Archives for January 2012 | Varied Celluloid - Page 2

Archive for January, 2012

Fighting Madam

Posted by Josh Samford On January - 17 - 2012

Fighting Madam (1987)
Director: Raymond Leung and Teresa Woo
Writers: Teresa Woo
Starring: Moon Lee, Alex Fong, Elaine Lui and Yukari Ôshima



The Plot: Our film begins focusing on a international narcotics organization who have the appearance of being a legitimate business, but they are anything but a regular board of directors. These drug peddlers are ruthless, however, and have no fear when it comes to using extreme amounts of violence in order to settle such disputes. Sitting on their board is Yeung (Yukari Oshima), who is a woman who may be more ruthless than all other members combined. Moon (Moon lee) is a secret agent who moonlights as a secretary during her offtime. When her boss John Keung (David Chiang) calls her back into action, she is paired with a team collectively known as The Angels. The members include: her good friend Elaine (Elaine Liu), the older and wiser Saijo (Hideki Saijô) and the new young American recruit Alex (Alex Fong). Together, this team will have to form together in order to defeat Yeung and her cronies who are looking to take over the drug trade throughout all of China.

The Review
There’s no question that we here at Varied Celluloid love the Hong Kong girls-with-guns genre. I don’t know for sure whether or not “girls with guns” is an efficient title, since it hardly describes the majority of these movies, but it is the closest thing that I have found to describe these movies. Although this is a genre that certainly needs defining, since it is so obscure that few people have actually written about it, the films are usually spectacular no matter what label you put on them. Featuring some guns, but primarily focusing on martial arts mayhem, these movies can get ridiculously over-the-top. The female leads always seem as if they have something to prove when compared to their male colleagues, and these movies are often innovative and fun because of this rivalry of sorts. Fighting Madam is another Hong Kong actioner that features the legendary Yukari Oshima and Moon Lee being pitted against one another yet again, but it actually proves to be quite unlike anything else I have seen from this genre so far. A cruel mix of outrageous violence and dull spy scripting, this proves to be a film where the good most assuredly outshines the bad.

For starters, when discussing Fighting Madam, the first thing I must point out is the cast. Stacked, from top to bottom with quality names, there was definitely a budget behind this movie. David Chiang is probably the biggest surprise within the cast, as this type of role is one that I am not particularly used to seeing him in. Known for his legendary stint with the Shaw Bros. studio, Chiang is showing his age in this role but he still manages to fit very well into that supervising role. I have seen him in other eighties films where he seemed to be placed in the limelight as a viable action figure, but this time out he really slips into the “Charlie” role in this Charlie’s Angels-esque feature. The cast are all quite brilliant in their positions, however, and Yukari Oshima may be the standout from the main cast. Portraying her most evil villain yet, she sets up murder squads at the drop of a hat, and she is just as apt to do the murdering herself if she is pushed. Physically though, this may be Oshima at her most lovely. Although she is often slightly masculine in appearance, with a fairly muscular physique for a petite woman and always sporting a short androgynous hairdo, she is quite dolled up in Fighting Madame. She plays the socialite psychopath with ease, even though you inevitably start to wish that she and Moon Lee would join forces in more pictures. Moon Lee is of course her usual bubbly self. Deliriously cute, but surprisingly acrobatic and nimble during her fight scenes, the girls get up to some rather ridiculous stunt work in this movie.

There are some slight instances of comedy, but by and large this is a pretty straight forward spy film. Similar to something one might see on Mission Impossible, Charlie’s Angels or any number of James Bond films, there is a ridiculously heavy plot running through this ninety minute feature. Unfortunately, this tends to be one of the movie’s biggest downfalls. It seems to pack in far too much over this small amount of time. With plot details being far too concealed by the strange rhythm of the movie, it becomes difficult to keep track of the varying plot motivations. Even after watching the film, I would be lying if I told you I knew exactly who the Angels force directly reports to. Even the general plot points that actually are covered in the film are usually fairly difficult to mentally navigate and keep track of. Yet, these things are usually forgiven once an awesome action sequence hits the screen. Thankfully, for the sake of Fighting Madam, these action sequences really start to heat up as the movie goes along. When the final twenty minutes beat along and we watch Moon Lee and Elaine Liu sporting machine-guns, while raiding a mansion in true A Better Tomorrow II fashion, everything is most assuredly forgiven.

The stunt work, which I mentioned above, really is off the charts. With many scenes taking place on top of buildings, or hanging off the side of bridges, Moon Lee and company do not disappoint in their stunts. The stunts seem to culminate with a massive jump from a four story building into a group of pine trees that seem to break the fall of our two heroes who brave the massive leap. Unfortunately we do not get to see the entire fall, or the impact that they make on the ground, but the stunt remains impressive. In all regards though, the action that is found in Fighting Madam is bloody, brutal and thoroughly exciting. A blend of Hong Kong action styles, the movie mixes traditional kung fu fight choreography with the heroic bloodshed aesthetics developed by John Woo. In the first thirty minutes, the movie manages to set the tone for the violence that is sure to come. During this initial sequence Yukari Oshima places the order for several of her enemies to be killed, and we watch as this happens in gloriously bloody fashion. A sequence that involves motorcyclists riding around and slicing some poor guy up with kitana swords may be the most ridiculous throughout the entire movie, but it still manages to work due to the “cool” factor.


The Conclusion
How does one even rate a movie like Fighting Madame? Sure, the story is a convoluted mess at times, but the action is so ridiculously great that it hardly seems worth discounting because of this. Surely, most fans will watch a movie like this one solely for the action – and if that is their main reason for watching, I can’t imagine them leaving disappointed. The final fight sequence between the Godesses of Hong Kong action, Yukari Oshima and Moon lee, is enough to secure this movie as a definite watch. Notorious in its brutality, this final fight is off the chain, but it is the other scenes of gratuitous violence and insanity that set it above the rest. I give it a four out of five, but it is a low four due to the quality of the narrative.




“The Big Racket” Review

Posted by Josh Samford On January - 16 - 2012

We have been covering a great deal of Asian cinema here lately, but what about our European brothers and all of their cult cinema? It seems the perfect time to jump right back into some Eurocrime! Today we look at one of the most popular films of the genre, Enzo G. Castellari’s The Big Racket! As always, click on the cover art to read the full review.

The Plot: Nico (Fabio Testi) is a plain-clothed detective along who is placed on a dangerous assignment to help bust up a young gang of criminals who are extorting all of the local business owners. Nico tracks them down to a meeting with their boss, a foreign mastermind named Rudy (Joshua Sinclair), but this only leads him to a great amount of pain as the group pushes his car off of a mountainside. Nico survives the ordeal, but now the fight has become personal for him. As he wrangles up these punks one by one, he finds that they are protected by the political system that he attempts to uphold. Their lawyers quickly help these punks come up with various stories that inevitably lead them right back to the streets. Rudy, their Englishman leader, is independently wealthy and Nico intends to see him put behind bars. Along the way, he will have to team up with all of the honest people who have been run over by these psychotic punks. You would be safe to assume that a violent showdown is soon to come.

Big Racket, The

Posted by Josh Samford On January - 16 - 2012

The Big Racket (1976)
Director: Enzo G. Castellari
Writers: Enzo G. Castellari, Massimo De Rita and Arduino Maiuri
Starring: Fabio Testi, Vincent Gardenia and Joshua Sinclair



The Plot: Nico (Fabio Testi) is a plain-clothed detective along who is placed on a dangerous assignment to help bust up a young gang of criminals who are extorting all of the local business owners. Nico tracks them down to a meeting with their boss, a foreign mastermind named Rudy (Joshua Sinclair), but this only leads him to a great amount of pain as the group pushes his car off of a mountainside. Nico survives the ordeal, but now the fight has become personal for him. As he wrangles up these punks one by one, he finds that they are protected by the political system that he attempts to uphold. Their lawyers quickly help these punks come up with various stories that inevitably lead them right back to the streets. Rudy, their Englishman leader, is independently wealthy and Nico intends to see him put behind bars. Along the way, he will have to team up with all of the honest people who have been run over by these psychotic punks. You would be safe to assume that a violent showdown is soon to come.

The Review
The Big Racket is one of those seminal Italian crime films that I have been meaning to get around to watching for almost as long as I have been a fan of the genre. Directed by the incomparable Enzo G. Castellari, and starring the ridiculously handsome Fabio Testi, this is a film that certainly seems to have a lot going for it. It is a movie that is often referred to as a nice introduction to the genre, because it is high on thrills and delivers many of the elements that have made the genre famous (or, semi-famous). However, I am of two minds when I contemplate this idea. The Big Racket is not a sleazy movie, unlike some titles one might find in this genre. Fabio Testi has always seemed like the sort of leading man who would avoid projects that fall into that category. However, that doesn’t mean that this is a movie that pulls any punches, because it does not. A study on vigilantism as well as a nightmarish vision of urban violence during seventies-era Italy, The Big Racket is a relatively rough and tumble entry point for the genre. For those who have tested these waters before, however, it is a punch in the gut that they may very well enjoy. A powerful piece of cinema (really!) that uses brains and brawn, The Big Racket is a flick that has certainly earned its notoriety.

Starting off with a bit of sadistic violence inflicted upon a fancy fragrance store, where a group of hooligans look to gather up some collection money, the film immediately throws its audience into an atmosphere that is very similar to the Death Wish films. Essentially, these punks are running amuck on an entire neighborhood of assorted business owners, and we watch as they helplessly try to muster up the courage to defend themselves. What I “like” about this introductory sequence is how Castellari uses this horrible situation in order to manipulate his audience. We know that Fabio Testi is just outside of these shops, watching and waiting for this group to do something REALLY nasty, but this safety net doesn’t provide the audience much in terms of help. We watch and we hope for the best, but the cruelty simply seems to stack up higher and higher. Then, when Testi finally follows these punks back to their meeting place, he is actually battered by the gang and has his car flipped. This is Castellari playing with his audience and purposefully tormenting them, but he does this only for the reward, that will culminate in the final act, to seem all the more pleasing when it does come. To truly make the audience know and understand why these evil characters must eventually pay for their crimes, he at first shows them to be lower than human. Over the next sixty or seventy minutes, Castellari shows us this in scene after arduous scene.

Very similar to Castellari’s earlier film Street Law, The Big Racket finds him once again covering the vigilante genre. This film, when paired with the earlier High Crime and Street Law, could be seen as a progressive trilogy studying the world of vigilantism. High Crime is obviously the weakest film of the three. It is a movie that focuses on a police officer who takes his vendetta very serious, but he actually continues to work within the confines of the law for the most part. Street Law ramps things up and shows an everyday man fighting back against the horrors of criminal violence. This character is a figure who lives outside of the legal system, and shows the direction that this “trilogy” would be heading in. The Big Racket, though, may be the bleakest of the group as it inevitably focuses on a group of men who are all left distraught due to the actions performed by a gang of psychotic young people. The violence that is unleashed throughout The Big Racket becomes unsettling as the movie rolls along. A harsh look at the criminal element itself, Fabio Testi’s group of vigilante superheros that are compiled during the final thirty minutes of the movie makes this one a sort of Rogues Gallery study on the subject. While I won’t argue that this is the best of the bunch, it certainly packs a punch that the previous films did not.

The previously mentioned Fabio Testi is maybe the least expected action star within all of Italian cinema. During a time where most cinematic heroes had very hard faces that reflected a toughguy sensibility, Testi was always well known for his babyface good looks. Although he didn’t have a toughguy appearance, he was more than capable as both a action star and a leading man. Sure, he may have looked more at home on a soap opera, but he was a very convincing and daring action hero. In a film such as this, he displays his ability to jump back and forth between the necessary charisma required for any “tough” police character, but he also brings his acting talents to the role which separates him from some others who could have attempted the role. Although Franco Nero might display more versatility as an actor, he is one of the few actors I could actually picture bringing more layers to a role such as this one. Unfortunately, within The Big Racket, I think Testi missed out on taking his character in some more diverse directions. For the most part, the character of Nico simply has everything under control and carries a stoic face that never regales the horrors and traumas that this character has been forced to endure thanks to this group of hardened punks. It would have been nice to see Testi stretch out and play a character pushed to his limits, and maybe take the character of Nico into some interesting dramatic waters. Such is life, however, and Testi is most assuredly solid here.


The Conclusion
While The Big Racket may be a film that divides its audience, I must say that I was very impressed with it. It is more visual than many of Castellari’s films, it features all of his requisite action and it also has some relatively disturbing rape/murders throughout its running time. If you like your vigilante films with some rough edges, this one is certainly for you. I give it a four out of five.




“A Better Tomorrow (2010)” Review

Posted by Josh Samford On January - 13 - 2012

Things have been quite busy here in Varied Celluloid-land, so please pardon the small break between updates. Reviews have been finished and images have been uploaded, but it simply takes a little free time to actually finish the process off. Today, however, we deliver a relatively new title for you good folks to check out! Today we review the South Korean remake of A Better Tomorrow! I actually liked it quite a bit, and I’m not sure if that is technically heresy or not…

The Plot: Hyuk (Ju Jin-Mo) is a North Korean ex-patriot who has moved to South Korea in order to find his riches via the gun smuggling business. His intentions are actually earnest, as he hopes to make enough money to help save his family from the despotic North, but he is quickly caught up in the criminal element. When he finds immense success, he begins the search for his only surviving relative… his brother. When he finds his brother, Chul (Kim Kang-woo), it turns out that the young man had actually been searching for Hyuk as well. However, he searches for him with the intentions of killing him. Chul feels that Hyuk abandoned the family, and inevitably lead to their mother’s death. When Chul is found in an internment camp, Hyuk manages to have his brother released. However, Chul still resents his only brother. While this is going on, Hyuk and his partner Lee Young-Choon (Song Seung-hun) run into some trouble due to a snitch within their organization. The young and seemingly naive Jung Tae-Min (Jo Han-sun) is the snitch, and it turns out that his naivety is nothing more than a ruse to place Young-Choon and Hyuk in a compromising situation. When Hyuk is abandoned by by Tae-Min, he is imprisoned for two years. During this time, Chul manages to become a police detective and must face up to his brother’s past. With Hyuk hitting the streets again, what will become of this sordid situation?

Better Tomorrow (2010), A

Posted by Josh Samford On January - 13 - 2012

A Better Tomorrow (2010)
Director: Song Hae-sung
Writers: Hyo-seok Kim, Taek-kyung Lee, Geun-mo Choi, Hae-gon Kim, Hing-Ka Chan, Suk-Wah Leung
Starring: Ju Jin-mo, Song Seung-heon, Kim Kang-woo and Jo Han Sun



The Plot: Hyuk (Ju Jin-Mo) is a North Korean ex-patriot who has moved to South Korea in order to find his riches via the gun smuggling business. His intentions are actually earnest, as he hopes to make enough money to help save his family from the despotic North, but he is quickly caught up in the criminal element. When he finds immense success, he begins the search for his only surviving relative… his brother. When he finds his brother, Chul (Kim Kang-woo), it turns out that the young man had actually been searching for Hyuk as well. However, he searches for him with the intentions of killing him. Chul feels that Hyuk abandoned the family, and inevitably lead to their mother’s death. When Chul is found in an internment camp, Hyuk manages to have his brother released. However, Chul still resents his only brother. While this is going on, Hyuk and his partner Lee Young-Choon (Song Seung-hun) run into some trouble due to a snitch within their organization. The young and seemingly naive Jung Tae-Min (Jo Han-sun) is the snitch, and it turns out that his naivety is nothing more than a ruse to place Young-Choon and Hyuk in a compromising situation. When Hyuk is abandoned by by Tae-Min, he is imprisoned for two years. During this time, Chul manages to become a police detective and must face up to his brother’s past. With Hyuk hitting the streets again, what will become of this sordid situation?

The Review
It probably doesn’t take much for readers to realize that I am a pretty big fan of John Woo’s Hong Kong work. Although I haven’t reviewed any of his films in years, I have seen all of his heroic bloodshed titles and nearly everything he has made outside of Hollywood. For those of you who don’t keep up with foreign cinema, however, allow me to explain the “heroic bloodshed” genre for you. At the climax of the eighties, Hong Kong action films were moving away from the classic period-setting Kung Fu movies of the past and were finally escaping into the modern era. Audiences liked seeing modern Hong Kong, and they wanted to see modern action. John Woo, along with Tsui Hark and Ringo Lam, helped instigate a new wave of Hong Kong cinema by delivering a new breed of action cinema. Creating a new style of “gun fighting” that the world had never seen before, John Woo showed that the specialized choreography that had made the Kung Fu genre so special, could very well be adapted to a more contemporary form of combat. Later co-opted by Hollywood and The Matrix, Hong Kong saw a torrent of John Woo clones popping up during his formative years, but for the most part his films remained the best. The original A Better Tomorrow marked the arrival of both John Woo and Chow Yun-Fat, and the two would become superstars in their respected fields afterward. Although it may have had some weaknesses, it can generally be seen as one of the best showcases for John Woo’s ballistic style of action and also his adoration for thick melodrama. This South Korean remake, A Better Tomorrow (2010), does as fair a job as any film possibly could when given the reputation of the original movie. This new take on the classic film attempts to take the melodrama and try and make it seem less over-the-top, and manages to craft a fairly tight familial drama. Although the action takes a backseat this time around, the filmmakers generally craft a movie that is worthy as a piece of entertainment but will suffer due to its constant comparisons to the original.

South Korea has proven itself to be a country that doesn’t fully shy away from prospective remakes. Although the notion is much more alive in Hollywood than in any other nation, the Koreans have never been bashful about reinterpreting popular trends for their own demographic. When they quickly remade the Japanese film Ringu as Rasen, many heads were left spinning. The choice to remake Patrick Swayze’s Ghost may been even more baffling, some twenty years after the release of the original. However, the choice to remake A Better Tomorrow seems even more surprising, because it is hard to imagine a relatively obscure genre film from the eighties being heralded enough to actually warrant the budget that is required to create something like this. Still, the filmmakers and producers felt it was viable and their remake certainly doesn’t strive to completely separate itself from what had come previous. There is a definite adoration felt for the original film, and there are numerous winks and nods to the original movie throughout this modern retelling of the story. When Song Seung-hun shows up wearing a trenchcoat very similar to the one that Chow Yun-Fat wore in the original film, fans of the original shouldn’t be able to help but smirk a tiny bit.

Ultimately, the film shares many of the same beats as the original A Better Tomorrow, but it differentiates itself in some important areas. With a film such as this one, the main obstacle that it must overcome is the comparisons that fans will make to the original. As a reviewer, watching the movie with a critical eye, I find it hard not to continually think of John Woo’s masterpiece. How does one not? It is as if someone were to remake Goodfellas. Scorsese’s movie may be much more famous, but the point is that it’s an extremely popular and iconic title within the world of crime cinema. The same is true for John Woo’s A Better Tomorrow, and its legacy is something that honestly cannot be ignored while watching any attempted remake. Although I do enjoy those previously mentioned winks to the audience throughout the movie, there are times where the movie simply seems content to rehash complete sequences from the original film in a nearly shot-for-shot basis. The moments where the movie attempts to be something different are probably the aspects that I most thoroughly enjoyed. The changes made to the character of Chul, a role originally played by Leslie Cheung, are probably the most prominent. The other two lead roles, however, also feature some fairly dramatic changes as well.

Part of me likes what the film does with the Chul character. I like the concept of Hyuk having abandoned his family before the credits even roll, and early into the movie the differences between North and South are felt between these characters. It makes for some intense drama, but the changes that this character makes now seem drastic and all too quick moving. To become a cop after illegally crossing the border seems to be a rather large step, and to do so (and make detective) in only three years comes across as a bit on the extreme. If you can forgive the logical gaps, however, the movie does do some interesting things with this character. In the original film Leslie Cheung’s character always seemed a bit demure, and maybe even naive, in comparison to his older and wiser brother. In this retelling of the story, this character may be even more hardened than his gun-smuggling older brother. While the original film always had a emphasis on the older brother character, played by Ti lung, this remake takes the interesting choice of placing much more focus on the younger brother. In many ways, I think this comes across as the more poignant and dynamic approach to the drama. Whith the writers also throwing in the theme of abandonment on top of everything else, the conclusion to the film becomes that much more powerful. Even if it is almost too downbeat for a movie such as this one.


The Conclusion
While I won’t try to convince anyone that this is a remake that achieves the same power that the original had, I can’t help but admit that I liked the movie quite a bit. Clocking in at two hours in length, the film still remains brisk and delivers a decent amount of action and many strong performances. Kim Kang-woo (Chul) may actually outshine the Chow Yun-Fat character, who most assuredly stole the show in the original film. Having no per-disposition to dislike the film, I found myself enjoying it immensely. I give it a four out of five. This might be a controversial rating, but I can’t help but recommend it to other potential viewers. This is solid stuff.




NAVIGATION

VIDEO

TAGS

Sponsors

About Me

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.

Twitter

    Photos