Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The Raid

Gareth Evans Iko Uwais

Director Gareth Evans follows up his solid breakout film Merantau with probably the most anticipated action movie for many, many years The Raid. A simple high concept pitch along with a stunning trailer was enough to leave action fans salivating at the prospect of what Evans and his returning star Iko Uwais would deliver. The intensity of the buzz created at early screenings of the film was like nothing I'd experienced since John Woo mania almost twenty years ago, and the reputation of The Raid just kept growing and growing as more people saw it. The UK has had to wait quite a while for the movie to be released, and now it's here, any worries I had that it may not live up to the hype have been well and truly shot, stabbed, kicked, elbowed etc. etc. into oblivion, The Raid is simply stunning.

Gareth Evans Iko Uwais

A tactical unit led by Jaka (Joe Taslim) and featuring Rama (Iko Uwais) sets out to infiltrate a notorious gangster's hideout and arrest it's leader, the vicious Tama (Ray Sahetapy). Operating as a safe house for the criminal fraternity, the building is filled floor on floor with gangster scum loyal to Tama. When a young boy spots the unit and raises the alarm all hell breaks loose, and the game changes to survival. Now they're inside fighting for their lives, will any of them make it out again?

Gareth Evans Iko Uwais

Evans wastes little time with the setup, a few establishing shots of Rama before the raid and a pep talk from Jaka inside the van and we're away with the onslaught of almost relentless violence. Perhaps The Raid's most impressive element is it's pacing, with it's adrenaline fuelled action sequences punctuated with perfectly placed breathing spots before going again and again and .... well you get the picture, so much so that the set pieces don't really feel like set pieces. For those who haven't seen Merantau, the Indonesian martial art Silat will be a real eye opener, the fight choreography stuns with it's fluidity and invention, not just in the hand to hand combat but with the weapons too.

The high concept is fleshed out slightly more than the plot synopsis above suggests but certainly nothing that obstructs the barrage of brutality on display, and like it or not that is what The Raid is all about. If you're reading this then I would suggest you will love it!

Gareth Evans Iko Uwais

For what it is, The Raid is practically perfect, comfortably the most exciting, wince inducing action film for many years. If you were to nitpick, it's conceptually a little derivative of other action movies but does at least have great taste in where it borrows ideas from. It's so well executed it seems churlish to criticise it when the action genre is so devoid of originality in general. Evans and his talented team must be congratulated for creating as ferocious and kinetic an action movie as I've ever seen.

Gareth Evans must surely have been courted by the major studios after the calling card that was Merantau, now with The Raid they must be battering his door down, clamouring to tempt him to Hollywood, no doubt to try to turn him into the new Michael Bay! The Raid is so good, it should give him all the clout he needs to go (if he wants to) on his own terms and do what he wants to do, and that is something I can't wait to see.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Get The Gringo a.k.a How I Spent My Summer Vacation

Get The Gringo a.k.a How I Spent My Summer Vacation marks the return of Mel Gibson to our screens in the kind of hardboiled career criminal role he can do so well, something akin to his performance as Porter in Payback. The film also marks the directorial debut of Adrian Grunberg, who previously worked as assistant director on two of Gibson's recent movies. The pairing of Gibson and Grunberg also co wrote the screenplay along with Stacy Perskie. Denied a wide cinema release in the US, presumably due to the controversy surrounding Gibson and his well documented "problems", it may also have been due in part to the film's refreshingly un-PC content.

Beginning with our introduction to Driver (Gibson) via a high speed chase along the Mexican border, with a wounded partner slowly dying in the back seat and bag fulls of cash. A last ditch attempt to escape sees the car crash through the border wall, where he is picked up by corrupt Mexican law enforcement, who proceed to steal the already stolen money. Dumped in El Pueblito, a prison with a difference, Driver must adapt to the world he's been thrust into and utilise his particular skill set to his advantage in order to survive, all the while keeping one eye on how to get his money back.  He can't do this alone however, and he forges an unlikely bond with a kid (Kevin Hernandez), who teaches him the ropes. With the kid's help he quickly gets to grips with El Pueblito's hierarchy and begins the task of recovering his stolen cash. He isn't the only one interested in getting the money back as Frank (Peter Stormare), the gangster who the cash belonged to is also on the case. Gradually squeezed by all parties, Driver plays all the angles to manipulate events to his own advantage.

The central idea of Gibson's character playing all of his adversaries off against each other is nothing new, and although it becomes overly convoluted with too many characters involved at times it takes the simple idea and uses it well. What truly makes the movie special is it's setting, El Pueblito dominates the film, and whenever the film moves away from the prison it almost inevitably loses steam. A prison where if you have the cash, you can pretty much have access to anything you want, from apartments with cable tv to drugs, guns and girls. In fact about the only thing you can't buy is your freedom.

Gibson puts in his best performance in years and proves he still has plenty to offer as an actor if you can look past his baggage. Looking every inch the hard ass the role requires, he also shines in the scenes between him and Kevin Hernandez, the chemistry they share is great. Gibson obviously believed in the project having invested his own money in getting the movie made and his enthusiasm is infectious, I had a blast with it and it feels like Gibson did too.

Get The Gringo has a pleasingly nasty edge to it, and this along with the already mentioned un-PC feel gives the film something different to most movies coming out of Hollywood, this despite the fact there is little new in the movie. Overall it could have have been better with a little tightening of the script but as pure entertainment, this is one vacation that really delivers the goods.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Saviour Of The Soul

Guided by the unmistakeable touch of Jeff Lau, Corey Yuen and David Lai's 1991 movie Saviour Of The Soul provides an excellent Litmus test for viewers wanting to test the waters of early 90's Hong Kong cinema. Veering from juvenile comedy to tragic melodrama to blisteringly ambitious action set pieces, all wrapped up in photography and art design which would shame films with ten times the budget of this one.

Saviour Of The Soul's plot (attributed to Wong Kar Wai) lifts it's framework from traditional Wu Xia stories, placing it's characters in an alternate science fiction/comic book version of Hong Kong. A place where suffocating bullets and homing daggers are weapons of choice and where a hand grenade detonating at point blank range results in little more damage than cartoon style black face.

Andy Lau Anita Mui

City Soldier May (Anita Mui), responsible for blinding and incarcerating a notorious criminal (Corey Yuen) is targeted for revenge by his pupil Silver Fox (Aaron Kwok). May's City Soldier colleagues and suitors Ching (Andy Lau) and Siu Chuen (Kenny Bee) get caught in the crossfire of the deadly assassin's quest for vengeance, resulting in May going into hiding to protect her beloved. As Ching searches desperately for May, Silver Fox prepares to strike again.

Andy Lau Anita Mui

Beginning with a stunning prison break as Silver Fox tears his way through an army of guards, you could be forgiven for thinking this could be one of the greatest action films ever made. That was certainly my reaction on seeing this sequence back in the early 90's, and if it doesn't quite deliver on that promise, it's certainly one of the most ambitious films of it's era. I'd love to see a contemporary Hong Kong film with even a fraction of the imagination and ambition showcased here, alas that prospect seems ever further away.

Critics of the movie would no doubt argue it is in fact too ambitious and that the action sequences are poorly realised as a result, this would be overly harsh in my opinion, the verve and invention on display makes up for the occasionally weak special effects. In addition the action scenes work wonders in enhancing the film's otherworldly feel, a feeling grounded by the amazing production design and Peter Pau's stunning cinematography.

Andy Lau Anita Mui

Andy Lau's Ching is mildly irritating for much of the movie, he plays pretty much his stock persona from this period of his career, while showing occasional flashes of the charisma powered superstar actor he would become in the late 90's. Anita Mui plays two roles, May and her sister who is the film's comic relief, the sister maybe annoying but Mui plays both roles effortlessly well. The film's two best roles are undoubtedly Kwok's Silver Fox and Carina Lau's Madam of Pets, the movie is set alight when either is on screen.

Saviour Of The Soul has many flaws, the comedy is mostly unfunny, much of it makes no sense and there is little in the way of explanation of who anyone is or why they do what they do. As such it certainly won't be to everyone's taste but as I said earlier it's as good a test as any for HK cinema newbies. If you can get used to the dramatic shifts in tone, the juvenile humour and marvel at the impossible action choreography, there is a whole world of wonders to explore. For a seasoned HK veteran, I found the movie holds up very well, it may not hang together as a great film but it's great fun and the ambition of it's blistering action sequences make it easy to overlook it's problems. It also works as a real blast of nostalgia for those golden days of the early 90's, and sometimes that's all I need.

Andy Lau Anita Mui

Long out of print on dvd, Saviour Of The Soul is screaming out for a remaster, one that does justice to the richness of the photography and art design. Having seen the film theatrically, I'm sure the movie would pick up many new fans if it was given a release somewhere approaching the theatrical experience.

Viewed via Netflix instant, the print looks like the HK dvd release.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Cool Crap : Godfather's Fury Thai Poster

After talking about how the film is more important to me than the actual image when it comes to selecting posters, here is one of the occasional exceptions where I loved the design enough to go with it even though I'd never seen the movie. It isn't through lack of trying however, ever since I first saw the poster I've tried to track the film down but to no avail, it just doesn't seem to be available anywhere. If anyone can point me in the right direction I'd really appreciate it but for now the awesome poster will do.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Gone With The Bullets Teaser Poster

A teaser poster has been released for Jiang Wen's sequel to Let The Bullets Fly, titled Gone With The Bullets it will be the second film of a trilogy. Set during the same 20's time period the "Bullets 2" will be loosely connected rather than a direct sequel. Rumours are Gong Li may appear in the film, and that Jiang Wen is looking for a Western actor for one of the roles. Shooting begins later in the year for a release in late 2013, and I'm looking forward to it already.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Mail Call : Fernando Di Leo Blu Ray Box

Eurocrime Herny Silva

Picked up The Fernando Di Leo blu ray box from Raro video thanks to the guys at The Gentleman's Guide To Midnight Cinema. Until hearing Will in particular heaping praise on Di Leo, his movies and his contribution to the Eurocrime genre, I'd never heard of him. It isn't that I didn't have any interest in the Eurocrime genre, more that it was a blindspot for me, I've covered a few of the better known entries on the blog and wanted to do more. When Raro offered the box set for $22 I couldn't resist, and to sweeten the deal yet further, they were also giving away a copy of Lamberto Bava's Body Puzzle.

Eurocrime Herny Silva

In addition to the movies Caliber 9, The Italian Connection, Rulers Of The City and The Boss, the box also includes the booklet pictured above featuring an interview with Di Leo.

Eurocrime Herny Silva

Eurocrime Herny Silva

Eurocrime Herny Silva

Eurocrime Herny Silva

In the time since ordering the box set, Raro have announced a second box set featuring three more Di Leo movies, including the fantastically titled Shoot First, Die Later.

Soi Cheang's Motorway (Again!) UPDATED

Anthony Wong Soi Cheang

Another new trailer for Soi Cheang's Motorway, and this Hong Kong version is the best one yet. This is the trailer that convinces me the film is going to be worth the long wait. Only a month to go for those of you lucky enough to be in Hong Kong.

Anthony Wong Soi Cheang

Anthony Wong Soi Cheang

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Screaming In High Heels The Rise And Fall Of The Scream Queen Era

Scream queen Quigley Stevens

As the poster above says "a Jason Paul Collum scream come true", Screaming In High Heels The Rise And Fall Of The Scream Queen Era is clearly a labour of love for Collum, who not only wrote, produced and directed the documentary but also appears as an enthusiastic talking head throughout. For the most part the film is an excellent treatment of it's subject, a subject that has been screaming (sorry!) out to be tackled in just this kind of way.

Setting out to tell the story of the mid to late 80's boom in B movies, filtered through the lives and careers of three of the most recognisable starlets of the period, Linnea Quigley, Brinke Stevens and Michelle Bauer. Collum's film also prominently features two of the most prolific directors of these actresses, Fred Olen Ray and David DeCoteau, in movies such as Slave Girls Beyond Infintity, Sorority Babes In The Slimeball Bowl-a-rama (known to UK audiences under the far less exciting name of The Imp.) and perhaps most famously Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers. Films that combined wild titles that always promised more than the movie could deliver, gratuitous nudity, terrible puns and occasional violence on tiny budgets.

Scream queen Quigley Stevens

If I have a criticism of Screaming In High Heels, it's that the film tries to cram a little too much into it's hour or so running time and leaves parts of the story lacking in detail. It begins by covering the decline of the US institution of the Drive In cinema and the subsequent rise of home video as its replacement in fulfilling the needs of exploitation film fans in particular. From there we move onto how the three girls got started in the film business, with some interesting soundbites and clips from the early works of the scream queens, including the revelation that Linnea Quigley was painfully shy! Hard to believe, right? And footage of Bauer in a Playboy video called Flashdancers, complete with New Order's Blue Monday on the soundtrack.

Scream queen Quigley Stevens
As they were
Once the scene setting is complete, we move on to the movies that made them famous, Return Of The Living Dead is mentioned in regard to Quigley but it's mostly the work of Fred Olen Ray and David DeCoteau that are featured. This is the most fun part of the documentary as we get to see the explosion in popularity of the ladies through some great footage of news and chat shows as well as convention appearances. The enthusiasm for this period is infectious as the participants talk of how hard they worked but mainly how much fun it was to be involved.

Scream queen Quigley Stevens

Unfortunately, as with most things, the good times have to come to an end and for Quigley, Bauer and Stevens a combination of three things ended their success. Firstly, the market being flooded with scream queen wannabes, secondly, huge changes in the video industry, namely the proliferation of the massive chain video store such as Blockbuster and thirdly, the inevitable march of time itself. The girls do little to hide their feelings of bitterness on the wannabes, who they feel destroyed the convention circuit for them by ripping off the genuine fans.

Finally we're brought up to date with what the girls did next and this part is a little vague, with Stevens still being active in the horror scene but in micro budget features. Quigley similarly is still active but has done fewer films, having taken time out to care for her sick mother. Bauer says she has largely given the acting up but a quick look on imdb shows she is also still active but to a lesser extent.

Collum does a great job highlighting the three distinctly different personalities he's working with and each has great moments, such as discussing their families reactions to the films they starred in. He has also dug up some excellent clips including a segment on the controversy surrounding the killer Santa flick Silent Night, Deadly Night (in which a topless Quigley is famously featured), with Gene Siskel denouncing first the TV advert and then the movie itself on TV, alongside footage of a protest outside a cinema showing the film (pictured below).

Scream queen Quigley Stevens

As a teenager during this period, at the time these movies were appearing I was already obsessed with film, working my way through the horror and splatter classics, alongside a burgeoning interest in the Hong Kong cinema I grew to love so much. At the same time I was taking in what I could find from the likes of Kurosawa, Leone, Lynch etc. My appetite for film was voracious and I wasn't particularly picky, so I was quite happy to mix the class with the trash. When these films appeared on the local video store shelves, many of which were from Colourbox video in the UK, I couldn't resist the titles, the gaudy cover art or the fact many of them featured Quigley who I was already a fan of from her appearance in Return Of The Living Dead. I enjoyed them on their own terms, recognising the limitations and embracing them as fun trash, the repetition of the leading ladies certainly helped and added personality (not to mention copious nudity!) if not exactly brilliant acting ability. Sometimes personality is more important than ability and in these movies, this was definitely the case.

Scream queen Quigley Stevens
As they are now
What Screaming In High Heels does best is to get across that none of the participants think they made great art with these movies, they see them for what they are. That isn't to say they aren't proud of the work, they quite clearly are and this shines through alongside what a great time they all had.

Whatever your opinion of the movies themselves, if you are of a certain age Screaming In High Heels is guaranteed to take you on a nostalgia trip, back in time to the late 80's, and despite the fact it could have gone deeper on the lives of the girls, that was more than enough for me to love it.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Chinese Zodiac Poster And Trailer

Jackie Chan

As Jackie Chan announces his (well earned) retirement from the kind of action stunts that made him a worldwide star, a new poster and trailer surface for his latest movie Chinese Zodiac.

The jury is still out but hopefully it will be a fitting swan song to Jackie's long career of risking his neck, find out 12/12/12.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Cool Crap : Men From The Gutter Thai Poster

After loving Nam Nai Choi's Men From The Gutter, I had a look around to see if any posters were available for the film. A quick look on ebay later and the Thai poster was available, what's more it looked really cool to boot.

Most of the posters I choose to pick up are based on how I feel about the film itself as much as the actual poster design. I've argued this through with friends before, most of who suggest the aesthetic of the poster is more important. I suppose it's a different mentality but I would hate to end up with walls filled with poster art that looks nice but for movies I either dislike or have no connection with. Of course the ideal is to have both as is the case with this poster. How does everyone else feel on the subject?

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Tiger Cage II

Donnie Yen Yuen Woo Ping

Yuen Woo Ping's in name only sequel to his original Tiger Cage was my introduction to Donnie Yen. In the subsequent years Yen's career went through ups and downs, before reaching his current position as the God of Hong Kong cinema (at least in his own eyes!). I was blown away by this film on that first viewing but how does Tiger Cage II hold up twenty years later?

Donnie Yen Rosamund Kwan

The plot of Tiger Cage II is paper thin, it concerns a suitcase full of Triad money, to be laundered by a firm of lawyers, led by Waise (Robin Shou). Dragon Yau (Donnie Yen) is an ex-cop having a bad day,  he signs papers to divorce his wife and then he gets caught up in a robbery attempt , targeting the case full of cash. As if that wasn't bad enough, he then becomes a murder suspect along with his wife's solicitor Mandy Chang (Rosamund Kwan), as the mastermind behind the robbery attempts to cover his tracks by killing Mandy's colleague who has discovered the truth. Framed for the killing, Dragon and Mandy are left with little choice but to go on the run and try to clear their names, struggling to stay alive as they are hunted by the robber's henchmen.

Donnie Yen Rosamund Kwan

It maybe a little unfair to criticise the film for it's plot, after all many classic Hong Kong action movies of this vintage weren't especially well written but in Tiger Cage II's case the writing is particularly weak. The whole thing feels completely thrown together, as though they had ideas for a few fight scenes and they'd make the rest up along the way. Again this wouldn't be the first movie to be made like this in Hong Kong, and isn't the film's major failing, what is, is the irritating pitch of the attempts at comedy to plug the huge holes in the writing. I'm afraid it's mostly Donnie's contribution at fault for this, as he mugs his way through scene after scene of painfully unfunny face pulling. Rosamund Kwan's character fares little better in this regard, although it's slightly less annoying from her as she's better at it. Another issue that does the film no favours is the terrible and largely inappropriate synth score, sounding like it was knocked up in around half an hour on a budget Casio keyboard.

Donnie Yen Yuen Woo Ping

Hailed by many as a classic of Hong Kong action cinema, seeing the film once more it does not deserve classic status by any means. It has some good moments but much of the action looks to be under cranked, and the props used during the fight scenes look ever more dubious with the increase in image quality of the Fortune Star remaster. My pick of the action sequences is the fight where Donnie and Rosamund are handcuffed together and he uses her as a weapon, the choreography of this scene is spectacular and Kwan deserves plenty of credit, as she takes a real battering. It looks like little makeup was required afterwards, as the bruising on her wrist and legs is clear to see.

Donnie Yen Yuen Woo Ping

To answer the question posed at the start of this review, the simple answer is Tiger Cage II has not aged  at all well. I came to the film with fond memories but found it to be lacking in most areas, it's decidedly average at best . Compared to Yuen Woo Ping's original Tiger Cage (which also featured Yen), which certainly does hold up, this sequel's standing drops further still, yet Tiger Cage II is seemingly better known and held in a higher regard. Why? I really don't know, it's one of the universe's little mysteries I guess.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Bluetimes Coopa Media Player

Following on from the HP Proliant Microserver PC build I recently completed, I found my WDTV Live media player was unable to bitstream the lossless audio from the blu ray rips I'd done such as the one for Gallants. The WDTV had served me really well, it played most things perfectly, and all I had to do was to put a file on a usb stick or hard drive and rather than having to watch the film or show on my laptop (which I hate) I could watch it on my TV, a much more elegant solution for my viewing habits.

The limitations of the WDTV weren't just restricted to the audio however, I found an increasing number of MKV files that wouldn't play due to them having compressed headers, which many players of this type cannot read. So I set out to find a player that could fulfil both of these requirements for as little cost as possible. What I found was the Bluetimes Coopa TV001, a deceptively simple player that promised to play just about any kind of file type you could throw at it. It may lack the network functions of the WDTV Live but every other aspect of the player seems to be far in advance of that unit. For example, spotlighting the subtitle options, you can do just about anything with them, you can change the size, colour, position in the image and even add delay to them if they go out of sync, everything to suit the needs of the file you're watching. The same goes for the image resolution, the ability is there to change the output to suit any kind of file I could find to test it with.

All of this functionality came in at the unbelievable price of £39.95 including next day delivery, as a result of the insanely cheap price corners have been cut, with the build quality and remote control both being distinctly below average. The firmware is also quite buggy but updates are promised to rectify this and for the price I can put up with a few bugs. Your mileage may vary here though, as I'm generally quite forgiving on things like this, where others may not be.

What all this means is that rather than the effort and hours and hours of hard work it took me to complete the custom dvd of The Mission, it now takes a fraction of the time to do the same thing. Just rip the video and ensure the filenames of the video and subtitles match and are in the same folder and that's it, simple.

The player is available from this website if you're interested and I'd just like to add I am in no way affiliated with either the manufacturers of the player or the company distributing it here in the UK.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Another Motorway Trailer With Subtitles

Less than a week after the teaser, a new subtitled full trailer for Soi Cheang's Motorway is here, and at least visually it looks great, and sounds it too complete with it's Drive inspired music.

Really excited and can't wait to see it now. Bring it!

The Amazing Spider-Man Preview

A four minute preview of The Amazing Spider-Man has been released ahead of the July release of Marc Webb's movie. It's a little alarming just how much they are showing of the film in the multitude of trailers so far, does the studio have so little faith in the property, even after the success of the Sam Raimi movies? Admittedly damage was done to the franchise after the lacklustre 3rd film but Spidey is such a huge character, giving practically the whole film away isn't the answer.

As for my own thoughts, as a Spidey fan I think it looks very good but with reservations, in particular I didn't like the choice of the Lizard as the villain, I also hate the design of him, he looks terrible. On the other hand Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone look like they will be great. One last thing, why is Spider-Man taking his mask off so frequently? Between all the trailers it looks like it happens way too often.

Hong Kong Film Poster Ebay Fail

For the past week I'd been tracking a number of Hong Kong movie posters, a few of which I'd never seen before and one in particular that I've wanted forever. These kind of items rarely come up for sale, and when they do, they tend to be out of my price range.

The auctions had reasonable starting prices and although the shipping was expensive, the seller was offering excellent discounts for multiple purchases. Everything was in place for them to be mine, until that is, I completely forgot about when they were ending! Yes, I missed them completely.

Cynthia Khan Hong Kong poster

Queen's High is the the one I've always wanted to get hold of, I've never seen this come up for sale before.

Hong Kong category III

I've never seen My Better Half but I love this poster, it has a similar kind of lurid feel to the one for Dr.Lamb.

Hong Kong category III

Remains of a Woman.

Enemy Shadow. Again I've never seen the film but I love the poster design.

Veronica Yip Hong Kong

Three Days of a Blind Girl.

Hong Kong Category III

The Pearls of Oriental, having this hanging on the wall would have made quite the conversation piece for any visitors.

To make it even worse only the Queen's High poster went for anything like a high price, making this particular ebay fail a very frustrating one. Tit!

Monday, May 14, 2012

HKMS : Project A Part II

A series of HK movie synopses regurgitated verbatim from the dvd/vcd/laserdisc cover.





This synopsis comes from the Zoke mainland dvd release and is copied directly from the Fortune Star remaster release, this makes the spelling mistakes even worse than they would have been. Watch out for those unstoppable forcs. 

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Mail Call : Fox Hunter Laserdisc

Stephen Tung's Fox Hunter is a movie I had been trying to track down for ages, with no dvd release available (that I've been able to track down at least) and the vcd long out of print, I had to view the film via a rip of the vcd. The Jade Leung and Jordan Chan starring action film is great fun and so when the opportunity arose to pick up the Universe HK laserdisc, I snatched it with both hands.

Look out for a review coming soon.

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