Thursday, September 14, 2017

Shaolin Iron Finger (1977) / The Legendary Strike (1978)

SHAOLIN IRON FINGER (1977)

Director: Wang Hung-Chang
Notable Cast: Carter Wong, Kam Kong, James Tin Chuen, Ricky Cheng, Woo Gam, Wai Wang, Yam Ho, Wan Chung-Shan, Yen Chung, Chin Lung

Outside of being a fan of Carter Wong, it was fairly easy to go into Shaolin Iron Finger with relatively no expectations. Yet, even with nothing to get my hopes up for expectations, the film tends to be underwhelming overall and finds itself the victim of a plethora of missed opportunities. It’s a shame too because the core story about a revolution imploding on itself is interesting and the fight work is decently done to be entertaining and fun, but the combination proves to be a mismatch. It’s awkward for most of its run time and not even some clever use of settings and a strong third act of martial arts action can save it.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

The Big Heat (1988)

Directors: Andrew Kam, Johnnie To
Notable Cast: Waise Lee, Matthew Wong, Phillip Kwok, Lionel Lo, Paul Chu, Betty Mak, Peter Lai, Stuart Ong, Robin Shou

There’s always a sense of shock and accomplishment when one discovers an overlooked diamond of a film out there in the black holes of the cinematic void. This is the feeling that overcame me when I sat down to watch the Hong Kong action flick The Big Heat with my brother the other day. As a fan of the cops n’ criminals genre of Hong Kong action flicks from the 80s and early 90s, I was also a tad shocked that this one has flown under the radar. Not only is this film good, but it’s packed with a phenomenal cast and co-directed by one of Hong Kong’s greatest directors, Johnnie To. The film itself is ripe with wonderful artistic direction, massively entertaining and vicious action sequences, and a darkness to its police team narrative that gives it an impressive depth. The Big Heat, despite its generic title, deserves to be listed among some of the best of the style and belongs up there in the ranks of classics from John Woo, Ringo Lam, and Tsui Hark.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Iron Protector (2017)

Director: Yue Song
Notable Cast: Yue Song, Michael Chan, Collin Chou, Xing Yu, Li YuFei
Also known as: The Bodyguard, Super Bodyguard

It took a while and a couple of full watches, but Iron Protector finally clicks for me. The reason it takes a little bit is that, due to the hype machine when it was initially released in China and the various trailers released for the film that had me hooked, expectations for the film are in line with it being an old school Hong Kong action flick with stunts galore and an overly serious approach to its plotting and narrative. This is not entirely the case with Iron Protector. For all of the hoopla made over Yue Song being ‘the next Bruce Lee,’ Iron Protector makes a better case for Yue Song at being the next Stephen Chow – just with more stunts and action. As it turns out, this film is a full-blown action comedy at times and our star, who also serves as the director, is admirably good at pulling off the slapstick and often overzealous comedic routines with the seriousness of an 80s Hong Kong action star. The result is much better (and much different) than expected.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Fires on the Plain (2014)

Director: Shinya Tsukamoto

Notable Cast: Shinya Tsukamoto, Lily Franky, Tatsuya Nakamura, Yusaku Mori, Yuko Nakamura

Being completely upfront before we move on with this review: 1) I have not seen the original film, which this film only loosely takes notes from I hear, and 2) I have not read the original novel. That out of the way, I have seen every single Shinya Tsukamoto film to date (save Hiruko the Goblin, which is changing very soon). Going into this film as a huge Tsukamoto admirer, to the point that he is in a three-way tie for my favorite director, I had quite the expectations. Needless to say, I wasn't let down by his newest outing whatsoever, and it was great to see Tsukamoto finally make that film on the horrors of war that he has wanted to for years. Fires on the Plain is a very gory, and harrowing look at men who aren't on the front lines, but rather haunted by their unfamiliar surroundings that quickly consume them and morph these soldiers into very different beings, capable of the unspeakable.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

The Slayer (1982)

Director: J.S. Cardone
Notable Cast: Sarah Kendall, Frederick J. Flynn, Carol Kottenbrook, Alan McRae, Michael Holmes, Carl Kraines

It’s hard to have expectations when heading into a film when the film has been notoriously missing from general conscious for years. This is the case of The Slayer. While there was certainly some hype for the film, enough so that it was easily one of the most requested titles I saw in comments and threads for Arrow Video to release, it’s hard to know if the hype is simply there for it to get a release let alone if it deserves a pristine release. Yet, as the credits rolled on The Slayer, it was easy to see why it had accumulated such an aura as a ‘missing classic’ from the 80s horror brand. Not only is it a slasher at its core, but it’s an odd one that down plays the tropes in an effort to create a much more suffocating atmosphere that’s more akin to a giallo or Lovecraftian exercise of existential dread than it is about kills and thrills. It’s an approach that, even with its flaws, is highly respectable and deserves to be seen by a larger audience.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Annabelle: Creation (2017)

Director: David F. Sandberg
Notable Cast: Talitha Bateman, Stephanie Sigman, Lulu Wilson, Anthony LaPaglia, Miranda Otto, Grace Fulton, Philippa Coulthard, Samara Lee, Tayler Buck, Lou Lou Safran

After the original Annabelle did substantial box office numbers a couple of years ago, it didn’t require some other worldly demonic signs to see that it was going to get a continuation. Not to mention it was a spinoff of the already super popular Conjuring franchise. So, like it or not, the spin off was getting a franchise. The result was Annabelle: Creation. While the first entry was something of a forgettable and mediocre effort at trying to recreate the Conjuring elements without being a knock off instead of a spin off, there is an ace in the sleeve for this prequel (to a prequel, might I add.) An ace named David F. Sandberg. Granted, this prequel certainly has its flaws in the script, but Annabelle: Creation is remarkably fun and is lifted above the mediocre aspects by a very talented young director. It’s not necessarily the runaway critical and fan friendly hit that the main Conjuring films are, but it’s easily better than its predecessor and retains faith in the strength of this Conjuring-verse.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Legend of the Naga Pearls (2017)

Director: Yang Lei
Notable Cast: Darren Wang, Zhang Tianai, Sheng Guansen, Simon Yam, Wang Xun, Zhao Jian, Xing Yu, Hu Bing, Sui He

From the outside, it seems that Chinese film audiences love big, special effects packed spectacle films. Even when a film is more personal and less fantasy driven, like the record breaking Wolf Warrior II, it follows the pattern that audiences love to be entertained by the outrageous more than anything. Which is why Legend of the Naga Pearls seems so fitting. Even for those more in tune with the robust style of Hollywood, this film can seem a bit overwhelming as it takes the popular fantasy adventure film and slathers it with stylish elements of the popular tomb raiding design and classic wuxia aspects. As a film, obviously meant to be more of a family friendly affair, Legend of the Naga Pearls is not groundbreaking and it follows a lot of tropes that make it predictable and easy to consume as a narrative. Yet, it also carries with it a rambunctious energy and spirit that makes the more ridiculous nature of its style and the bland plotting something much better than it should be. Legend of the Naga Pearls is big, spectacular fantasy action with enough charm to quench the blockbuster popcorn tone that it’s aiming for even if the foundation its built on is thin.

Friday, September 1, 2017

The Villainess (2017)

Director: Jung Byung-gil
Notable Cast: Kim Ok-bin, Shin Ha-kyun, Song Joon, Kim Seo-hyung, Jo Eun-ji, Lee Seung-joo, Son Min-ji, Min Ye-ji, Kim Yeon-woo, Jung Hae-kyun, Kim Hye-na

The hype machine can be a film’s dream come true for the box office numbers and sales, but it can certainly wreak havoc on someone’s expectations going into the film too. This was one of the reasons that I attempted to keep my hopes down for The Villainess. The trailers sure did look slick and fun, but the tidal wave of positive and gushing reviews almost seemed too good to be true for a film that looked like John Wick collided with Hardcore Henry with Korean cinematic flair of The Suspect. Yet, as the credits rolled on The Villainess there was an aura that the film wholly accomplished what it intended and did it admirably well considering some of the potential pitfalls of its story and stylistic choices.  It’s not a film for everyone. It’s not a film that intends to be an arthouse experience with action like so many Korean films attempt (and/or accomplish) at being. It’s a film that intends to be an action film of high caliber and one that writes a love letter to the genre with all kinds of variety and style.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Birth of the Dragon (2017)

Director: George Nolfi
Notable Cast: Phillip Ng, Xia Yu, Billy Magnussen, Jin Xing, Jingjing Qu, Simon Yin

When the word started spreading around online that the latest Bruce Lee focused film, one surrounding the events of his fight with Wong Jack Man and entitled Birth of the Dragon, it was not good. Fans were upset that the film seemed to treat the entire thing like an excuse to exploit Bruce’s fame and fortune and worst yet, neither Bruce Lee nor Wong Jack Man were the protagonists. It was actually a young white guy that was driving the story forward. Fast forward to a month prior to its release in theaters and producers stated that the film shown at festivals was just an early cut of the film and that this one, which was getting a wide release thanks to WWE and Blumhouse, would take fans’ concerns into account for a better movie. If that was the case, then I have no need to see the first cut of the film because Birth of the Dragon suffers from the exact same problems that fans were concerned with originally. The entire concept is flawed and no amount of Phillip Ng charisma, Xia Yu deadpan seriousness, or Corey Yuen fight work can save the film from simply being awkward. There are certainly moments when one can see some appeal to Birth of the Dragon, but it’s hard to get around the glaring flaws of the film on its foundational levels.

Monday, August 28, 2017

New Battles Without Honor and Humanity: Last Days of the Boss (1976)

Director: Kinji Fukasaku
Notable Cast: Bunta Sugawara, Jun Tatara, Sanae Nakahara, Sakae Umezu, Isao Bito, Takuya Fujioka, Koji Wada, Chieko Matsubara, Masayuki Sone, Eitaro Ozawa, Mikio Narita, Rinichi Yamamoto, Masataka Iwao, Michiro Minami, Kenichi Sakuragi, Takuzo Kawatani
Also Known As: New Battles Without Honor and Humanity 3: Last Days of the Boss, New Battles Without Honor and Humanity: The Boss's Last Days

With Last Days of the Boss, Kinji Fukasaku seals off the second series of Battles Without Honor and Humanity films on a very entertaining sprint. Like its director predecessor, The Boss’s Head, this entry is less about recreating the density and complexity of the original series and it tries to be more in tune with the action packed exploitative efforts of 70s Japanese action films instead. This leaves New Battles Without Honor and Humanity: Last Days of the Boss as a rip-roaring ride of morally gray characters, blissfully chaotic action set pieces, and a wake of bodies that starts stacking up immediately. It’s perhaps the furthest that the series has moved away from its roots as dramatic gangster realism, but it’s hard not to still see the gleaming entertainment and depth of character work that Fukasaku brings to the table with all of his films from this era. Perhaps one of the weaker films when it comes to tight writing and expertly crafted tension, but it’s also a film that replaces those things with a wild and chaotic ambition that doesn’t betray the tone of the series either.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Columbus (2017)

Director: Kogonada

Notable Cast: John Cho, Haley Lu Richardson, Rory Culkin, Michelle Forbes, Parker Posey

Columbus, Indiana. . . the place I have lived most of my life. I want to say this before making headway into the review, as I hope that there is some sort of perspective that I can bring while speaking of Columbus, based in the place in which I have spent the majority of my life. Did I ever think that something would be shot here locally? No. Seeing this work, I must say, I am glad that it has happened, and while it most certainly gets the architecture and beauty of Columbus very much correct, I do think it sort of lacks exploration of the people of the town, and the darker side of things, but I digress. I want to base this on its own merits, and with that in mind, I have ended up being pleasantly surprised with Kogonada's directorial debut.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Wandering Ginza Butterfly 2: She Cat Gambler (1972)



Director: Kazuhiko Yamaguchi
Cast: Meiko Kaji, Junzaburo Ban, Sonny Chiba, Tamayo Misukawa, Shingo Yamashiro, Yukie Kagawa

If you look back to when the review for Wandering Ginza Butterfly was posted here at Blood Brothers, you’ll see that it happened well over a year prior to the posting of this review. If you read that review, you’ll also see that the film was a disappointment for me in its scattered approach and uneven genre bending that it attempted to do which, while putting two and two together, are inherently connected. This gap waiting to watch the second film of the series, Wandering Ginza Butterfly 2: She Cat Gambler, is essentially intentional as there needed to be time to cleanse the palate before digging in. However, this may have been a mistake. She Cat Gambler not only partners the iconic Meiko Kaji with Japanese superstar Sonny Chiba for the film, but it’s a more cohesive and impressive film overall. It has impressive star power, a more effective script, and an execution that gets everything to meld into one much more striking cinematic experience.