Japan | Varied Celluloid

Tormented

Posted by Josh Samford On April - 5 - 2013

Tormented (2011)
Director: Takashi Shimizu
Writers: Sotaro Hayashi, Daisuke Hosaka, Takashi Shimizu
Starring: Hikari Mitsushima, Takeru Shibuya, and Teruyuki KagawaC



The Plot: Tormented begins with a relatively disturbing sight: a young boy stares down at a rabbit that appears to be terminally injured. As the rabbit breaths profusely while bleeding out, the boy, instead of being disgusted or sad, nonchalantly takes a large brick and brings it crashing down on the little creature. This little boy is Daigo (Takeru Shibuya), the little brother of our main protagonist Kiriko (Hikari Mitsushima). Kiriko, who has been mute since her childhood, is worried for her brother, but she finds herself unable to draw her father’s attention to the problem. After going to the movies and watching a 3D horror movie, Daigo sees a strange vision within the theater. He sees a stuffed rabbit floating down from the screen, and from this point onward he is continually assaulted in his dreams by a large rabbit. The rabbit keeps pointing Daigo towards a hospital, but the young boy can not understand what the creature wants. Will he and Kiriko figure out this monster’s secret before it is too late?


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Stray Cat Rock: Wild Jumbo

Posted by Josh Samford On January - 24 - 2012

Stray Cat Rock: Wild Jumbo (1970)
Director: Toshiya Fujita
Writers: Shuichi Nagahara
Starring: Tatsuya Fuji, Takeo Chii, Yƻsuke Natsu and Meiko Kaji



The Plot: Stray Cat Rock: Wild Jumbo is not a film that follows a very intricate sort of plot, however, at its most basic it is a movie that follows the adventures of a “gang” of teens. The group is made up of several fellas and one lady (the lady is played by Meiko Kaji, who acts as the only returning performer in this sequel). They spend their days rolling around in a dunebuggy on the beach or in the midst of the city. Although this group of hipsters seem rather nice, they aren’t averse to a bit of violence to get what they want. Scams are their forte, and they have acquired a variety of ways to supply all of their needs. When the leader of this group runs into a interesting young woman riding a horse near their headquarters, their lives all take a twist for the more interesting. As we are introduced to these characters, we are also introduced to the Seikyou Society who are a cult that is garnering a great deal of money from Japanese believers. It also becomes apparent that this group will be collecting a huge sum of money at a large meeting that is expected to happen soon. With the help of this new young woman, our gang plans to rob the Seikyou Society of their money and help this new friend acquire some form of hidden vengeance against this cult.


The Review
Ever since viewing Stray Cat Rock: Delinquent Girl boss, I have had a wider definition of the pinky violence genre than many of the diehards would persuade you. Although the strictest definition of the genre should exclude all films made outside of Toei studios, I found within the original Stray Cat Rock film a lively and eclectic feature that, despite being a movie made under the Nikkatsu film studio, still delivered everything that made this genre the wild world that it was. Youthful teens rebelling against the society around them, wearing the most fashionable clothes possible and frequently delving into the criminal world, this is the pinky violence genre through-and-through! Stray Cat Rock: Wild Jumbo is the second entry into the series and it at first looks to continue on in the traditions that the first film instigated. However, this time out veteran director Yasuhara Hasebe is not leading the project and director Toshiya Fujita steps up to the plate. Does the film change drastically because of this switch? Yes. Yes, it does. However, let us not be hasty. Sometimes change can be for the better, right? After all, the worst thing a filmmaker can do is try to replicate what has already been done. So, is Wild Jumbo a step in a progressive direction that adds something positive to the pinky violence genre? No, it isn’t. Sorry, I can’t drag it out any further. I have to be honest on this, as it seems that director Toshiya Fujita’s ideas clashed in heavy opposition with everything else that Hasebe did do and would later do with his precious girl-gang series.

Although discussion on Wild Jumbo has been very minimal, the few mentions that I have ever read for the film have called it the “lightest” movie in the Stray Cat Rock series, and I am obliged to agree. In almost all manners the film deviates from the set path of the original film. For starters, while I have always felt that titles like Girl Boss and Sex Hunter (the first and third movie in the Stray Cat Rock series, respectively) were perfectly fit for the pinky violence genre, Wild Jumbo can only really earn this distinction because of its association with these previously mentioned films. For starters, the movie breaks the most basic cardinal rule of any pinky violence title: it doesn’t focus on women. The only female characters in the film are secondary characters with very few lines. Although Meiko Kaji is a very large presence within the movie, she is still only a part of a predominately male gang. Our story essentially focuses on the inner turmoil of this group and the inevitable “big job” that they stumble upon. Why the filmmakers decided to take this polar opposite approach with the first sequel, I am not sure, but it deflates a lot of the great drama that was established in the first film. The second main deviation from the genre comes in the atmosphere of the movie. Gone is the urban grit and rebellion found in the original movie, and instead this sequel comes across as more of a beach-blanket party movie than it does a slice of life within the inner city.

The movie is rather bizarre, there is simply no getting past it. A mix of sixties era psychedelic imagery and seventies era rebellion, the movie is conflicted in the aesthetics that it wishes to follow. The “gang” that we follow within this film differentiates itself from both cultures, it seems. The group certainly resembles the commune mentality of the sixties-era hippie movement, upon a cursory first glance at least, due to their willingness to help each other and their general fun loving attitudes. However, they quickly separate themselves from the sixties by displaying their overwhelming sense of greed as well as their attraction to scams and violence. While most of the time their rebellion generally makes them seem like a nuisance to all of the “straights” around them, they occasionally delve into some truly questionable antics. When the time comes, and the film makes its transition into a serious “heist” movie, they finally progress into having a yakuza-esque edge. This “edge” is surprisingly gone throughout the majority of the movie, and seems very out of place when the movie finally attempts to present a harsher tone during the final half hour. Viewers can never really know what to expect from Wild Jumbo, to be honest. It is a mix and match sort of movie that seems as if it may have been put together on the fly. The introduction for the movie seems to hint at it being a more direct sequel to the original Delinquent Girl Boss, as it actually features a very tiny cameo by Akiko Wada (sultry soul singer who was a star in the original movie). Wada is soon completely abandoned, however, and we find that Meiko Kaji has been transformed into an entirely different character. In the cinematic “crime of the century,” Kaji is actually left in one of the smallest parts of her career.

Although the real facts behind the production of Wild Jumbo are unfortunately lost in translation, much of the blame will inevitably fall upon director Tatsuya Fujita. Although Fujita would go on to direct the more-popular Lady Snowblood movies, his work here is incredibly disjointed and most assuredly rushed. No doubt, Nikkatsu was likely looking to capitalize on the popularity of the original Delinquent Girl Boss and they probably wanted to get a movie made as quick as possible. This explains why Wada makes her strange cameo during the introduction, and why she actually makes it onto both the poster art and the soundtrack for the film. So, with producers looking to cash in, they turned to Fujita to crank something out. The end results were not another girl-gang crime film starring Meiko Kaji, but a Kinji Fukasaku clone with a near-voiceless female cast and a wildly meandering plot that only seems to pick up steam during a third act that seems incredibly tacked on. Indeed, the “heist” section of the movie is the most interesting aspect of the entire movie, but up until this point I have developed no affection for any character throughout the duration of the movie. When characters inevitably start to die off, the viewer is left with no sentimental feelings. Instead, we have a movie that comes across as all style, but very little else.


The Conclusion
Wild Jumbo may have received a lashing from me during the course of this review, but it isn’t the worst movie on the market. It has some interesting aspects to it. It really is a stylish movie with a lot of great photography and fashion. It is simply a case where the bad often overshadows what good elements the movie may have. I give it a two out of five. Not terrible, but certainly worth skipping.




Shaolin vs. Ninja

Posted by Josh Samford On December - 20 - 2011

Shaolin vs. Ninja (1983)
Director: Mai Chen Jsai and Robert Tai
Writers: Chang Chien-chi
Starring: Chi Ping Chang, Shun Chien and Alan Chui Chung San



The Plot: Set around a Shaolin temple in China, the film follows the exploits of the monk Wei Chin who finds it impossible to deal with the Japanese ninjas who have become lords over the region. The Japanese soon devise a way to set Wei Chin up, and it involves instigating a battle between Shaolin with several other martial art schools in the area. However, this proves to be impossible, so the Japanese take a more forceful point of action and kill off a prominent monk, and then lay the blame on Wei Chin. With this accomplished, multiple schools within the martial world are now turning their anger towards the Shaolin. Eventually Shaolin and the Japanese are wrapped up in a deadly rivalry. A tournament is eventually held, and pride certainly proves to be on the line for both nations. However, a revelation will come during this tournament that will shed light on the death that instigated all of this animosity. Will the Chinese manage to survive this horrific ordeal, and will the few Japanese with any sense of honor step up and fight back against the evil lords who control them?

The Review
As I discussed in my Wu Tang vs. Ninja review, few things were as popular as “ninjas” were during the eighties. They became the leading heroes, and villains, for a number of martial art films that were imported from multiple countries. Although I consider myself a fan of the “ninja” concept, I have to admit that I have seen far more bad movies featuring these hooded assassins than I have seen good ones. If the movie in question doesn’t feature white guys dressed up as ninjas, then the movies are so ridiculously cheap that they become exploitative. The film that we are reviewing today, Shaolin vs. Ninja, certainly falls into the latter category. While I would like to say that it is a fun and inventive ninja movie that delivers on all of the zany action that audiences crave, it unfortunately comes nowhere close. The ninja action is quite intense, I have to give the movie that, and for that I was very pleased. This isn’t one of those “Ninja on the box, but nowhere to be seen in the actual movie” sort of flicks. No, we get black cloth ninjas in all of their ninja-star throwing glory. Unfortunately, it is the rest of the movie that falls short of the mark in every possible way that this genre ever could.

Like many of the worst films within the kung fu genre, this movie treats its plot as a secondary concept. Honestly, if I had not hit rewind and been very specific in my notes, I probably couldn’t explain the plot. There really isn’t much about the film that seems to make much conventional sense. Why exactly are these “ninjas” in China? Why are they the masters of this particular area? The film doesn’t seem to be set during any period of Japanese occupation, instead it simply seems as if it were set in some sort of weird reality with a alternate version of history. I am over-thinking this far too much, however, as historical context was something that I honestly doubt ever entered into the mind of our filmmakers. Shaolin vs. Ninja is skin deep and doesn’t attempt to be anything other than what it is: a Shaolin movie with a bunch of ninjas running around. There would be a certain charm to this, if only the movie were relatively entertaining. Unfortunately, the deck is absolutely stacked against the movie in terms of cinematic decency.

Honestly, there comes a point in Shaolin vs. Ninja where the viewer simply stops caring. I am not one to go into hyperbole all that often, but I honestly began to dread the time that I was wasting on the film. Between all of the horrid technical merits and the disastrous job that the distributors did on the film, the movie is annoyingly poor in its presentation. However, even with bad picture quality/dubbing/localization aside, you can tell that this was never a solid martial arts film. Although the martial arts tournament between Shaolin and the Japanese may break up the slow pace, it still eats up a huge portion of this short film’s running time, and it serves little or no purpose. Once it begins, you might think that it will only last for two or three fight scenes, but you would certainly be wrong. The movie initiates the tournament, and it simply seems to go on forever. I found myself spacing in and out, only coming back to full attention when something creative would happen. With zero character motivation or narrative progress at stake, such a scene seems to have little meaning. At this point, honestly, you are only watching a series of kung fu demonstrations.

Featuring a dub that puts almost all other kung fu dubs to shame, Shaolin vs. Ninja rarely gives the appearance of being a legitimate “movie.” Made in the early part of the eighties, this was most certainly a cheapie production shot in Taiwan. Director Robert Tai was no stranger to the world of low budget cinema, but this doesn’t prove to be one of his most earnest efforts. The American distributors, when they grabbed ahold of this title, decided that they had no intentions of retaining any sort of artistic credibility. Knowing that a proper and professional mix for the new English dub would cost much more than they were willing to throw into this project, the distributors decided to maximize their profits by putting as little effort into the release of the film as possible. With performers who sound as if they are falling asleep while reading their lines, it seems obvious that few “actors” were actually used in the recording of this dialogue. The synchronization is done so sloppily that it appears that actors speak without ever even moving their lips. Several times throughout the movie you will also notice all of the background noise simply seems to drop out completely, and sound effects seem to be missing as well. During a pivotal moment in the film where a key character is killed off, he is stabbed by an assassin but is given no sound effect whatsoever. The only noise heard comes from the poor performance of the “actor” who whimpers in a very unrealistic tone.

As horrid as I feel that this film may be, I have to give credit to the fight choreography. Although it is nothing special for the most part, some of the intricate movements and acrobatic choreography almost gives this movie a additional point in its rating. During one of the many fight sequences during the “tournament,” one character actually uses a flying body-scissors in order to take down his opponent. I don’t think I have ever seen such a move used in a kung fu title from the seventies or eighties. That sort of thinking is certainly worth giving some credit. There are also a few scenes that feature nunchaku, which are impressively used, and this is something that is actually rarely seen within Chinese martial arts pictures. I appreciate this aspect of the movie, and I enjoy how it tries to veer off of the beaten path in delivering on some rare items for the genre. The mix of styles and varying techniques from outside of traditional Kung Fu makes for some visual eye candy. Unfortunately, the fight choreography is just about all that this movie has going for it.

The Conclusion
What else is there left to say about the movie? Aside from a few surprising moments during the fight scenes, Shaolin vs. Ninja is a painfully boring title. It is as vanilla as movies of this variety can come, and it will push the nerves of any hardened old school Kung Fu fan who dares give it a whirl. If you absolutely must watch it, however, keep an eye on the choreography and try not to fall asleep. I give it a one out of five.




Wu Tang vs. Ninja

Posted by Josh Samford On December - 11 - 2011

Wu Tang vs. Ninja (1987)
Director: Wu Kuo Jen
Writers: Wu Kuo Jen
Starring: Jack Long, Tien-chi Cheng and Chi Ping Chang



The Plot: Our film today, starts out with a bang! A Shaolin student is challenged by the Wu Tang member known as White Abbot, and the two do battle in order to settle the argument of which school is more proficient in the martial arts. When White Abbot loses the fight, he decides to head back home and try to conquer a form of magic that makes him invincible to nearly any weapon or attack. He actually manages to do this with relative ease, and with his new abilities gathered he soon sets out back in search of the previous Shaolin fighter. Along the way, he decides that it might pay to have a little more insurance during this next fight. He then makes a deal with a roaming band of Japanese ninjas, who he promises to look after and help them become established within China. With both a firm grasp on the magic of invincibility as well as his new clan of Ninjas, White Abbot seems unstoppable. Unfortunately, the Shaolin member White Abbot is searching for has went into training to become a monk and is currently being hidden by the temple. Abbot White then decides that he will do whatever is necessary in order to have his revenge.

The Review
During the 1980s, if you wanted to sell your martial arts related film the greatest service you could do is throw the word “ninja” into the title. Ninjas were all the rage during our most excessive decade, and Hong Kong was just as fascinated with this newly-popular part of Japanese folk lore. Wu Tang vs. Ninja is another Taiwanese effort, that was likely shot on the cheap, which seems to have the intention of garnering worldwide distribution due to ninja fever being all the craze. My luck within the world of ninja films has been a bit hit or miss, to be honest. More often than not, these movies that feature the word “ninja” in their title usually have nothing to do with Japanese stealth fighting assassins. Similar to the Brucesploitation genre, manipulative marketing usually played a big part in the world of schlocky ninja movies. The title that we are discussing today at least makes good on its promise of ninja action, however, deciphering a true story out of it may prove to be a difficult piece of work. Some audiences may not find as much reason to complain, because after all we have Jack Long in a big fake white beard fighting alongside ninjas. That alone probably makes this movie worth a rental.

Wu Tang vs. Ninja, most likely due to poor handling by its American distributors, feels as if it starts off at a running speed. Normally, that sounds like a ideal way to begin any action film, but only when you can actually keep track of the plot. Honestly, we have no idea what is going on and it is nearly incoherent in how the film simply jumps straight into a fight scene after only one or two sentences are spoke aloud. The movie begins with a nonsensical jolt, and doesn’t relent with its “huh?” inspiring narrative for the entire movie. Continuing on with our introduction, after roughly a two minute fight sequence, we are then shown Jack Long, who lost the previously mentioned fight, put his hands on two young women while his body becomes completely red as if he were a mix between the Kool-Aid Man and The Incredible Hulk. Apparently turning red somehow makes him invincible and he can no longer be hurt by stabbing weapons. Now, I understand how the Boxer’s Rebellion and various other aspects of Chinese mythology could possibly fit into the concept of defying the laws of nature… but how and why is any of this going on? Five minutes into Wu Tang vs. Ninja, and the narrative is about as clear as Dr. Pepper in a dirty glass. For the next 85 minutes or so, we will learn only vague inclinations as to what this movie is supposed to be about. By the end, the only thing the audience will realize is that Abbot White was apparently the bad guy.

The plot simply seems to jump around without any form of hesitation. It becomes nearly impossible to keep up with everything that is going on. As soon as you think you have a grasp on just what is happening within the story, a zombie pops out from nowhere. Not only are we talking about a zombie, we are talking about a poisonous zombie who kills everything he touches as if his hands were made of acid. Does any of this make sense? No, not in the slightest. Nothing is every explained, but instead these bizarre facts-of-life are treated as trivial. This is actually a fun approach that gives the movie a very surreal feel, but as I have already pointed out, it is mostly just confusing. The movie does indeed almost become a surrealist film after the first twenty minutes. Characters are introduced, then dropped, and every other scene refuses to tie into the main storyline in any sort of meaningful way. Essentially the movie plays like watching a series of intercut scenes that have no running themes. The character of Abbot White remains fairly consistent throughout the picture, but even he is abandoned for a considerable time length. As for who our hero might be, there are only two characters who seem to fit the equation but they do not show up until the final thirty minutes of the movie.

The film could very well have some semblance of historical fact to it, despite all of it’s insanity. In the film, we are introduced to a nameless Emperor at one point who seems to use the Wu Dang school in order to battle against the powerful Shaolin, which actually leads to a Shaolin temple being burned to the ground. This is actually very similar to the events surrounding the Jiulianshan Shaolin Monastery being burned down during the Qing dynasty. It was during this period that Emporer Qianlong was accused of turning many Taoist Wu Dang students, who already suffered a bit of a inferiority complex against the Shaolin, against the temple and burning it down. However, this film definitely doesn’t look to deliver a very realistic depiction of any such events. After all, I highly doubt that there were any Japanese ninjas hired as assassins in order to help take down the Shaolin school. Still, it makes for a interesting piece of background history for a film that is already quite impossible to understand.


The Conclusion
“Impossible to understand” may be a bit of hyperbole, but it is not far off from the truth. Wu Tang vs. Ninja delivers in terms of its action, but it lacks severely when it comes to characters or narrative. When the lack of plot becomes so distracting that the audience isn’t even able to enjoy a kung fu film, you know there are serious problems. I give the movie a two out of five.




Rage of the Master

Posted by Josh Samford On December - 10 - 2011

Rage of the Master (1971 according to IMDB, 1972 according to HKMDB)
Director: Wang Hung Chang
Writers: Not known
Starring: Jimmy Wang Yu, Li Yi-Min and Chiao Chiao



The Plot: The film begins with a kung fu school being challenged by a former friend of the master. This “friend” trained with the master originally, and was put out of their school when he was reported for a serious indiscretion. However, he comes prepared to take on this kung fu school and have his revenge. He brings with him a collection of Thai boxers, who then quickly dispatch of all students. The master, before being surrounded, orders his daughter to leave the school and go out to find help. When she does just this, she reports to some family friends. Knowing that they have no martial skill, they instead think about local talents who may be able to help. The first name that pops into their mind is Tiger Wong (Jimmy Wang Yu), the son of a martial arts legend who was trained specifically by his father. The problem is, Tiger Wong’s mother holds him to a promise that was made to his dead father. Wong is never to show off his martial prowess, and instead must commit himself to a life of manual labor. Will they manage to talk Tiger Wong into helping them, despite his mother’s wishes? Or will these nefarious Thai boxers continue to dominate this small village.

The Review
Jimmy Wang Yu is a actor and filmmaker who mapped out a very rare career path. Success for the actor came early, and his career would prove to be one that was filled with both creativity and imagination. Unfortunately, so much of his career remains lost to modern kung fu fans. His work is a mixed assortment of films that are completely insane spectacles, as well as some very unique dissections of the martial arts genre in general. In recent years, he has seen both a surge in popularity as well as a damaging attack on his reputation. When Master of the Flying Guillotine was first released on DVD, it seemed as if Jimmy Wang Yu may have finally hit the peek in his cult popularity. With all of this sudden attention, it seemed as if more of his work might also receive similar treatment in the future. Unfortunately, this never really came into fruition. It was as if audiences loved Master of the Flying Guillotine, but were not interested in the other wild works to feature Jimmy Wang Yu. Then, after a few years, the documentary Not Quite Hollywood introduced the actor to modern audiences as the foul and racist Chinese tourist who showed no manners during the creation of The Man From Hong Kong. Whether or not this will have a adverse effect upon his current popularity has yet to be seen, but hopefully audiences will instead look to this man’s creative output in order to make a decision upon him as a artist. Whether or not he was a classy guy when he stepped off the set, I can assure you that Jimmy Wang Yu made many more films than just Master of the Flying Guillotine. While Rage of the Master may not be his very best work, it does shown the underlying themes that dominate his filmography. It also shows how to make a very generic kung fu film into something highly entertaining!

Unlike many of the films that Wang Yu is best known for, Rage of the Master is a slow burn in comparison. After the introductory fight sequence, it takes the movie quite a while before it establishes any further action set pieces. This isn’t such a bad thing, especially if the narrative is interesting, but Rage of the Master is a mixed bag in that regard. On the positive side of things, we do get to see Jimmy Wang Yu play a character unlike many of those that he has played in his varied career. Normally he’s the stoic hero who stands up for all that is right, without a care for anyone that might stand in his way. Rage of the Master at least throws Wang Yu into the role of a conflicted soul who must do some serious soul searching before stepping up as the resilient monster that we all know him to be. While it isn’t a massive departure for the actor, this is one of the few times I have seen him deal with a great deal of drama. Similar to his role in the original One Armed Swordsman, this is Wang Yu really delving into the emotions of his character.

It almost seems as if Jimmy Wang Yu refused to sign on for any project unless it featured a battle between multiple martial arts of some sort. This dominant theme wouldn’t be so unusual if this were a director that we are talking about, but it seems very peculiar for one actor to be featured in so many films that feature such similar content. It seems that Wang Yu simply became incredibly well known as the defender of Chinese kung fu during his prime. Although Rage of the Master only focuses on two different martial art styles (as opposed to the five or six that pop up in the One-Armed Boxer series), it manages to give a higher cinematic ceiling to show off the Muay Thai style. Unfortunately, the representation of Muay Thai isn’t as well done as in other Wang Yu films. Within the film, it seems as if Muay Thai is shown to lack power, and instead it seems as if it focuses highly on speedy jabs. Real Muay Thai, however, is obviously not distinguished in such a way. The art of eight limbs has never looked so ineffective… and yet it continually beats Chinese kung fu throughout the film.

While the slow progress of the narrative seems to steer this film into some very generic waters, the culminating knife battle in the final twenty minutes more than secures it at least one additional point in its overall rating. When you follow this knife fight up with Wang Yu’s final battle on the beach with the previously mentioned Muay Thai group, the movie finds a really solid way to end despite all of the woefully overwrought plotting. I do not intend to give away much about the final fight sequence, but it does manage to deliver on all of the heightened drama. Wang Yu and his style of martial arts made for something unique, and Rage of the Master perfectly demonstrates this. I always like to equate Wang Yu to Japanese screen legend Sonny Chiba. These two men practiced very different martial arts, but the similarity they shared was in the amount of effort they put behind their blows. When either actor threw a punch for a movie, they didn’t so much throw a punch at a person as it seems they tried to punch through them. Their wild swinging, and seemingly uncoordinated haymakers were every bit a part of their charm, and each actor found a way to make this style their own.


The Conclusion
Rage of the Master is better than many martial art titles that you are going to find on the cheap boxsets that you will find it packed in, but it probably isn’t anywhere close to being one of Jimmy Wang Yu’s greatest accomplishments. It does, however, show a lot of the things that make his movies so special. Ultimately, I give it a solid three out of five. It is a very enjoyable movie, even if it doesn’t stand out from the crowd.




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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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