to be in his early 20's but in the wraparound scenes he must be in his 60's. How do they achieve this magical transformation? They make him wear a flat cap! This is where so many Hollywood movies go wrong, Benjamin Button's CGI? Rubbish, they had Brad Pitt all they needed was a flat cap.

Other strange things in The H.K. Triad include, in the first half of the film at least Lau Ching Wan and Frances Ng seem unable to keep their hands to themselves, groping at each other and looking like they're enjoying it a little too much! In typical HK movie fashion there are some weird torture/punishments on show including characters putting some rather unpleasant things in their mouths, it began to make me a little queasy and wonder if Wong Jing has a few issues! The level of brutality is pretty high, particularly in the second half of the movie, which is a little surprising given the relatively gentle first half hour or so.

Lau Ching Wan gives one of the worst dramatic performances I've ever seen from him but still manages to carry the film on personality alone. Francis Ng fares slightly better but again his performance is far from his best work. I'm afraid this is due to Wong Jing's script overreaching his talent as a writer, with little of the plot points or character moments ringing true. True to form for a Jing script, it also displays a disturbingly casual misogyny that leaves an unpleasant aftertaste. Elsewhere Diana Pang and Athena Chu are fine and there's a fun performance from Lee Siu Kei as an underworld boss.

If there's one thing you can usually rely on from Clarence Fok, it's stylish direction, unfortunately based on the vcd I screened I couldn't tell, the quality was so poor. If you've seen a better presentation I'd appreciate comments on this point.

For all it's myriad of flaws, I enjoyed The H.K. Triad, while nowhere near a good film, it certainly has it's fun moments, intentional and otherwise. It also has the gorgeous Athena Chu, two of Hong Kong's finest leading men (even if they are a little below par) but for me the film's greatest asset is it feels completely Hong Kong, and these days, sometimes that's all I need. Oh and it also has that flat cap!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Absolutely My Final Life Without Principle Post Ever....

.... at least until I get the chance to review the film!

A new trailer has been released, and despite the relatively lukewarm reaction the film seems to have had at it's festival screenings, I see enough in it to still have high hopes for the movie. Lau Ching Wan in particular looks fantastic.

Also available in 720p high definition here

Another new poster too!

Finally a Q&A session from the Venice film festival with Johnnie To, in two parts.

Until I get my hands on the film itself then...

Monday, September 19, 2011

Recent Buys : September Everything Else

September's been a busy month for my credit card, here are the rest of this month's purchases.

Upgrade for another Peckinpah classic, Pat Garrett and Billy the kid. This special edition features the 1988 cut and the controversial 2005 cut, which I haven't seen, while roundly slated this sounds fascinating.

Lee Van Cleef and John Phillip Law spaghetti western, I haven't seen this for years, long overdue a revisit. I remember loving this movie and the quality of the dvd is apparently excellent.

The Arrow blu ray of Fulci's nightmarish horror. I've heard good and bad things about this release, but due to the recent riots in London and subsequent damage to a major dvd duplication plant which resulted in the deletion of several Arrow titles, I was spooked into picking this up before it disappears for good.

One of my picks of last year, Anton Corbijn's slowburn thriller looks amazing and even more so on blu ray.

Nicolas Winding Refn's Pusher trilogy, I've been meaning to pick these up for ages, the recent amazing trailer and imminent release of Refn's Drive made it a priority to see these asap.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Recent Buys : September Hong Kong And Asian Movies

September round up of Hong Kong and other Asian movie purchases on dvd and blu ray.

Park Chan Wook's excellent Thirst, a disturbingly fun take on the vampire genre. Featuring an awesome performance from Song Kang Ho as well as probably the best neck break in film history!

Johnnie To's Running out of time, one of my favourites of To's movies gets the blu ray treatment. Look out for my review of the film and the blu ray soon.

I've wanted to see Ishii Sogo's Electric Dragon 80000V for ages, a black and white punk fuelled crazyfest by all accounts.

Miike's modern classic on blu ray, read my review of the film here and my review of the blu ray here

A pre-A Better Tomorrow movie from John Woo, not sure what to expect here really. Woo's stock may have fallen over the years but as far as I'm concerned he's still the man!

Heavenly Kings, I've never seen this but I've heard really good things about it, a kind of mockumentary about a canto pop boy band. This is the director's cut in fancy digibook packaging, it's also rated cat III.

Johnnie To's wonderful Throwdown on blu ray, read my review of the film here and my blu ray review here.

Classic Sammo Hung directed kung fu in The Iron fisted monk, an upgrade for me to the Joy Sales legendary collection edition.

Simon Yam and Danny Lee together again in category III crime flick Twist, look out for a review soon.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Recent Buys : Keeping Dead Formats Alive HD-DVD

The high definition format war of Hd-dvd vs. Blu ray seems a lifetime away, even though it's only a few years ago. As an early adaptor of both formats via a US imported Toshiba HD-A1 player and a US 60GB Playstation 3, the war was irrelevant to me, it did provide me with amusement at the never ending childish bickering among the online fanboys on both sides.

Having purchased a steady stream of titles for both red and blu, I had no preference either way. However as time went on and more HD titles became available it soon became clear to me Hd-dvd was the better format from a practical point of view. Why? Firstly and most importantly the red format was region free, so as titles were released here in the UK I had a choice of where to buy from. This was a huge advantage over blu ray. Secondly, the format was basically finished from the beginning, every disc played and all the features were there from the start. This was far from the case with blu ray, where a format revision was required rendering early players limited in capability, constant firmware updates were required to play newer discs and usb sticks were often needed for some features.

When news broke of Warner's decision to fuck over Toshiba by stopping releasing titles on Hd-dvd in favour of blu ray, I couldn't help but feel the wrong decision had been made. Despite Hd-dvd having smaller storage, the quality was just as good (with the exception of fewer red titles having lossless sound), with the added advantages of being region free and actually working!

The good news is, since then blu ray has improved beyond all recognition. With the format established, the prices and quality of the players and discs are significantly better now. This took along time due to a format war that could have been easily avoided, how many times does this have to happen?

The upside of the red side's defeat was the clearance of the discs and players. Many titles were sold off for only a few pounds, as a result I ended up with a few titles I wouldn't have ever dreamed of buying (Poseiden remake anyone? So I'm a Kurt Russell fan!) but many more excellent discs. I also snagged a top of the range Toshiba HD-EX1 player for peanuts as most bailed on the format as quickly as possible. I have around a hundred or so Hd-dvds, having not added any for a while I checked out what was still around and picked up the following titles.

Kevin Smith's underrated second movie Mallrats, don't get me wrong it's hardly a classic but I do find it very funny thanks mainly to Jason Lee's fantastic performance. Smith seems to be getting plenty of shit these days but I'll watch anything he makes (except Cop out!)

One of the few Jet Li movies I haven't seen, not sure why really considering the cast.

Remake of one of my favourite of all John Carpenter's movies, not expecting it to be anywhere near but hopefully it'll be a solid action film and like Unleashed it has a good cast.

Not my usual kind of thing but I've heard some great things about Stardust, looking forward to checking it out.

I'm a huge fan of Walter Hill and this is one of his movies I haven't seen, again I've heard great things about Streets of fire and like most things it can only benefit from being seen in HD.

Until well into my teens I was really into King Arthur and the stories related to him. When I saw John Boorman's Excalibur during this time I really didn't know what to make of it, I barely remember any of it so it's a good time to revisit.

Any readers have opinions on the red/blu war?, do you still have/buy reds?

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Something New In Recent Buys : Video Games

I've loved video games since I first started playing them aged around 10, but in the last few years my love of them started to wane. As a result I've only played 2 games all the way through in probably the last three years, those being Super Mario Galaxy 2 and Resident Evil 5. I guess I've just become disillusioned with games in general, sure I've tried many different ones during this time but nothing hooked me and screamed play me. As the consoles continue to get more powerful it feels in most cases like you're just playing the same tired old game mechanics. The irony of this last statement due to the fact I'm a huge Resident Evil fan is not lost on me I assure you.

The equation is thus, my disillusioned view of the current games market, multiplied by how expensive games are plus a crippling lack of hours to put into anything substantial and the math is simple.

Now Winter is quickly approaching, I've decided to try a different approach to gaming, rather than trying to keep up with new releases, I'm going to buy older games when they're cheaper! I know this is hardly a revolutionary concept but it's completely alien to me. So, in the last few weeks I picked up Alan Wake and Mass Effect 2 for the Xbox 360, BioShock 2 collectors edition for the PS3 (very handsome it is too!) and an old favourite, Resident Evil 4 for the Gamecube. These four games cost less than the price of one new release title and should easily keep me occupied through the Winter months. I've played through RE4 before but the other three are all brand new to me. Any gaming readers care to comment on any of these titles? or your own gaming buying habits?

The collector's edition of Bio Shock 2 comes in a laserdisc or LP size box, here's the box and some of the goodies to be found inside. It also has some rolled mini posters (not pictured).

Outer box
Inner box
The game's soundtrack on vinyl
The soundtrack on cd
Hardback art book
The game

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Cool Crap : Election Cannes Press Book

Another really cool crap episode, this time coolness comes from the hardback press book for Johnnie To's Election from the 2005 Cannes film festival. Similar to the Exiled press book I posted about here but a little larger, as well as the usual cast and director info, this one also has some Triad history and a great page featuring some of the hand signals the Triads use, pictured below. If these are shown in a HK movie it results in an automatic category III rating.

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