Sunday, April 29, 2012

Shaw Brothers : The Sexy Killer

Chen Ping Shaw Brothers

The Sexy Killer, the Shaw Brothers remake of Jack Hill's blaxploitation classic Coffy, features a lady who is not only sexy but also happens to be a killer, how smart is that? It maybe generic but you have to admire whoever came up with the title for Sun Chung's 1976 movie, as the movie completely delivers on it's title's promise. Also known under equally generic but infinitely less enticing The Drug Connection, it's no surprise it's best known under it's The Sexy Killer moniker.

Chen Ping Shaw Brothers

Gao WenFai (Chen Ping) goes on the rampage, looking to takedown the drug pushers who first turned her little sister into a drug addict and then violated her. With her vengeance still unsated, she decides to take on the whole organisation, utilising her most deadly weapon, her womanly charms!

Chen Ping Shaw Brothers

Sun Chung's movie follows the template of Coffy so closely it's almost identical, if anything the exploitation elements are ramped up and as a result it's arguably more fun than Jack Hill's film. What it doesn't have though is Pam Grier, and she is the real difference between the two films. Chen Ping really throws herself into the role, relishing the chance to play the avenging angel and she does it extremely well, however she lacks the total intensity Grier brought to Coffy, the belief that she means every gesture, word and act of violence with every fibre of her being. As a result, you're never quite as involved in Chen Ping's quest as you are Coffy's, this is less a criticism of her and more the recognition of the animalistic power of Pam Grier.

Chen Ping Shaw Brothers

Chen Ping and the film as a whole are let down by the at times overly hysterical script and some of the cast delivering performances that threaten to derail the whole movie, with Yueh Hua as Gao WenFai's cop friend particularly poor. This results in a further reduction in the level of intensity as it's hard to take  some scenes remotely seriously. Fortunately the cast of sleazy bad guys is exceptionally strong with Wang Hsieh as the S&M crazed big boss really standing out, giving the heroine a tough challenge and the viewer the feeling Chen Ping isn't going to have it all her own way, thus reinvigorating some of the film's lost intensity.

Chen Ping Shaw Brothers

The film opens with a cool animated credits sequence and from there on in director Sun Chung strives to keep things visually interesting. Nam Nai Choi, who would later go on to direct many fan favourite Hong Kong films himself, plays a huge part in this, delivering his customary stylish cinematography on a budget, by utilising different angles, lenses and lighting and making the most of what was available to him. The action sequences are superbly handled, especially the shot gun blasting finale, and Chen Ping proves more than capable in them.

Chen Ping Shaw Brothers

The Sexy Killer is pure exploitation, it features a repeated anti drug message that never once rings true, indeed it becomes amusing after a while. As soon as the opening credits finish, it's nudity, sex and violence all the way. While the film as a whole may not be as good as Coffy, it delivers more of the good stuff than Hill's classic, and that is surely enough to make it a huge recommendation to all you lovers of trashy cinema.


Thursday, April 26, 2012

Scene In Focus : Wild At Heart

Scene in focus is an occasional series looking at specific and notable scenes in film, good or bad!


Beginning with the familiar Lynch motif of a car driving down a highway at night, the headlights surrendering to the all consuming darkness from all sides, the lights never quite strong enough to reveal enough of what is to come. Suddenly clothes litter the road and Sailor and Lula stop the car to investigate.

David Lynch Sherilyn Fenn

What they find is the wreck of another car, complete with two bloodied corpses, as they survey the scene of the accident, out of the darkness a girl appears. She speaks to no one in particular but becomes increasingly agitated about how she has lost her purse, one side of her face is covered in blood.

David Lynch Sherilyn Fenn

Sailor tries to help the girl but she's oblivious to his offer, she expresses only urgency and how important it is to find her purse. She raises a hand to her head in frustration and complains of the "sticky stuff" in her hair as she pokes the hole in her skull. Sailor and Lula stand powerless to help as they watch the scene play out, as she collapses to the ground, they realise the girl is dying right in front of their eyes, as Sailor tries to comfort her she asks for her lipstick, and tells him it's in her purse.

David Lynch Sherilyn Fenn

David Lynch's Wild at Heart has divided audiences ever since it's official debut at the Cannes film festival, where it was famously booed, before going onto win the prestigious Palme D'Or award. This division extends to Lynch's fervent fan base, with critics pointing to the film's structure, storyline and the movie's mix of sex, violence and trademark Lynch weirdness being weaknesses, while the film's defenders (myself included) point to these "weaknesses" as being strengths. As a (loose) adaptation of Barry Gifford's novel, filtered through many of Lynch's own obsessions, it's probably the most entertaining film Lynch has made. By amping every element of the film to either hysterical or absolute deadpan levels, Lynch pulls off an amazing mix of touching sincerity while maintaining an arch sense of humour, two elements that don't usually play nice together.

David Lynch Sherilyn Fenn

However you feel about the film as a whole, the car wreck sequence must surely rate as one of the best scenes Lynch has ever filmed, as ever subtly enhanced by Angelo Badalamenti's wonderful music. Achingly sad and darkly beautiful, the scene works as perfect punctuation amidst the movie's combustible fusion of skin, blood and The Wizard of Oz. Coming as it does around halfway through the film, just after Lula's resolve is tested by a confession by Sailor, the scene signposts events are about to take a much darker turn for the two lovers.

David Lynch Sherilyn Fenn

So powerful is the roughly three minute sequence (although it feels much longer), it has the feel of film within a film, and Sailor and Lula seem almost to be part of the audience along with you as they stand and watch the trauma unfold.

David Lynch Sherilyn Fenn

It may only be a tiny role but Sherilyn Fenn's performance is pitch perfect, with her radiance only adding even more power to the already heartbreaking waste of life. It's hard to believe Fenn never became a bigger star than she did, this cameo alongside her scene stealing performance as Audrey Horne in Twin Peaks should really have been enough to cement her place as an A lister. Ironically as David Lynch built her career, the Lynch connection probably killed it too, with Jennifer Lynch's disastrous Boxing Helena. Whatever the reason, Audrey Horne and Girl in accident are enough for me to forever cherish Miss Fenn.


Every time I watch this extraordinary scene it's power and hold over me grows stronger, I was floored seeing it in the cinema at the time of release and with subsequent viewings both on it's own and in the context of the film it becomes harder and harder to watch, yet more and more rewarding, and that for me is the appeal of David Lynch.


Tuesday, April 24, 2012

The Big Racket


Enzo G. Castellari's Euro crime entry The Big Racket makes for a fine companion piece to his earlier film Street Law. Where that film concentrated on one man and his quest for vengeance, here we get a genre mix of Dirty Harry with vigilante and men on a mission action vibes too. In Castellari's capable hands the movie is never less than entertaining and the next violent incident is only moments away.


A vicious gang of thugs are terrorising an Italian village, demanding protection money and threatening families if their "tax" demands aren't met. The majority are too scared to do anything, leaving Inspector Palmieri (Fabio Testi) struggling to fight them. When one local man agrees to testify the gang retaliate with a sickening attack on his daughter. As the investigation progresses and the unspeakable crimes escalate, Palmieri discovers the gang are affiliated with drug dealers. His hands tied by the legal system, the Inspector decides enough is enough and gathers together a team of men who have suffered the terrible crimes to exact their own brand of justice.


By combining two of the most popular Eurocrime genres, the Dirty Harry rip off and the vigilante movie, Castellari's The Big Racket is a superbly paced movie, which manages to pull off a convincingly downbeat atmosphere, while remaining completely entertaining throughout, a difficult balance to achieve.

While not realistic in a traditional sense, something about the film feels convincingly real. It's hard to explain why as the film is full of inconsistencies, for example throughout the many violent shootouts, some bullet hits result in large bloody squib explosions while some are completely bloodless. The thing that stands out most is the hilarious dubbing, for a film featuring some pretty nasty violence and two repellent scenes of sexual violence, the reluctance of the dubs script writer to use anything remotely approaching bad language is bizarre. It's so bad, even "shit" is replaced with "dung" and "diddly". The important thing is the film overcomes these inconsistencies to deliver a powerful punch that makes the film feel more realistic than it actually is. I told you it was hard to explain.


As ever with a Castellari film, the action sequences are excellently staged with a number of exciting shootouts, the finale standing out in particular, and a truly impressive car stunt with Testi being rolled down the side of a hill in a car. Speaking of Testi, this is easily one of his best roles, I usually find him unconvincing but here he's very good. Solid support comes from the huge array of Italian character actors.

Overall if you're a fan of Eurocrime it's hard to imagine you being disappointed with this solid genre entry, it's lightning pace never letting up, filled to the brim with sleaze, action and violence. If that isn't a recommendation I don't know what it is.


Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The Grandmasters Finally Has A Release Date

After news broke last week that Wong Kar Wai's long delayed Ip Man film The Grandmasters would miss this years major film festivals, it finally has a release date of the 18th of December 2012. The danger is with multiple Ip Man movies already released and another of Donnie Yen's being prepped, will  the movie going public care anymore about this one? Wong Kar Wai has long had a reputation for delayed projects, and I'll be interested to see what kind of a welcome the film receives later this year, IF it does indeed make it's scheduled date.

Tony Leung Wong Kar Wai

Despite all the delays and problems the film has faced, I'm still really excited to see it, the new promo photo above looks great and after all it's still Wong Kar Wai.

Monday, April 16, 2012

HKMS : The Adventurers

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




Wah's father, Keung and Leung were members of the CIA. Wah's father was killed by Leung when Wah was nine, he executed the revenge on his father's death after 20 years' time. During the big revenge action, Wah met Lam who was Leung's lover and Sin who was Leung's daughter, he felt in love with the two ladies making a triangle love relationship, Wah having very much confusion among the loving and revenge. After the gang's slaughter, Leung died and Sin was hurt to be a human-plant with Wah's baby, Wah was so upset and painful when the revenge storm was over.

One of my favourites of all the terrible dvd cover write ups, this one's a real classic!

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Mail Call Gallants Blu Ray From Germany

retro poster Hong Kong

Derek Kwok and Clement Cheng's Gallants was my pick of 2010's films, it's a wonderful movie, filled with heart, genuine emotion, and great performances, MC Jin aside! I saw it via the Kam and Ronson Hong Kong dvd and waited patiently for a blu ray release which for what ever reason never arrived. Unsurprisingly, when the film eventually made it's dvd debut in the UK, the film wasn't deemed worthy of a blu ray release here either.

Gallants German blu ray

So it was up to our German friends in the form of Sunfilm Entertainment to save the day. Sunfilm have released the movie on blu ray retitled as Tiger & Dragon Reloaded. Unfortunately but not surprisingly the disc offers no English options, it features Cantonese and German lossless audio along with forced  German subtitles when the Cantonese track is selected.

Gallants German blu ray

This is no longer the obstacle it once woud have been thanks to the wonders of technology, thinking back to when I made a custom dvd of The Mission, it was all so complicated and took me days of work to get it right. Now it's an hour or two at the most to get to a position where you can practically do what you want with the video and audio selections and then playback with your choice of subtitles. While technology can be a real pain, it can equally amaze at what you can do with it.

Gallants German blu ray

Here are a few screen captures from the ripped file, the subtitles are a little strange (V seems to replace C in the character names for instance.) and I will be looking to tidy those up a little but otherwise I'm really extremely pleased with the results.

Gallants German blu ray

Gallants German blu ray

Gallants German blu ray

Gallants German blu ray

Chan Wai Man in 1080p, "This is perfect!" indeed.

Friday, April 13, 2012

HP Proliant Microserver : Media PC build

Something a little different for this post, I've started a new project to build a media PC and server to play dvds, blu rays (both region free), Hd-dvds and distribute music and movies over the network around the house. I always intended to feature more tech posts on the blog but the movies keep getting in the way, so this little series will hopefully inspire a few more.

Rather than build a new PC from scratch, I decided to go with the HP Proliant Microserver as the base for the machine. For approximately £250, you get a dual core AMD processor, 2GB of Ram and a 250GB hard drive. The best part is that at the moment you can claim a £100 cashback from HP when you buy one, resulting in a real bargain. This is what it looks like.

HP Proliant micro server


Back view

HP Proliant micro server

Inside, four sata hard drive bays as well as the extra optical drive bay at the top which can also be used for extra hard drive(s).

HP Proliant micro server


To give the unit the required power and facilities I'm adding the following :

ATI HD6450 graphics card, although a budget card the GPU is more than capable of handling 1080p video, importantly taking all the work away from the low powered CPU in the server.

4GB of Ram, bringing the total to 6GB.

I'm also swapping out the hard drive for a higher capacity one,  a 750GB for now. I intend to add more drives as and when I can.

Finally, an LG blu ray writer that will also read the hd-dvd format.

The first job was to remove the standard bracket from the graphics card and replace it with a low profile bracket so it would actually fit in the case. This is quite a straightforward job and involved removing a screw from the card itself and then the DVI socket screw grips, the bracket just gets replaced and the screw grips go back on and hold the bracket in place.

HP Proliant micro server
Normal height bracket
Low profile bracket fitted
Onto the actual microserver, in order to strip it down release the hard drive caddies, then slide off the lid by undoing the thumbscrew at the back and push the lid forward to release it. The motherboard itself slides out on a tray, to get the tray out release the two blu thumbscrews at the front and remove all of the connected cables one by one. This is by far the trickiest part as the mini sas lead in particular is a real bitch to release. It may help to snip the cable ties. Once these are all disconnected gently slide the tray out.

HP Proliant micro server
Hard drive caddy coming out
Drive bays empty
HP Proliant micro server
Motherboard out
Once the board is out, I installed the extra memory and the graphics card. Before sliding the board back in, another little job was to remove the blanking plate covering the Pci express slot on the back of the case, so the card can slot in when the board goes back in. Next it was just a matter of sliding the tray back in and reconnecting the cables, which was much easier than disconnecting them! At this stage I also added a sata cable and a molex to sata power adaptor for the optical drive.

Card and memory installed
HP Proliant micro server
Blanking plate removed for graphics card
HP Proliant micro server
Board back in place with sata cable in place
 Next job was adding the blu ray drive, connecting the cables to it and removing the drive plate from the lid of the case. Add the hard drive caddies back in and put the lid back on and it's finished!

HP Proliant micro server
Blu ray drive added
Hard drive caddies back in place
All together this took around two hours but at least an hour of that was struggling with that bitch of a cable, at one point I thought I'd actually broke it, that aside the process was pretty simple and painless.

With Windows 7, AnyDvd HD, and Total Media Theatre installed, the all region dvd and blu ray side of things is taken care of and MakeMKV makes it easy to rip video to the MKV format and then playback with subtitles, very handy for discs where English subtitles aren't on the disc such as for the recent Le Samourai blu ray I posted about.

Stop press : The £100 cashback cheque arrived today, it took a while but it is a genuine offer!

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Blue Velvet Blu Ray


It's been far too long since I saw David Lynch's Blue Velvet, I realise now I was waiting to see it as it should be seen, and that my friends, is via this astonishing blu ray. Featuring some of the most iconic scenes and one of the scariest character creations in the history of cinema, for all the film's notoriety, all the endless discussion of scenes, performances and themes, this masterpiece of American film has lost none of it's ferocious power, twenty six years on it's still as beautiful, confrontational and sensational as it always was.

Blue Velvet David Lynch

Seeing the film again, the surprising thing is due to Lynch's restraint (that right there is a phrase you don't hear very often) of the self indulgences he was to allow himself in many of his movies that followed (indulgences which I love!), Blue Velvet remains one of his more (narratively at least) accessible movies, despite the terrifying,  almost impossibly dark and humorous tone he so improbably achieves. It clearly isn't a film for everyone but for those willing to surrender to it's "charms" it's one of the richest and densest films to ever come out of Hollywood.

Blue Velvet David Lynch

Blue Velvet has always had a chequered history on home video, from my first viewing on a pan and scanned VHS, through the incorrectly letterboxed US laserdisc and UK dvd that followed (the region 1 release rectified the framing issue). Now with the 25th anniversary MGM blu ray, we finally can see the movie as Lynch intended us to, having supervised the transfer and soundtrack for this release. I can't imagine the film looked as great as it does here when it was fresh in cinemas, such is the quality of the image on display, it's simply a thing of beauty. Cinematographer Frederick Elmes colour palate, so important to Blue Velvet, literally pops off the screen, Dorothy's luscious red lips for example scream from the screen, drawing your eye so you can barely focus on anything else, enabling the viewer to become as captivated by Dorothy as Jeffrey is. The previously impenetrable darker scenes, allow us to see the secrets they were holding on to. It's a wonder to behold and feels like seeing the film again for the first time.

Blue Velvet David Lynch

It isn't just the image that is greatly improved, the audio, presented in a 5.1 DTS-HDMA mix is sumptuous, with Angelo Badalamenti's incredibly underrated score sounding magical and Alan Splet's sound design getting right under the skin, adding immeasurably to the sense of unease. The only caveat is the 5.1 mix is actually closer to a 3.1 mix, but the soundscape is so dense it doesn't really need the addition of surround channels.

The extras include the excellent hour and ten minute documentary Mysteries of Love from the previous dvd release, an edited version of the Siskel and Ebert review (Ebert really hates the film), a trailer and TV spots, a few soundbites not included in the documentary, a gag reel and most importantly around 50 minutes of footage previously thought lost and in 1080p too. The lost scenes don't look as quite good as the film itself but are pretty impressive image wise and fascinating to finally see, I remember reading in Video Watchdog issue 4 about scripted scenes that didn't appear in the film and never thought they would ever become available and here (some of them) are.

It really is a strange world.



Monday, April 9, 2012

Latest Hong Kong Movie Pick Ups

It's an all crime special this time round, with Shaw Brothers, a little of Jackie Chan, Dante Lam and another of the P.T.U Tactical Unit series.

First up a big thank you to Kenneth Brorsson of Podcast On Fire and So Good Reviews fame for bringing the first two movies to my attention, those being Nam Nai Choi's Brothers From The Walled City and Men From The Gutter. Ken covered these in the Podcast On Fire director's series and both films immediately grabbed my attention, Brothers, due to my fervent interest in the Walled City and Men as it seemed to tick every box for my movie palate. Neither movie disappointed, look out for my coverage, coming soon.



Along similar lines, as I'm currently a little obsessed with picking up Hong Kong crime movies of the late 70's and early 80's, I also went with three other Shaw Brothers productions in the form of Mobfix Patrol (insane!), Murderer Pursues and on VCD (as I couldn't find the dvd) Alex Cheung's Danger Has Two Faces. I'm currently working my way through Cheung's filmography, so expect coverage of at least some of that too.




Dante Lam's Stool Pigeon is a movie I wasn't in any rush to see, I figured I'd see it at some point, however it's been recommended to me by numerous people over the last few months, so I thought I'd give it a shot.


I've never seen Crime Story, and I'm not sure why really but I thought it was time, I have fairly high hopes for this.


A Blu ray upgrade for Law Wing Cheong's Tactical Unit Comrades in Arms. I'd been asked to cover this for the blog sometime ago, I'd remembered being relatively unimpressed with it on first viewing but I enjoyed it much more on a second viewing.


Next time, a couple more Shaw's, a few funnies and yes, more vintage crime!

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