Archives for September 2008 | Varied Celluloid - Page 2

Archive for September, 2008

End of the Month Update!

Posted by Josh Samford On September - 30 - 2008

Hey everybody, been a busy fella here lately! Lot of stuff going on in life right now, as well as doing a good bit of writing. I’ve also been spending some time helping my friend Mike Bracken, the horror geek and in my opinion one of the best writers out there on the subject of horror cinema and cult film, get his own site up and running. It’s hosted here on variedcelluloid and I encourage all who pass through here to check it out right now! Mike is an awesome writer and someone who really inspired me to get my own opinions out there, check him out! Also, you may notice the Reviews page is featuring some nifty star ratings next to some of the film titles – this is something I’m working on right now and won’t be finished for a while but the plan is to have all reviews with their ratings on that page. Neato stuff!

NEW REVIEWS

Eight Diagram Pole Fighter – Gordon Liu teams back up with his brother once again to shell out one more classic in the old school Kung Fu canon. I wasn’t expecting much, but was completely blown away by the awesome quality of the film as well as the martial arts. Check this one out!







The Last Blood – Hard Boiled 2: The Last Blood is the full title… and yeah, it has absolutely nothing to do with Hard Boiled. However, there’s some quality action spread out between all the jokes. It’s a strange balance between comedy and brutal violence that doesn’t always work – but definitely worth the look.







OLD REVIEWS

Gen-X Cops – The one that launched it all! The metrosexual look of most Hong Kong action flicks these days that is. It’s still a very fun flick and not bad at all. An interesting and stylish flick, Gen-X Cops doesn’t dissapoint for what it is.







Godmonster of Indian Flats – Possibly the worst films of all time? Sure. One of the most fun flicks I have ever seen? Oh my yes! Well, fun in a way that you can’t believe you’re seeing what you are seeing. Definitely not for everyone and only the masochists out there!







The Guard From the Underground – Kiyoshi Kurosawa, if you don’t know that name, you need to get to searching. If you’re a horror fan, this guy may change your life. Crafting some of the most amazing films I have ever seen, Guard From the Underground is a good start to his career and although not his best work it’s still certainly watchable.







Gonin – Remember Things to Do In Denver When You’re Dead? Imagine an even darker and more disturbing version of that film and you’ll get close to what Gonin is. A spectacular piece of work and one of my favorite films. Definitely worth checking out!







So, that’ll do it once again. I’m in a bit of a rush for this update but hope everyone is having a good time and isn’t working too hard! Laters everybody!

— Josh

Eight Diagram Pole Fighter

Posted by Josh Samford On September - 30 - 2008
The Plot: Eight Diagram Pole Fighter is at it’s core a story focused around family. The Yang family, comprised of a mother and father who spawned nine children who are all warriors in their own way. Seven brothers and two daughters. When the mongols oppose the Yang family, they set up an elaborate trap to kill all of the men in the family. Things go well enough for the mongols, as they kill all but two. The fifth brother (Gordon Liu) and the sixth (Alexander Fu Sheng). The sixth brother goes insane with battle fatigue in the midst of the fight and is stuck in an aggressive insanity he is unable to shake. When he arrives home, charging into battle there, he is under the impression that all brothers died along with their father. The fifth brother however barely managed to escape and finds shelter with a hunter who helps him escape to a Shaolin temple where he hopes to become a monk. However, the Yang brothers are warriors and not worshipers and thus Fifth brother is not immediately accepted amongst the community. However, he will fight for understanding and then he will fight for revenge for what has come upon his family.



The Review
Eight Diagram Pole Fighter is one of the last remaining big “classics” of the old school Kung Fu film genre I suppose I had not seen until recently. Ranked up there alongside Five Deadly Venoms, Shaolin Master Killer and Five Fingers of Death it’s a flick you’ll usually see resting pretty high on the top ten list of many martial arts film fanatics such as myself. So I finally sat down to enjoy it this evening, with very little in the way of knowledge about the film other than many people thinking a lot of it. Another teaming of the brothers Chia-Liang Liu (who makes a cameo here, but is probably best remembered as the older gentleman Jackie Chan fights underneath the train depot in Legend of Drunken master) and the unmistakable Gordon Liu who after about thirty minutes into the film finally becomes the bald headed monk fighting hero we all know and love. Showing the range of both director and lead performer, the differences between Pole Fighter and the previously mentioned Master Killer are many. Pole Fighter is a darker and more sordid tale of violence and its impact on an entire family as well as those around it, and in many ways it’s a more emotionally gripping film because of all the themes running throughout it. There’s also the violence, which is a considerable change with much bloodshed throughout the course of the film. Although not at all gory, the film does show plenty of the red stuff and doesn’t shy away from it. The martial arts itself stand out quite a bit as being different as well, featuring some wirework throughout – but never enough to distract from the authenticity of the actual film. Simply providing an exaggerated or stylized version of physics. Also, the hand to hand combat in the film is very, very limited with almost all fight scenes being handled by weapon instead of by hand. Mostly spears or staffs are used for fighting, as they are the Yang families trademark… I mean, after all, it is called 8 Diagram POLE Fighter for a reason. I personally never find myself a huge fan of weapons choreography for some reason, I find the fight scenes never grab me quite like style vs. style Kung Fu or boxing. I suppose because I am reminded of swashbucklers and that sort of thing, and it takes away a bit of the movie magic. Even for an old man like myself, movie magic is still somewhat necessary. Pole Fighter however is so accessible and even if you do hold a bias against weapons based choreography like I do, you can’t help but be roped in by the dramatic and epic story that the film is constantly weaving. I’ll give it to the Liu brothers, when they tell a tale they sure make it an experience.

A lot of the times with these older Kung Fu films, whenever comedy wasn’t integrated, the whole structure of the film relied heavily on the plot. You can have fantastic fight choreography, but if that’s all you have and the story is just your basic student searching for revenge sort of affair you have no chances of your film being anything other than “good” in the eyes of the fans. At least here in North America. It’s the script that really sets apart films like Five Venoms and Master Killer, sure they have great Kung Fu and the impact they had was legendary but I’m of the opinion that if those films wouldn’t have come close to that impact had it not been for the strong storytelling that comes with them. Eight Diagram Pole Fighter is probably one of the most impressive in terms of telling a story and expressing the plight of the characters. Few characters are as shallow as one would expect from a Kung Fu flick, with both Gordon Liu and Alexander Fu Sheng (who was originally to be the star of the picture, but passed away before finishing his scenes) both stepping up their performances and creating passionate characters that are seldom felt like they are in this particular film. The film is also one of the most visually stylish Shaw Bros. productions I can think of right off the top of my head. This might have been because it’s one of the few Celestial restored Shaw films I have seen so far (but watched with the English dub, thank goodness for FanEdits!) but there really is a tremendous amount of style infused into the film. From the crane shots to the awesome lighting during the night scenes, it’s just an awesome thing to witness. With the classic Shaw sets, where although you can tell it’s obviously fake and not a real mountain setting – that isn’t the point. Like a play or a musical, there’s a state of heightened reality sustained throughout the Shaw productions. Something a little stripped down and basic, but so over the top that it becomes something entirely different and new. This goes for the elaborate costumes as well, which although not as wild as some of Chang Cheh’s productions – anything made by the Shaw studio generally had some really impressive looking costumes.All of that is nice and all, but I’m sure most are probably curious about the fight scenes. Well, you will not be disappointed. As I said earlier, I’m not even a fan of weapons based Kung Fu – but they really pulled it of with Eight Diagram Pole Fighter. The use of wires in the choreography is very limited, but it helps create that level of heightened reality that takes the movie from something ordinary to something extraordinary. The final fight sequence, which I will do my best not to spoil, takes place atop five stacked coffins and features Gordon Liu essentially fighting an army to get to the top of them. Absolutely classic Kung Fu choreography and without a doubt one of the best old school fight scenes out there.

The Conclusion
I really did not expect to love Eight Diagram Pole Fighter like I did once it started rolling but sometimes you can stop in the middle of a movie and say “wow, I am watching something spectacular” and this is one of those films that lets you do that. Although I wouldn’t put it at the very top of my list for old school Kung Fu flicks, it’s definitely in the top ten (amongst HEAVY competition) and I could definitely see someone else listing it as their personal favorite. Definitely check this one out, if you’re a fan of Gordon Liu’s you’re going to love it and if you’re a fan of traditional martial arts cinema you’re going to love it. If you’re looking for all out action and Jackie Chan style stuntwork… maybe not so much. These films are from a select time and place and represent that, but if you’re open to something new – definitely check this one out. A classic amongst a classic genre.


How About Those Thai Filmmakers!

Posted by Josh Samford On September - 24 - 2008

So howdy all, got some more of the written word for you all to ponder through. A couple of new ones, a few old ones, you know how we do it around here! So, hopefully everyone is having a good week and hope you dig the updates!

NEW REVIEWS

Chocolate – The new visionary bit of martial arts cinema from the director of Ong Bak: Muay Thai Warrior. Although not featuring Tony Jaa – prepare to have your mind blown much like the first time you saw that flick, because if you ask me this one lives up to expectations far more than I could have even hoped. Who doesn’t like chicks who kick butt though?

The Pit – A classic from my childhood that I had been meaning to get around to reviewing for a very long time. It sure isn’t as totally rad as my childhood-self seemed to recall; but I can see portions of what could have been a better film at times. It isn’t going to blow your mind, but it’s a pretty solid horror flick.

OLD REVIEWS

Full Contact – One of the best and often times underrated HK films of all time. Ringo Lam puts forth his grittiest effort and crafts an epic crime tale starring the amazing Chow Yun Fat. It’s so dirty at times you’ll have to take a bath before continuing any further, but all the sludge and grime turns out worth it as there are few that can compete with its awesomeness.

Full Metal Yakuza – Only Takashi Miike could deliver a film about a Yakuza brought back to life in pure Robocop fashion and make it as serious as this with as much perversion and insanity. Insane and fun, Full Metal Yakuza is one of Miike’s best V-Cinema efforts from the earlier days. Check it out for sure!

The Pit (By Prof. Aglaophotis) – I figure since I’m uploading my own take of the film I might as well put up this review from Aglaophotis for the same film. I also added the same image gallery on his page. Our opinions on the film are pretty similar, only he doesn’t have the tie of it being a youthful favorite which may have made him a little less leniant on it – I think the two reviews compliment one another and afterwards you should be all “Pitted” out.

Fulltime Killer – An early review of mine for the Johnny To classic, back when I knew very little of the filmmaker and had not really heard of him. Always kind of embarrassing to post reviews like this, but look at it this way I’m learning new things as much as anyone else who might be reading this is. Nobody starts with all the knowledge of the world.

So that should do it everybody, another day another update. Hopefully I’m not alone in my love for Chocolate. Some folks haven’t been digging on it quite as much as I do I’ve noticed; but that flick is just too much fun. Can’t help but ranting and raving about it, just want to share the entertainment! Later everybody!

— Josh

Fulltime Killer

Posted by Josh Samford On September - 24 - 2008
The Plot: O is an isolationist, and he’s also the number one assassin in all of Asia. He lives alone, with his only source of companionship in the form of a girl who cleans his apartment as he watches from across the street. O lives his life as usual until Tok enters the game. Tok is a mysterious and flamboyant assassin who is after the title of number one hitman, and that means taking O out of the game. As Tok starts work he falls for the beautiful Chin, a girl who works in a local Japanese video store and just so happens to be O’s house cleaner. This bizarre love triangle has to come to an end, but when it does, who will survive?


  


The Review: I thought Hong Kong was dead. I really did, and for at least partially good reason. What once was a breeding ground for creative filmmaking seems to have fallen pray to the glamour of Hollywood productions, at the same time just emulating films that are emulating their own films. That’s probably putting things in a much simpler light than they really are, It’s just that this new wave of Hong Kong strikes me as all gloss and little substance. Not that a film like Hard Boiled was brimming with substance and character development, but when you were dealing with a director like John Woo, you were dealing with a real talent. A visionary in the action field and probably one of the most important action directors since Sam Peckinpah. When you compare Woo with someone like Benny Chan or Wilson Yip, you’re treading in completely different waters. Hong Kong has just become more commercial. Pop stars dominate the screen and hard hitting cop/gangster dramas are pretty much nonexistent. One could say there isn’t a demand for it, but the existence of Fulltime Killer says otherwise to me. So here I am, having just stumbled out of Fulltime Killer, totally blown away and my faith in Hong Kong cinema at least partially restored. At moments Fulltime Killer is just as glitzy or ‘Hollywood’ as anything to come out of recent Hong Kong, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with it. Johnny To and Wai Ka-Fai show that just because a HK film has the technology and chic look of a Hollywood film doesn’t mean it can’t deliver the ferocity and dynamic action that heroic bloodshed fans have grown to love.

Dynamic and Ferocious are just two of about a million adjectives you could use to describe Fulltime Killer! Those looking for a subtle character piece had best look elsewhere. Reading a review for the film on the imdb that criticizes it for being all brawn an brains just makes me sick, I would have to assume this person is just lacking in testosterone. Sure, if a film is idiotic but full of action then you’re not going to have fun, but not only is Fulltime Killer a blasting action film, but it’s at least competently written enough so that it’s got a little twist and doesn’t fall into all out boredom from it’s own rudimentary script. Fulltime Killer doesn’t exactly bring anything new to the table storywise, but what it’s plot lacks in originality it more than makes up for in it’s execution. First of all, the story builds upon so many things; least of which is the regular generic ‘hero & villain have close ties’ story that Woo so perfectly executed long ago. There are so many things going on in Fulltime Killer that it’s hard for me, after one viewing, to even begin to decipher it all. The film is self referential, the fact that our lead character is a film geek and seems to have learned his trade from watching movies was a brilliant move in my opinion. There are references in the dialogue about everything from Robert Rodriguez to an obscure French film that I haven’t even heard of. It’s an easy way for the audience (especially us nerds) to identify with such an over the top persona as Tok. Andy Lau plays the role full tilt. The scene most likely to be mentioned in any review for the film that exceeds one paragraph is a shootout Tok has while wearing a Bill Clinton mask over his face. Tok just walks out of a coffee shop, walks around the corner with the mask on, shoots a few goons with his shotgun then ends it all by blowing away his target’s knee caps and then taking his life. All while on a date! Andy Lau doesn’t take off the mask until after he’s blasted all the guy’s away, but even with his face hidden he still is just radiant in the part. It’s defining role no doubt about it.

Of course, I shouldn’t have to say it because I say it so much, but Fulltime Killer isn’t a perfect film. As much as I wish it was, and as much as I wish I could give it a stubbing and not feel wrong I just can’t. For the most part the film is everything I’ve said it is; Exciting, awesome and one of the best action films to come out of Hong Kong in a long while. But the film just falls apart near the end. There aren’t any huge plot gaps or anything to make me attack the film, but after all the hugely innovative stuff to come previously, the ending just feels like a copout. There’s a small and predictable twist, but the fact that everything just falls together so ‘neatly’ doesn’t sit right with me. Simon Yam is completely wasted in the film, speaking most of his dialogue in fairly good English, he just doesn’t even feel like he’s part of the story. He’s more of a go between in everything. The real story lie’s with Tok and O, and every second away from them feels like a second wasted. I love Simon Yam don’t get me wrong, it’s not his fault, it’s just the character is weak. If this part of the story was really supposed to work, there should have been more interaction with the other characters. So when everything comes together with Yam during the last twenty minutes it doesn’t settle. It all feels phony and it’s hard for me to put into words. Usually when dealing with the heroic bloodshed (man, I feel weird calling this flick that but I guess that’s what it is) you would expect that the ending would be the most phenomenal part, but here we barely go out with a bang.

Don’t take my word for it, you’ll have to make up your own minds about the film. Whether I’ve overhyped the action (which in truth there isn’t that much, it’s just done so well) or underhyped the ending, you’ll likely have a battle with hype if you listen to my moronic ramblings. If you like gangster films, this is a must see. Hong Kong may be changing (and heck, maybe it’s for the better), but it’s good to see that hard hitting action dramas haven’t been completely forgotten. I wish my knowledge of Johnny To & Wai Ka-Fai was better, but I’ll just say I hope to see more of their work.

Chocolate

Posted by Josh Samford On September - 24 - 2008
The Plot: Zen is a young girl born of a Japanese yakuza father and Thai gangster mother. The two were never meant to fall in love, and Zen’s mother was forced into a life of exile due to this. Zen’s mother leads a simple life taking care of her and her cousin, but as the years go by her mother begins to grow sick and it is revealed she has cancer and is dying. When Zen was born she was born with a learning disability that is most likely autism. Although not known at first, she turns out to be a savant and extremely athletic as well. After watching the muay thai students next door and growing up watching Kung Fu films (Ong Bak in particular) she has developed her own style of fighting which she doesn’t put to use until her cousin finds a book that lists all of the old mobsters who owe her mom money. With hospital debt skyrocketing, getting these gangsters to pay back what they owe turns out to be Zen and her cousin’s only option – and these gangsters will pay; one way or another.




The Review
This my friends, is exactly what Thailand’s film community needed. At least as far as action cinema goes. In the wake of Tony Jaa going completely and totally out of his ever loving mind while attempting to direct himself in Ong Bak 2, the Thai movie industry needed to step up and produce another breakout star. Even more, director Prachya Pinkaew who helmed the Jaa vehicles Ong Bak and The Protector, he had a lot to prove to the world as far his own talents go in making a martial arts film without Jaa leading the way. I guarantee you, after you watch Chocolate unless you’re a raving Jaa-a-holic, you’ll be singing this directors praises because he was able to go out and create a story that defeats his previous films; and direct action and co-ordinate just fine without any of Jaa’s input. As someone who actually wasn’t as impressed with The Protector as a whole lot of folks seemed to be, I had only minor hopes for Chocolate. After seeing the trailer and seeing the female lead at work, I admit I was pretty hyped up. Watching the film though, well, what can I say it is just everything that is great about cinema in my opinion. This is the stuff that marks all the reasons why I started watching martial arts films. The innovation, the spectacle, the excitement, the fluid choreography and Chocolate adds that little extra something that not all of these films usually have: the story. A reason to love these characters, a reason to feel for them and a reason to root for them. Having an autistic child as the lead and a mother slowly dying of cancer – these aren’t you usual feel good martial arts motifs by a longshot and if it were not for the fantastic performances from the cast something like that could have brought the film down. Having a handicap like Zen does in the story; they could have played it off in a ridiculous manner. Maybe with a humorous bent to it like Sammo Hung did with his character in Heart of Dragon, but instead the portrayal is in a serious tone. I don’t know enough about savant syndrome to say whether such things are even remotely possible, but the film creates an atmosphere of realism and it becomes easy to believe. Not understanding the language, of course its hard for a English-only sap to really gauge performances to a degree that a Thai filmgoer possible could – and I read a review earlier tonight from a Thai film-goer who said the performances were awful – but I’m not exactly new to reviewing foreign films here either. There’s a lot more to a performance, particularly in an action film, than line delivery. JeeJa Yenin who stars in the film as Zen puts on a show from start to finish, putting in a lot of emotion as well as displaying some tremendous acrobatic talent. I don’t know how well she may have delivered her lines, but she impressed the heck out of me.

I am going to make a bold statement that most of you will not agree with, but I’m going to say it anyway… Chocolate KILLS The Protector. It doesn’t just kill it, it keeps it tied up in the basement with a rag in its mouth and is ritually dismembered. Is the action that much better? Not really, is Jaa the better martial artist? Sure. Is this film a billion times more entertaining and exciting? Why, as a matter of fact yes it is! I can’t help it! Don’t kill me, just an opinion, but a true opinion of mine for sure. Tony Jaa is a brilliant performer when it comes to his fighting prowess and athletic ability – but you’ll never get me to refer to him as the most engaging or charismatic martial arts film star on the market. When watching The Protector, I had several biases against it. First is my disapproval of Jaa’s character which didn’t seem to have that wholesome innocence of his previous film Ong Bak – which I thought was one of the main reasons his portrayal in that film actually worked. Then there was the setting which moved away from the inner city style of Thailand to the less worrysome streets of Australia. I can’t tell you the reason why it didn’t work for me, but it never did no matter how much I tried to get into. I never found myself glued to the screen with that huge grin on my face like I did when first watching Ong Bak – or like I did tonight while sitting through Chocolate. That same passion Pinkaew’s breakout film had is back, and although I will agree that any fight scene featuring Tony Jaa is going to do nothing but benefit; the fight sequences here are top notch as well. A lot of viewers go into the film expecting balls out action from the very start however and I’m going to tell you now don’t even do it. I’ve read enough complaints so far about the lack of action in the first thirty minutes which I find ridiculous. Perhaps mainstream audiences have become too spoiled by modern martial arts films, but it isn’t lik Chocolate is taking the whole genre in a new direction by establishing a strong story and defining its characters for the first thirty minutes or so. Many Kung Fu films followed a similar pattern and most of the time they were better for it. Five Deadly Venoms, if you go back and watch it, can be a pretty slow film. Same thing for much of Bruce Lee’s work which had even less spectacular choreography. Shaolin Master Killer must have an hour worth of training sequences, which is the main draw of the film, so yeah you can expect a very fleshed out bit of development in Chocolate but I promise it is never boring nor distracting. If you can allow yourself be as absorbed as I was during that introductory love story and the subsequent introduction to the daughter born from it – you are going to find probably a simply amazing martial arts film.

There’s so much to go over. The fight sequences are broken up into about five or six highly choreographed pieces. Depending on where you want to cut between one fight sequence and another, they start to really blend together there at the end as our characters fight from one set to another. Including in what starts off as a quaint oriental bar, then breaks through the wall onto a rooftop and ends in another giant forieger that looks like the House of Blue Leaves sequence in Kill Bill. That comparison seems to get made a lot, but believe me, JeeJa Yenin is much more the acrobat/performer in the action department than any of the amazing women in that particular film and even with Yuen Woo-Ping directing the choreography there Chocolate still seems the more genuine and simply spectacular in terms of the action. From the “simple” things like Yenin moving forward in a flipping motion, her doing a vertical split of sorts, or her wrapping her right leg around her opponents attacking arm and bending it into a submission hold before smacking him down, there is a lot to fawn over in this one. Another bit I loved was her jumping from the top of one shelf to another while doing a 360 degree spin-split. Although she apparently had some help through wires throughout the film, it is never obvious and I truthfully would have wondered about it if it were not for the credits which like older Jackie Chan films feature all of the dangerous outtakes – and it is apparent she is wearing a harness during at least one of the more dangerous stunts. Chocolate starts off slow with the first two fight sequences, a little slower than what is to come later featuring just a few bits of flash – however once you get to the warehouse scenes… wow! I found myself shouting obscenities that I dare not repeat here so many times while watching Chocolate and all I can do is recommend you guys get out there and see it as well.


The Conclusion
This fits right in there with the best of Jackie Chan’s older stunt-kungfu fused work. That perfect blend of Harold Lloyd’s daring Safety Last (where you find yourself in fear for the characters as they go through these highly dangerous feets) and adrenaline pumping action. Check it out and pay your respects to these brilliant performers and filmmakers who all deserve every bit of respect they get. I give the film my highest honors in the Stubbing Award and a 5 out of 5. Is it a film that will change your life? Probably not, but I wouldn’t put it past it, but is it everything an action film should be? Without question. Seek this one out!


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Varied Celluloid is a film website intent on delivering views on movies from all genres. Started in 2003, the website has been steadfast in its goal and features a database of over 500 lengthy reviews. If you would like to contact us about writing for the website or sending screeners, please visit the about page located here.

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