Thursday, June 28, 2012

Cool Crap : Story Of Ricky Poster

Another super cool original Hong Kong poster for you, this time Nam Nai Choi's over the top gorefest Story Of Ricky. I covered the movie here, for anyone who hasn't seen it yet (can there be anyone left who hasn't?) and it comes highly recommended, especially as a movie to watch with a group of friends. Love the manga art featured with each character, and of course the banner style CAT III warning splashed across the top. Hope you like it!

Hong Kong Poster

Monday, June 25, 2012

A Simple Life

Inspired by the true story of film producer Roger Lee and his maid, Ann Hui's A Simple Life sees the director continue to hone her "slice of life" filmmaking skills, bringing her command of the realistic day to day mundanity to the kind of story many directors would have suffocated with histrionics and drowned with sentimentality. Without relying on any of the kind of huge movie moments so common to this type of drama, if you're anything like me, you'll be crying your heart out throughout.

Ah Tao (Deanie Ip), maid to Roger (Andy Lau), has worked for his family for sixty years or more. When she has a debilitating stroke she requests to quit her job and move into a home. After a life of looking after another family, she finds that maybe she was more than just the maid when Roger begins to care for her.

Using this simple framework to explore issues of ageing, loneliness, dignity and how we treat the elderly, A Simple Life throws plenty of food for thought at it's audience without ever becoming top heavy and losing sight of the story of Ah Tao and Roger. A storyline dealing with the kind of issues the film does may not sound like much fun and in places it is hard going, factor in a running time of almost two hours and it may sound like the odds are stacked against the film. However, the characters and the warmth and love between them make the film wonderful to sit through even during it's heavier moments.

Roger Lee's participation in the film industry gives the perfect opportunity to pack the film with cameos from some of Hong Kong cinema's biggest names and while the humour this provides is a welcome addition it never clouds the central relationship of the film. As well as cameos from the likes of Tsui Hark and Sammo Hung playing themselves, the film also has small roles for Chapman To and best of all Anthony Wong, who has great fun with it. The supporting cast of well drawn characters add more weight and humour to the drama.

Ultimately the film belongs to it's two stars and Andy Lau gives one of the most impressive performances of his career. In a role so subtle he barely does anything, the looks between him and Deanie Ip are instantly recognisable and say more than any amount of words ever could. Deanie Ip is flat out incredible, as nuanced and emotional a performance as I can remember seeing in a Hong Kong film. The chemistry between the two stars is perfect, as it should be considering the amount of times they've played together over the years.

A Simple Life delivers a compelling, richly emotional human story filled with warmth and humour. In lesser hands the film could have become a mawkishly sentimental mess or a tub thumping tirade about the treatment of elderly Hong Kongers, or even worse both. Instead thanks to Hui's sensitive direction and the loving focus on the central relationship beautifully played by Ip and Lau, A Simple Life is one of the best and most rewarding films I've seen for many a year and deserves all the praise and many awards lavished upon it.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Hong Kong Laserdiscs : Too Many Ways To Be No.1

Picking up Hong Kong laserdiscs is an expensive habit, so being selective is obviously important. With many titles available on the format but not on dvd, some go for crazy "collector" prices, so rather than try to compete for those, to keep feeding my habit I've decided to pick up a few favourites. Where better to start than with my favourite Milkyway Image titles and to kick us off Wai Ka Fai's amazing ode to chaos, Too Many Ways To Be No.1.

I think the last of the Milkway Image movies to be released on laserdisc was A Hero Never Dies, can anyone confirm this to be correct?

Monday, June 18, 2012

Breaking Bad Season 5 Teaser Trailers

With less than a month to go until the premiere, AMC have unveiled three teasers (so far) for the fifth season of Breaking Bad. I only have two things to say on them, 1. Avoid the third one if you haven't seen season 4 as there is a fucking major spoiler in there and 2. Holy shit, this is going to be amazing.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Alex Cheung's Cops And Robbers

Hong Kong Alex Cheung

Having honed his skills making TV dramas, Hong Kong new wave director Alex Cheung hit the ground running both artistically and commercially with his 1979 debut feature Cops and Robbers. Delivering exactly what the title promises in a taut, exciting and brutal 90 minutes.

Dedicated cop and single father Sergeant Chan (Wong Chung) leads his team of cops in a shoot first, ask questions later style that earns him the nickname "Dirty Harry" (The subtitles call him both Dirty Happy and Harry but I'm sure it should be Harry). Chan's boss assigns rookie cop Wing (Cheung Kwok Keung) to the team as they investigate a gang of ruthless bank robbers led by Biu (Hui Bing Sam).

Hong Kong Alex Cheung

A simple plot filled with what were already cliches back in 1979 doesn't stop Cops and Robbers punching well above it's weight, and bringing a zesty freshness to the genre. Thanks in main to the superb direction from the debutant filmmaker, who makes the most of the tools at his disposal to craft a film that works as an action thriller but also has much to say about both the police and the sometimes fine line between them and their quarry. In many ways the film looks very dated but in it's exploration of attitudes towards the police the film is still very relevant today.

Hong Kong Alex Cheung

The performances are fine but this isn't really an actors film, the drama is more about actions than words and this is highlighted by the power of the film's violence. While not overly graphic compared to many more recent movies, for it's vintage it's pretty tough stuff and Cheung makes sure you feel every last bit of it. The excellent location work also adds to the feeling of realism, bringing an authenticity to the drama and intensity to the action.

Hong Kong Alex Cheung

As previously mentioned certain aspects of the film are very dated, aside from the obvious things such as the fashions on display, the film opens with a song by Teddy Robin (who appears in the film and also produced) over a heavy handed scene of children playing guess what? Yep, Cops and Robbers. It's hard to imagine this being left in the film now. Any problems are easily overlooked as the core of the film is so solid, if only current Hong Kong films featured the strengths on display here. Highly influential on the crime movies that would follow, I suspect Ringo Lam in particular was a huge fan of this film as much of his best work echoes Cops and Robbers in both style and content.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Cool Crap : Intruder Hong Kong Poster

Way back in March last year I posted about Milkyway's disturbingly good Intruder. Over on Bullets Over Chinatown, Kingwho? also posted about the film and included a photo of his Hong Kong poster for the movie, which I was particularly envious of. I never thought I'd have a chance of picking up that poster or the ones for many other HK films from the 90's. I thought most would have been lost to the ravages of time, and any that survived would be in the hands of collectors who would never let them go. Turns out I was wrong and I've managed to get my hands on some truly classic posters, including the one for Intruder, and this one is in great condition too.

Wu Chien Lien Johnnie To

Of the other posters I got my hands on, many are not in such good condition but I don't care. Some of them I can't believe I was lucky enough to have the chance to pick up at all and regardless of the folds, tears and tape marks (which give the posters a rough and ready, lived in feel much like some of the films themselves), I'll never let any of them go.

More to come soon.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Statham's Parker Update

Richard Stark Darwyn Cooke


With the release of Darwyn Cooke's The Score graphic novel a little over a month away, I thought it was high time for an update on the Parker movie. It's been a while since I questioned whether Jason Statham was the right man to fill the shoes of Richard Stark's Parker. In the months since then the cast has seen many additions to the Statham and Jennifer Lopez combination in the original post, including Nick Nolte and Michael Chiklis.

Originally Taylor Hackford's film was to be released in October this year but for some reason has been put back to January 2013, it's not generally a good sign when this happens but it's thought the date has been pushed back to help the film's box office chances rather than issues with the film itself.

Jason Statham Richard Stark

Jason Statham Richard Stark

Jason Statham Richard Stark

The shots above are behind the scenes rather than stills from the movie.

I'm invested in the film as a huge fan of Stark's career criminal but I'm still not convinced by the look of Statham, he just doesn't look like Parker to me particularly in the pastel blue jacket and cowboy hat! It would be tough to not compare any reading of the character to Lee Marvin, who had the character's attitude down to perfection in John Boorman's Point Blank. Robert Duvall in The Outfit and Mel Gibson in Payback (in the director's cut especially) certainly had their moments but neither were anywhere near Marvin. I'd love to be wrong about Statham, and he can obviously pull off the tough guy role with ease, maybe he will surprise me.

The other issue is the script, with the film apparently based on elements of a few books rather than one of the individual stories, it could easily become a disjointed mess. The plot summary, taken verbatim from the film's IMDB page reads "When Parker turns down a job offer to pull off a jewel heist, he narrowly escapes with his life. He then teams up with a female real estate agent who is familiar with the local town and has nothing to lose to find the target of the heist so they can steal the loot for themselves." It doesn't make complete sense but you get the gist.

Hopefully the writer and director will have enough respect for the material to deliver a film that can satisfy the Statham audience as well as fans of the Parker character.

Darwyn Cooke's The Score is released in the UK on the 17/07 and is adapted from one of the best of the Parker books.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Tsui Hark's Shanghai Blues HK Video DVD

My favourite of all Tsui Hark's movies, Shanghai Blues is one of the hardest to see thanks to the lack of an English friendly dvd release anywhere in the world. As far as I'm aware the only releases available are a Japanese dvd and the HK Video French release featured here.

Tsui Hark Hong Kong
Japanese release

I know the film was released on laserdisc in Hong Kong with English subtitles but I've never seen that disc come up for sale (If I had it, I wouldn't sell it either). As a result I've been trying to find the French dvd for the last couple of years, ever since seeing a rip taken from it. As is often the case with HK Video releases, the love, care and respect given to the production of the dvd is second to none. Excellent image quality aside, the whole package screams quality. An outer slipcase holds the dvd digipac along with a gorgeous booklet filled with stills from the film and behind the scenes. On the dvd itself is a 30 minute interview with Tsui Hark about the film (in English), the documentary Hong Kong Cinema Blues (in French) and a photo gallery.

Tsui Hark Hong Kong
Outer slip case
Tsui Hark Hong Kong
Dvd slipcase
Tsui Hark Hong Kong
Chapter info inside dvd slipcase
Tsui Hark Hong Kong
Tsui Hark Hong Kong
Tsui Hark Hong Kong
Sample pages of the booklet
Another fantastic release from HK Video, I know the lack of subtitles is a major issue as not everyone wants to bother adding them but as I said, the love that goes into these releases makes it more than worth the effort. Now to track down their release of Hark's The Lovers!

Friday, June 8, 2012

Two Steelbooks & 20% Off Blu Ray @ HMV

A quick heads up for HMV's current offer of 20% off any blu ray, the offer is good until Monday night so get in while you can. Just enter promotion code H8BLU20 at the checkout screen.

Although I'm not usually that bothered about steelbook releases, I can easily be swayed when they look great and I've gone for these two.

blu ray steel book

Double dip on one of my favourite 80's horror movies, mainly for the original untampered with soundtrack and the feature length More Brains documentary, neither of which the US release have.

Arrow blu ray steelbook

Pre-order of Arrow's release of Lady Snowblood 1 and 2 out in September, the cover is to be confirmed but this looks like it could be an excellent release.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Yes, Madam! a.k.a Police Assassins 2

Yes Madam Yeoh Rothrock

Outside of Bruce Lee and a few Jackie Chan movies, Corey Yuen's Yes, Madam! was one of a glut of Hong Kong movies I saw in a short space of time that made me fall in love with HK cinema, titles including Righting Wrongs (Above The Law) and Royal Warriors (Police Assassins). Yes Madam, released on VHS in the UK under the title of Police Assassins 2 in a horribly dubbed version, and then confusingly retitled Police Assassins for it's Hong Kong Legends dvd release, Michelle Yeoh's action film debut was unlike anything I'd seen in a Hollywood action movie. These three films combined were as instrumental as anything in helping to shape my future film viewing.

Yes Madam Yeoh Rothrock

Asprin (Mang Hoi) and Strepsil (Sham Kin Fun), two petty thieves who inadvertently become involved in a murder case when they steal items belonging to a murdered man. The man had hidden an important microfilm in his passport, which the thieves pass onto a forger friend Panadol (Tsui Hark). Inspector Ng (Michelle Yeoh) is assigned to the case, along with Inspector Morris (Cynthia Rothrock) from Scotland Yard! The investigation leads the cops to the bumbling crooks and soon they are on Triad leader Tin's (James Tien Chun) tail, he will stop at nothing to get the incriminating film back and with his hitman and bodyguard (Dick Wei) at his side, he proves too much for the inspectors to catch using legal means, in frustration they give up their badges and go after Tin alone.

Yes Madam Yeoh Rothrock

It quickly becomes clear watching Yes, Madam! that the plot is largely irrelevant, not only are there huge holes and threads that go nowhere but little of the character interaction makes any sense either. The best idea is to ignore it and bask in the glorious action, opening with a punchy, exciting robbery sequence, that immediately announces Michelle Yeoh as a bonafide action star. The film then meanders through some silly comedy and less than convincing dramatic scenes featuring Asprin, Strepsil and Panadol, with regular punctuation from the superb action sequences. The comedy is mildly amusing with Tsui Hark coming off surprisingly well but these scenes do occasionally outstay their welcome but the action is never far away. The finale at Tin's extravagant home is spectacular, with Yeoh and Rothrock (also in her first Hong Kong action movie) taking on an army of his men. The fight between the two ladies and Dick Wei being truly great.

Yes Madam Yeoh Rothrock

The main problem I have with the film is not the aforementioned plot issues, it's more the fact Yeoh and Rothrock feel like supporting players, when they clearly should be the centre of the film. So while the film was hugely instrumental in the proliferation of Female starring action films in Hong Kong cinema, it feels very much like the producers weren't 100% sure of the concept.

Yes, Madam! is very much a landmark film all the same, and one that although dated, remains remarkably fresh in it's impressive choreography. The final word has to be about Michelle Yeoh who, despite the deficiencies of the plot, lights up the screen every time she appears, and looks nothing less than the natural born action star she went on to become.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Breaking Bad Season 5 Gets A Poster

Bryan Cranston Heisenberg Gilligan

The first promo poster (click it for the large version) for season five of Vince Gilligan's Breaking Bad is here and with little over a month to go until the season premiere, it's fair to say excitement levels are already pushing towards a cranial explosion. The sixteen episode season will be split into two half seasons of eight episodes with the second half and final episodes of the show broadcast Summer 2013. No I don't want to wait that long either, damn you AMC.


Monday, June 4, 2012

Love On Delivery

Stephen Chow HK comedy

Based on a manga, Lee Lik Chi's Stephen Chow vehicle Love On Delivery showcases why Chow was so popular at the Hong Kong box office during the 90's. The movie's mix of low brow and slapstick comedy alongside dashes of something more intelligent, all delivered with impeccable comic timing make Love On Delivery one of the most accessible and enjoyable movies of his pre King Of Comedy output.

Stephen Chow HK comedy

Meek delivery boy Ho (Stephen Chow) falls for a gorgeous judo student Lily (Christy Chung), who is being harassed by her instructor Blackbear (Joe Cheng). When her teacher goes too far Ho steps in to protect her, the problem is Ho is cowardly by nature and his efforts to save Lily result in her being punched in the face. Ashamed and desperate to impress Lily, Ho decides to learn kung fu from a shady hustler called Devil Killer (Ng Man Tat) who claims to be a kung fu master. Ho is completely taken in, reinventing himself as a masked hero and believing he is invincible, even more so when he gets an opportunity to save Lily from Blackbear once again and beats him. The mask proves to be a mistake however, as many other would be suitors of Lily claim to be her knight in shining armour, the most dangerous to Ho's hopes is karate master Tuen Shui Law (Ben Lam) who Lily believes really saved her. In order to win Lily's heart, Ho must face insurmountable odds and challenge the karate master in the ring, cue training montage.....

Stephen Chow HK comedy

Chow plays against his usual smart ass, obnoxious persona in Love On Delivery and provides what is probably the most aimable character of his career so far. The underdog is a staple of sports films but the cowardly nature of Ho gives it a little more edge than usual. Indeed at times the cowardliness almost goes a little too far, as Ho is downtrodden so often it makes you want to scream at him but Chow is so good you never lose any sympathy for him. This aspect of Chow's performances is what makes him so much more than just a comedy actor, in his best work he manages to make scenes that shouldn't be (and wouldn't be in other films), oddly touching, in and around the comic insanity. Ng Man Tat, so often paired with Chow, gives one of his funniest performances and Ben Lam and Joe Cheng provide great support as the villains of the piece. Jacky Cheung pops up in an amusing walk on cameo too.

Stephen Chow HK comedy

With the constant barrage of gags thrown at the screen, inevitably not all of them hit the mark and plenty of them are aimed extremely low (wiping shit on someone's face anyone?) and as with all Chow comedies some of the humour will be lost on non Cantonese speakers but few comedies I've ever seen make me laugh as much as Love On Delivery. Along with the cheap laughs the film has a great understanding of the conventions of the sports movie and has great fun riffing with the tropes of the genre, see the training montage to see what I mean. This raises the humour to a higher level and makes a very silly film just that little bit more intelligent than you would ever expect, particularly after seeing the opening ten minutes.

Stephen Chow HK comedy

If you're new to Stephen Chow having seen Shaolin Soccer and Kung Fu Hustle and are thinking where do I start with his old movies? I can't think of a better place than Love On Delivery. The laughs come fast and frequent and the film becomes more and more hilarious as it goes on, right through to the final action scene (by the great Ching Siu Tung). I've seen the film many times and each time I see it my affection for it grows, it's a shining example of not only the importance of great comic timing but also just how funny seeing a man fighting in a Garfield mask can be.

Viewed via the region 3 remastered Celestial dvd.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Piranha 3DD

This is Big Brother, for todays task Gary Busey, Christopher Lloyd, Ving Rhames, David Hasslehoff, Clu Gulager, David Koechner, Katrina Bowden and that goofy guy from The League will film a sequel to Alexandre Aja's Piranha 3D, to be amusingly titled Piranha 3DD. The winners of todays task will be whoever still has a anything remotely resembling a career once the credits roll. It isn't going to be easy and many of you will fail, for those who are left be proud of your achievement, if you can survive this you can survive anything.

The screen capture above illustrates the perfect (only?) age to be able to enjoy John Gulager's Piranha 3DD. Having enjoyed Aja's remake of Joe Dante's original Piranha I expected the law of diminishing returns to take effect but this sequel is beyond terrible, considering it's budget it has to be one of the worst movies I've seen for many a year. Predictable, cheap, desperate, stupid and trashy in all of the worst ways imaginable the film is truly car crash cinema. It made me think of how even more unbearable Hobo With A Shotgun would have been without Rutger Hauer, yet Piranha 3DD makes that concept seem worthy of the Palme D'Or.

Katrina Bowden
The dialogue in this scene perfectly represents Piranha 3DD
Filling a movie with blood and T&A, while striving to out do all others in making it as moronic as possible does not equal grindhouse cinema, it just makes for fucking awful cinema. The overriding feeling I was left with after finishing Piranha 3DD was of the desperation of the cast, perfectly summed up by Hasslehoff's performance, who does his usual reality show schtick and I'm afraid it's nowhere near good enough. Avoid at all costs, don't make the same mistake I did! One for masochists only.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Scene In Focus : The Video Dead

zombie film

I had fond memories of Robert Scott's The Video Dead, why? I'm not sure but I think the incredible VHS sleeve above had something to do with it along with the scene that inspired it. Having just watched the movie again via Netflix instant, it's actually pretty terrible, with some truly awful performances and hilariously inane dialogue, if you're in that right frame of mind you may enjoy it's cheap 80's vibe. What saves it from being a total waste of time is it's one genuinely creepy scene mentioned earlier, it's so much better than the rest of the film it feels like it should be in a different film altogether.

zombie film

After mistakenly receiving a mysterious crate, author Henry Jordan (Michael St.Michaels) unpacks it to find an old TV. As he taps away at his typewriter, he hears a funereal dirge coming from the TV and goes to investigate. On the television is the title card for a movie called Zombie Blood Nightmare.

zombie film

zombie film

Henry watches the ambling zombies for a moment before saying "What is this shit?" and turning the screen off. Before he even gets out of the room the screen flickers to back to life (Death?), with the dirge continuing and the mournful zombies aimlessly stumbling, Henry turns it off again only for it to come back on immediately. Cursing at the TV, the author goes to the wall socket and pulls the plug and goes to bed.

zombie film

Impossibly the TV reawakens despite the lack of power, and the same movie is still playing, however the previously aimless walking is replaced by a sense of purpose as one of the zombies turns to face the screen, and begins to move towards it until he touches the screen itself. An electrical buzz goes around the screen and smoke starts to billow out of it, before the TV falls to the floor and the zombie's head slowly emerges into reality from the television...

zombie film

The scene functions as a prologue and is quite competently realised, and has a distinctly different feel to the rest of The Video Dead, being much more serious in tone than the more tongue in cheek attitude of the whole movie. It has the feel of being a short movie in itself that was later expanded to feature length. The scene is genuinely creepy, as the mournful zombie suddenly senses the gateway through the TV into the real world, presumably by the smell of flesh. The zombies in the film use a mixture of poor makeup and masks, the main featured ones having the masks, which look obvious in the colour parts of the film but on the lo-fi, fuzzy black and white TV shots actually look very effective.

zombie film

The two main ideas featured in the scene of the electrical appliances powering themselves and monsters escaping the confines of the TV are not new ideas, but as a movie fan such ideas have always excited me, particularly the idea of creatures coming out of the film world and into ours. The Video Dead arrived in between the similar scenes featured in Lamberto Bava's Demons 2 (which was released the same year, 1987) which features zombies escaping from a TV broadcast and Hideo Nakata's J-Horror trailblazer Ringu from 1998 and it's famous scene of Sadako coming towards and out of the TV set. While The Video Dead scene may not be quite as powerful as the one in Ringu, it's a startlingly effective moment and one that deserved to be part of a better film.

zombie film

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