Cutting past all of this BS, Charlie Cho is one of the very best onscreen perverts that the world has ever known. An actor who has, outside of his perverted roles, performed in several high quality projects, his sparse Western fanbase rallies behind him not for his role in Jackie Chan’s Police Story, but instead for the incredibly cheap sex comedies that he made during the 1990s. These movies were ludicrous and obscene in most regards, but they dominated the Category III film market during the late 80s-to-early 90s. For those who are unaware, Category III, or CAT III, is a cinematic rating within Hong Kong. It’s nearest equivalent would be the 18 rating within the UK, or NC-17 within the USA. In the West, the best known films from this category would be the various extreme crime thrillers that have become cult favorites. Films such as The Untold Story, Ebola Syndrome, and Dr. Lamb have all had plenty of time dedicated to them, but Hong Kong sex comedies have unfortunately been left, mainly, for the superfans. Within this genre, there are several notable “cocksmen” who deserve mention. Stuart Ong, Lee Chung-Ling, and Elvis Tsui are all actors who made numerous films within the CAT III market, specializing in films about seduction, stupidity, and obsessing over breasts. However, of all these actors, one man stands out as king. That man is Charlie Cho Cha-Lee.
Continue reading “Charlie Cho: The Cinematic Lover” »
Review of Mushroom Clouds and Mushroom Men by Peter Brothers (2009, AuthorHouse) as written by Coffin Jon of VCinema.
If you had told me as a child in the late ‘70s that someone actually made the Godzilla films that I loved so much, I would have thought you were crazy. Surely, considering the large number of Godzilla films available by that time (15!), they were created by some sort of movie-making robot that could read the minds of young children around the world and, onto film, translate what they desired to see most, giant monsters! There’s just no way that these movies could have been made by just one man! Well, the truth is all of them had not been directed by one man, but actually five, most of whom produced work that is still largely unknown in the West (though Godzilla vs Hedorah (1971) director Yoshimitsu Banno was once an assistant director of Akira Kurosawa). It shouldn’t come to any surprise then that Ishiro Honda, Godzilla’s creator and still the one who has directed the most films in the series, has suffered a similar fate of obscurity in the West. That’s where Peter Brothers’ Mushroom Clouds and Mushroom Men comes in.
Much has been written about Honda before in books such as Monsters Are Attacking Tokyo! (Galbraith, Fujii, & Sakahara, 1998), Godzilla on My Mind (Tsutsui, 2004), and A Critical History and Filmography of Toho’s Godzilla Series (Kalat, 2010), but mainly in relation to his work with every one’s favorite nuclear lizard. What’s unique about Brothers’ book is the equal attention given to Honda’s other fantasy-filled kaiju (monster) and tokusatsu (special effects) films, including his incredibly fun and underrated The H-Man (1958) and The Mysterians (1957) and genuinely atmospherically creepiness Matango: Attack of the Mushroom People (1963 and also the source of the “Mushroom Men” reference in the book’s title) and the other 22 films that he directed and including titles not readily available in North America as of the writing of this review.
Essentially, the book is separated into three sections. The first dissects Honda’s general approach to his film direction vis a vis common visual and narrative themes and their in-film execution. Especially interesting is the subsection that looks at the recurrence of the “sympathetic monster”, a filmic and narrative archetype not unlike the Frankenstein monster. This short section, really comprises the raison d’etre of Honda’s movies as this theme is, both directly and indirectly, referred to in the book. The second section is a biography of Ishiro Honda and, though it contains the basics of the director’s life, might be considered the book’s weakness. Those who are expecting an up close and personal look at Honda might feel a little disappointed at the seeming distance that Brothers has from his subject; something that may have been fact since there are not any film stills or even pictures of Honda in the book at all.
However, to be fair, as the subtitle (“The Fantastic Cinema of Ishiro Honda”) says, the book does not purport to be solely about Honda, but rather his films and this is the book’s strength and what comprises the third, and largest, section. In this section, Brothers looks at each film individually first giving details on its cast and credits. Formal synopses are not provided, but rather woven into the analysis. Also within the analyses of each film are plenty of details on the work of Honda’s filmmaking team of, among many others, special effects director Eiji Tsubaraya and soundtrack composer Akira Ifukube. The book could have benefited from more copyediting; there are several misspellings that most spellcheckers will not catch, but the prose is generally well-written in a straightforward and authoritative, if slightly dry, manner.
Overall, though, Brothers’ book is a welcome entry into the ever-growing knowledge base of Japanese and especially kaiju film. It might not be the book that will make you a whiz on Ishiro Honda trivia night, but it may be one that you keep on your nightstand or bookshelf in your home theater for those times when you want to kick back and read about childhood favorites as seen through adult eyes.
Born in 1955, Lam was drawn to the arts at a young age. At age 18, he enrolled in the Shaw Bros. Acting Training Program at the former TVP television studio. This course was the television branch of the famed Shaw Bros. studio who are best known for producing an uncountable number of martial arts films throughout the seventies. This class was also where Lam met a personal friend and a future star in Chow Yun-Fat. The two were known to be quite the roustabouts and stories of their partying ways are legendary, so much so that a particular night of infamy they shared has gone on to become cinematic history. In the John Woo films A Better Tomorrow and A Bullet in the Head, there are sequences that either talk about (A Better Tomorrow) or feature (A Bullet in the Head) scenes where characters are forced to drink urine. This actually came from the lives of Ringo Lam and Chow Yun-Fat who were hanging around rougher neighborhoods in Hong Kong and came across some local Triads who gave the two some pretty heavy grief!
Soon Lam decided that acting was not his forte and that his place was to be behind the camera, in light of this he emigrated to Canada and enrolled at York University in Toronto. Although he didn’t graduate, Lam learned from his time in Canada and left for Hong Kong once again in 1981. It was here that Lam would cut his teeth in the cinematic world and go on to do his most memorable work. He, along with Tsui Hark and John Woo, formed a new movement in Hong Kong cinema and helped change the curve for years to come. Things didn’t start off easily however, being a fresh face in the business meant that his choices for projects were fairly slim and the creative control offered to him was limited. With his first directorial role he was brought in to work as assistant director for the Cinema City ghost-comedy project: Espirit D’Amour (1983) which soon ran into trouble when director Leung Po Chi was let go, and Ringo was tapped to step in as director. Why Leung Po Chi (famed director of Hong Kong 1941) left the project is uncertain. It is said that he either came down ill or producer Karl Maka didn’t like the dailies that he was seeing. Regardless, Lam finished the project and after this there were a couple of other comedies (The Other Side of Gentleman – 1984, Love God Number One – 1985) followed by his entry into the wildly popular Aces Go Places series, which were kind of like a Hong Kong James Bond film collection, that were riding their peak at the time. Lam directed Aces Go Places 4: You Never Die Twice and had another very successful feature on his hands. This gave him a little more credibility within the industry and lead to Karl Maka giving him the leeway to make whatever kind of picture he so desired.
City on Fire would turn out to be one of Lam’s most celebrated films, and in league for being one of the best Hong Kong films of the 1980’s. The film saw Lam teaming up with his school mate Chow Yun-Fat once again, with him taking the starring role as an undercover police officer who finds himself with a pack of jewel thieves. Playing opposite to Chow Yun-Fat was Danny Lee, who played one of the jewel thieves who becomes close friends with Chow’s character. Lee at the time was most commonly seen by audiences on the side of the law, as he was well known for playing police officers – but Lam decided to cast him against type as just another kink for the audience to deal with. The film explored the themes of loyalty and betrayal and painted the world in very broad grey strokes, where the complexities of friendship prevent things from being black and white. The film would come back and burst into the American consciousness whenever <>Quentin Tarantino’s film Reservoir Dogs would be called into question for possibly stealing material from Ringo Lam’s classic feature. Another independent filmmaker named Mike White, who is the creator of Cashiers du Cinemart magazine, would make waves for the expose when he made a ten minute short film that edited Reservoir Dogs with the final half hour of City on Fire to dramatic effect.
After the success of City on Fire, Lam decided to make a series out of the title and followed his film up with Prison on Fire. A sequel only in the likeness of the name, this prison drama (once again starring Chow Yun-Fat) focused again on the loyalties of friendship and brotherhood under intense situations. Intensity would be an apt description for the entire project however, as it was shot and edited in only three weeks time due to a hectic schedule. Lam, who has never been the easiest man to please on set from all accounts, was even more neurotic and sensational for the filming of Prison.. which left him with a reputation that follows him to this day. Despite all of the hardships, the film proved to be a hit with critics as well as local audiences and so Lam decided to follow it up once again with School on Fire. Unfortunately, he would not find the same success with this outing – as the content of the film had him in hot water due to the levels of violence and grittiness of the picture. Dealing with school students being forced into prostitution and riled up youthful triads persecuting their teachers, it was a pretty bitter pill for some audiences. Producers wanted less glamorization of the Triad lifestyle, the audience wanted more action and thus the project was doomed. Despite it being received poorly at the box office, the film has survived over the years on its own merit and can be considered one of his best films.
Following up the commercial disappointment of School on Fire, Undeclared War (1990) was an international film that did quite bad for its larger budget. Financially Lam continued to hit tough times as Touch and Go (1991) underperformed despite it being a Sammo Hung vehicle, who was quite popular. Then his two pairings with Chow Yun-Fat were only moderately successful. Those films being Wild Search (1989) and the more melodramatic but fast paced sequel Prison on Fire II (1991). Lam did however co-direct the popular Jackie Chan action-comedy Twin Dragons (1992) around this time, which saw Chan playing two versions of himself opposite Maggie Cheung. The film was made as a fund raising effort by the Hong Kong Director’s Guild and featured several collaborators, so it’s hard to gauge just how involved Lam was with the film. It is said Tsui Hark handled the more comedic scenes, where Lam handled the more serious and action oriented sequences. Sure enough though, it was a box office hit in Hong Kong. However, Lam would soon find any success from that being embroiled in controversy after he made a slightly negative remark in the aftermath of the Tienanmen Square massacre.
Lam’s comments came about in the wake of the horrible massacre at Tienanmen Square, when all of China still felt like they were reeling from the tragedy. Lam’s comments, while likely not intended to be insulting or offensive, were taken that way. He essentially claimed that he felt it was time to move on and that events such as the Dragon Boat festival shouldn’t have been canceled. The quote was then held over the director’s head and he even received death threats sent to his offices. Lam took a vacation but was eventually lured back out by his good friend Chow Yun-Fat who specifically asked that Lam be brought in as director for his next project: Full Contact. At the time Chow had been making films with John Woo and had several extremely popular titles and series under his belt, so when he asked for something it was generally done. Lam took the project which was a Hong Kong takeoff on the Lee Marvin revenge film Point Blank. It saw the usually squeaky clean or debonair Chow Yun-Fat playing a dirtier, grittier sort of criminal who was left to die by his partners but manages to survive some how. When this character wakes up from his coma, he sets off on a path towards vengeance. Brutally violent, incredibly stylish and easily one of the best films from the Heroic Bloodshed subgenre of Hong Kong action films – it was a massive hit internationally if not domestically.
Burning Paradise (1994) was given the green light and was Lam’s next film and although it didn’t make back all of it’s budget, which was considerable for a Hong Kong film at the time, it did prove to be an impressive and interesting feature. Lam created his own version of the period film – by throwing in decapitations, blood spray and some interesting wuxia style swordplay. Although a failure at the box office, the film its self wasn’t a disaster. Great Adventurers (1995) was next up for the filmmaker and saw Lam openly battling his star Andy Lau. Lau received an outrageous figure for the time to do the picture, $1.5 million dollars it is said, which Lam felt hurt the picture because it ate up a considerable amount of the budget – leaving Lam without the tools to accurately tell the story. Although these are all just rumors, it is also said that Lau ignored Lam’s direction while on set and that the two did not get along at all. Perhaps it was this drama and resentment that had Lam accept the call from Hollywood, as his next project was the Jean Claude Van Damme picture Maximum Risk in North America. This experience didn’t turn out to be any more pleasant however, as Lam didn’t enjoy his experience with Jean Claude either (going so far as to tell the actor he “couldn’t act for s**t”!) and when the film didn’t test well with audiences, it was taken out of his hands and re-edited. Lam left Hollywood in the wake of these things and focused on work back in Hong Kong.
Ringo Lam hit another stride with his following two films; the absolutely brilliant Full Alert (1997) and the low key thriller The Victim (1999). Full Alert turned out to be a big hit locally as well as on the festival circuit, as it was just the right amalgamation of his gritty and urbane crime tales with enough visual punch to surprise even the most hearty of skeptics. The Victim, which didn’t do as well financially, was an equally impressive smaller film that saw Lam trying his hand at the supernatural thriller. Lam has continued to work since then, despite his spat with Jean Claude Van Damme, he has since worked with the filmmaker two other times (on In Hell – 2003 and Wake of Death – 2004). His most recent project was the three way directorial teamup of Ringo Lam, Tsui Hark and Johnnie To on Triangle. Although the film hasn’t found critical success, it’s interesting for the historical mix of these directors if nothing else.
Although he doesn’t have the flare and action of a John Woo or the hip and youthful mix of a Tsui Hark, Ringo Lam remains just as impressive a figure from the Hong Kong film world. Perhaps even more impressive, as his films never really played into what the audience expected or wanted. He has his ups and he has his downs, but regardless of what the film is – if you go into a Ringo Lam picture; you know it has to be different. Whether subversive and nihilistic or gritty but with a hint of reluctant hope – the film world in which he crafts is unlike anything any other filmmaker could hope to achieve. A director who is due for a resurgence in popularity and I ask that you help bring it about, by picking up one of his films in the near future.
— Joshua Samford
AMC TV Biography
City on Fire: Hong Kong Cinema
So last night I’m just sitting around doing very little with my free time, bored out of my mind when out of the sky comes a white shining horse come to save me from the despair and loneliness that a twenty three year old single dude with no personal life might have – that horse, that beautiful horse came in the form of a personal favorite of mine: Videodrome. A film I suspect many reading this should be pretty familiar with. Watching this film on that evening got my ticker turning and I thought: ARTICLE TIME! Since I don’t have much else rolling around in my brain. Especially nothing I can squeeze almost a thousand words out of. Well, for those unfamiliar with this film essentially Videodrome is a very simple story… for the first twenty minutes. Telling the story of a man named Max Renn who is the president of a small TV station that focuse mainly on the most sensational forms of entertainment they can track down. Max even has his video pirate friend tracking the videowaves in hopes of finding bizarre television shows in foreign markets. One night, Max finds just what he has been looking for. A show called Videodrome. A gameshow of sorts, except no prizes… or questions… or anything really resembling a gameshow format. I call it that because the characters in the movie sometimes do. Videodrome is live torture, in a clay-encased room usually followed by the murder of the “contestant”. No plot, no meaning, just death and humiliation. Max is astounded, and his newly found girlfriend who dabbles a bit in sadomasochism is in love. The pirated signal at first seems to be coming from Malaysia, but it is soon found that it’s really just a delay and Videodrome is being produced right here in America. As Max sets out to find out just what Videodrome is, he begins to have hallucinations. As things progress, it gets worse, until Max’s life is so blurred that he nor we the audience can any longer tell what is fact, what is fiction and where the lines between reality and fiction had even started before their blurring.
Videodrome is a classic in what I refer to as cinema of the absurd, it’s a form of filmmaking that doesn’t neccesarily have to make any kind of conventional sense – but is told in such a distinct and astonishing way that it entrances the audience. Videodrome is one of the few films I can sit down and watch backwards and forwards, then start the whole process over again. It is a tough cookie to crack, and I don’t believe I understand the plight of our lead character Max now any more than the first time I originally sat through it. However I do understand that this film may be Cronenberg’s greatest work and one of the best North American films produced in the eighties easily. Essentially, later in the film it is revealed that Max now has a tumor for reasons I won’t get into – but the tumor is what is producing these visions and in the process draws away the ability for both Max and the Viewer to grasp even the tiniest fraction of reality from what is going on within the film. Cronenberg created a sense of paranoia and confusion unlike any other film I can think of, but his vision of men with giant vagina-like caverns on their chest and television sets that breathe could have been inspired by the works of Fellini, David Lynch or Luis Buñuel. Unlike Fellini or Buñuel however, Cronenberg lets his audience get a taste for the normal, lets them sink into their chairs expecting a thriller and doesn’t pull out all the weird stuff just for the sake of creating underlying messages. Cronenberg tells a story and warns audiences about our culture and the reliance on television and technology at the time. In that sense, I find it a much easier film to sink into and try to understand.
Cronenberg and David Lynch are filmmakers that seem tied together in fans eyes, I suppose because both are North American and have a tendency to make films within this cinema of the absurd genre. Cronenberg has created more films that follow a straight and narrow plot structure, however films like the before mentioned Videodrome and possibly even Existenz to some degree – they have stuck with fans so much that the two just have to be linked together. Lynch however has dedicated his artistic output to this absurd form of cinematic structure. With films like Lost Highway, Mulholland Dr. and his most recent feature Inland Empire. All films follow a somewhat structured narrative for a short amount of time, before the entire world and climate change around our characters. Films like MD and Lost Highway can actually be understood to some degree, if you can piece together the scenes to try and understand what has happened, what is happening and where things are going. Built like puzzles as film, David Lynch proves to still be one of the most exciting and intriguing directors thirty years since the release of his completely bizarre debut Eraserhead.
There are many filmmakers belonging in this category, the previously mentioned Fellini, Buñuel, Takashi Miike (only occasionally), Shinya Tsukamoto and many others have delved outside the norm in terms of structure and they are just as welcome on this list of other great filmmakers. I essentially wrote this article to express my love for this small genre of filmmaking. Call it what you will, absurdist, expressionist, experimental, etc. What it comes down to though is storytelling in an unusual fashion and that to me is what cinema is all about. Anything to engage the audience in a deeper fashion and craft a story from nothing. In the end, if a filmmaker does that – there’s not much else more you can ask of them.
— Joshua Samford
Ahh, the summer is truly upon us. Down here in Louisiana, we have many months of humid, hot, muggy, wet, moisture laden days and rainy nights to look forward to. For some, they have bright days with sunny beaches in their near future. However, none of us live in those areas, so I think we can all join together and wish the very worst on people like that. Regardless, with these summer days busteling towards us, I thought I would do something in the spirit of the season. That is, I thought I would do something completely opposite of the season upon us. I get those two things mixed up sometimes. So, rather than writing an article on how Point Break is the perfect summer film and is without a doubt also the finest motion picture to ever grace the silver screen (and believe me buddy, it most certainly is) – I thought I would switch gears and write an article to help us take our minds off the rain and the heat. Instead, I thought I’d look to the grass on the other side of the fence and focus on more winter based films. As we all know, unbearable heat sure sucks so why not combat it with frostbite inducing cold temperatures! Yay! The worst of both worlds coming right at you… but keep in mind, these films are in no special order in levels of greatness. This is all just random blathering, basically, I think of a word – I put it to paper and hope that Duane (your loyal Rogue Cinema editor) doesn’t notice that I am slowly losing my mind.
The first flick that comes into my mind when I think of desperate cold, is also one of my favorite films of all time (funny how things like that work out). Stuck in the freezing wilderness looking after a fort that is all but forgotten, several military men fight the cold and their own insanity in the late 1800s. I remember when Ravenous was released vividly. I saw the trailers and TV spots, but being that I was just a wee bit too young to make it to the theaters to see it on my own – and of course we didn’t have internet piracy in those days; I sadly had to wait until it was released on video to finally check it out. When I finally was able to rent it, I picked it up the same night as I did The Matrix – and was actually much more enthused with Ravenous. Starting with the strange, relaxing and catchy synth score – Ravenous is a beautiful monster straight from the start. Dealing with the ideas of cannibalism and it giving the person who does the eating the power of the person who is… well, ate – few films capture so many emotions at one time. Partly a dark, dark comedy and mostly a devilishly smart cannibal film; few horror films I have met have been dissapointed.
Another film that crosses my mind as being a pretty strict winter-setting, doesn’t actually feature much of a winter setting. I think it will always remain a Christmas type of flick in my mind mainly because of the ice encased snow storm where our monster is originally found. The film is The Stuff, and the plot is retarded. I’m sorry, that was offensive, mentally challenged. I must admit, The Stuff was a film I LOVED as a kid. I thought the idea behind a giant dessert attacking and killing people was absolute brilliance but sadly as I aged a little bit and re-watched the film a few years ago – childhood ideas aren’t always the best and the things we loved then don’t always translate to age-defying forms of enjoyment. I’m a big Michael Moriarty fan and I still couldn’t get into the film and I do realize that The Stuff actually does have a fairly decent fanbase – but I guess it was all the Cold War-era political spoofing that just dated the film beyond recognition for me… or it could be that it just wasn’t that good, either way, it’ll still remain a Christmas film to me regardless of what anyone thinks. It’s a shame it has nothing to do with the holiday.
Unlike The Stuff however, the next film actually has something to do with Christmas and is actually entertaining to me despite being a pretty bad flick! Silent Night, Deadly Night is the type of film that despite all the reasons you aren’t supposed to like it – you still have to admit you kind of do. Not just because it’s Plan 9 bad and there are funny lines, ha ha ha. There’s actually a soul to SNDN, a silly and quite goofy soul – but a soul none the less. With a crazy grandpa spilling his madness at a young boy who’s mother is raped and father murdered just hours later, SNDN is a laugh riot from the get go! Okay, maybe that doesn’t sound right… but I promise you, it’s hard not to have at least a little fun with it. Our leading man, who is also a deranged lunatic who seeks to kill anyone having a good time on Christmas, proves to understand that all great comedians need their own catchphrases in order to endear themselves to their audience. Git-R-Done, You Might Be A Redneck If and that classic of classics from Eddie Murphy’s golden days “suck my d***!” – our hero throws his own line out there in the form of “PUNISH!” as he launches an axe into the chest cavity of all the bad little boys and girls running around. If you’re not sold on this flick yet, you have no heart.
The second to last film is one that many of you may be familiar with… well, some of you are probably more familiar with the remake which I am not looking to discuss – but Black Christmas is one of the best and most underrated films of the slasher age. It had that same “classic” atmosphere that made Halloween, Texas Chainsaw Massacre and films of those variety so special; but even I had not actually seen it until about two years ago. That’s coming from a kid who dieted on nothing but slasher flicks growing up. Critters, Leprechaun, Childs Play, Halloween, Friday the 13th, Sleepaway Camp, Nightmare on Elm Street – I had seen it all, but somehow BC avoided my grasp. I had heard loads about it when I first discovered the internet, but it took years to track it down and when I finally found it; it was well worth the wait. Atmospheric, claustrophobic and a true horror film. Even though the voice that prank calls the girls throughout the film is slightly less silly than the duck voice in The New York Ripper, but still majorly silly – it works out somehow. Another highly reccomended classic.
Now here we are, speaking of classics… I guess the one film that barely needs an introduction I save for last. Really, what do I need to say for John Carpenter’s classic The Thing? Not much, by now hopefully everyone on the planet earth has seen it and respects it for the brilliant accomplishment it most certainly is – but for those who have not seen it by some grave misfortune; I am hereby begging you to get out there and give it a rent. Then, if you don’t like it, I’ll let you punch a random stranger in the groin. Trust me, you won’t be arrested, I promise.
And that ends another classic article from yours truly. Some of you are probably angry that I didn’t go on a three page diatribe about the greatness of The Thing – but c’mon, I’ve wrote several reviews for it already myself and I have to imagine just about everyone has at least heard about it. I think it’s illegal to be a film fan these days and not at least be vaguely aware of John Carpenter’s work and The Thing which is obviously one of his finest achievements. Anywho, I hope you’ve all enjoyed and I hope the summer heat doesn’t drive you mad like it apparently has me. I’m going to go take a dip in my two foot pool now and soak up some skin-cancer-inducing rays. See you all in chemo!
— Joshua Samford