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Drunken Monkey

Posted by Josh Samford On December - 4 - 2010

Drunken Monkey (2002)
Director: Liu Chia-Liang
Writers: Keith Li
Starring: Wu Jing, Liu Chia-Liang, Gordon Liu, Wing-Kin Lau and Shannon Yao

The Plot: Bil Man (Lau Kar Leung, aka. Liu Chia-Liang) is a kung fu master who specializes in Monkeyish Fist, but during work hours he also happens to be the head of a successful delivery service. When Bil’s own brother turns against him, in order to make the delivery service into a trading post that doubles as a illegal opium den, he tries to murder Bil with the help of his new opium masters. Bil is severely beaten, but he manages to escape and find solace with his adopted daughter Siu Man (Shannon Yao). The two do well in hiding out, until the young Chan Ka-Yip (Lau Wing-Kin) and his grand-uncle Tak (Wu Jing), who is roughly the same exact age, find their hiding place and desperately want Bil Man to teach them Monkeyish Fist. You know, Chan Ka-Yip has the grand dream of drawing out an instructional booklet dedicated to Monkeyish Fist, but it will take a grand master to teach him the moves that he is missing. As these two bumbling fools stumble upon Bil, they also bring unnecessary attention that may very well jeopardize Bil’s new place in life!

The Review
Drunken Monkey is a title that has been on my to-watch list for years at this point. It was the first big martial arts film produced by the Shaw Bros. in a very long time, was directed by veteran Shaw Bros. director Liu Chia Liang (aka: Lau Kar Leung) and featured everyone’s favorite bald shaolin master: Gordon Liu! I am not sure what actually took me so long in getting around to finally watching the film, but now that I have done so I do regret putting it off for such a long time. Although Drunken Monkey isn’t likely to blow any minds due to its fairly cliche paternalistic nature, but this old-school meets new-school take on the kung fu genre makes for a fairly interesting watch. Liu Chia-Liang, who has been making films within the genre throughout all of the various changes that this field has seen, manages to craft an innovative and nostalgic tale that displays the finer points of each successive movement within the kung fu film genre.
Starting with the very opening of this film, it is very obvious that Liu Chia-Liang wants the audience to know that this is indeed a Shaw Brothers production. Mona Fong is once again producing and that familiar pattern of genre structure is in full force. Drunken Monkey opens with a demonstration from all of the main cast members in grand Shaw tradition, as they stand in front of a blank background while going through their martial arts movements. This new set isn’t quite as drab as the old Shaw openings used to be, as we get to see some really finely detailed props that read off the credits standing in the foreground that gives it a slightly modern feel in the midst of this celebration of retro styles. This intro is then slam cut next to a shot that features a very low canted angle, which is the sort of shot that defined the nineties in terms of martial art epics. These shots were so incredibly common in the Once Upon a Time in China series, Fong Sai Yuk and Iron Monkey, that once you see them you immediately know that this is a Hong Kong production and you can generally tell what era the film comes from.

The mix of old and new aesthetics goes strong throughout the film, as we see a broad mix of styles that makes the film seem as if it is throwing everything it possibly could at the audience. While the Shaw studio wasn’t primarily known for it, they did have many strong comedic kung fu films that came from their peak era. However, Liu Chia Liang obviously infuses both the tenacity and stoic honor of the more serious hero films of the film along with what I would consider more of a Golden Harvest era sense of slapstick comedy. The film often fluctuates in its seriousness. Although it is comedic for a great deal of its running time, Liang never lets his audience forget the fact that serious things are at foot here. The stuck-up little brat that looks to paint his monkey style kung fu pictures, played with annoyingly spectacular proficiency by Lau Wing-Kin, provides the primary form of comedy and he usually isn’t so over the top that it becomes unbearable. He and Wu Jing both get to try their hand at entertaining the audience, and while the movie doesn’t come close to finding that pitch perfect blend of action and comedy, the cast do a good job in playing the things that need to be straight, as straight, and those that need to be silly, as silly.
Liu Chia Liang, while not as exaggerated as his old rival Chang Cheh, did love his gimmicks as much as anyone. Drunken Monkey, if you didn’t already get it from the title, is another demonstration of drunken boxing as well as a demonstration for the monkey style of kung fu. Using the momentum for the re-release of Iron Monkey as well as the popularity of drunken style kung fu that was made so popular through Liu Chia Liang’s work on Legend of Drunken Master, Drunken Monkey definitely looked to cash in on the gimmickry of its concept. Within the realm of kung fu cinema this is not an offense mind you, because a good gimmick is the first step in setting your project apart from the masses. After all, we are in this for the escapism and pure entertainment that these massively orchestrated fight sequences provide us, and when the drama of these fights can be amplified through the use of some kind of ‘cool’ outside force: then why the heck not?

The fight sequences as you may can guess, with Liu Chia Liang at the helm, are fantastic. Although I had never really seen anything featuring Wu Jing before, I will definitely do a better job in keeping up with his career because he definitely has the charisma and the ability to be a big star. He shines in his role, consistently throwing out his toothy smile while he hams it up during the sillier moments, but is deadly serious whenever the fight sequences call for it. Liu Chia Liang himself has a large role in the film and although it is obvious that he is getting up in age, he still looks very good here! He doesn’t look a day older than he did in Legend of Drunken Master, and he is still able to move around in a nimble fashion that you can’t help but feel rather impressed by. Gordon Liu also shows up of course, but unfortunately the role can only be considered an extended cameo of sorts. It still goes without mention that he does a great job with what he has to do, he is Gordon Liu after all! The fight choreography is truly where the majority of the stars put in their best work, as they should, with Wu Jing standing out as the young and quick star making a name for himself. Shannon Yao is also very surprising in her role as Liu Chia Liang’s adopted daughter, and she really shows a tremendous amount of talent in order to keep up with all of these legends. The fight choreography itself is fast and brutal, with Liu Chia Liang and company employing a great many tricks from all facets of martial arts cinema. Including modern tricks such as playing with camera speeds and adding powder to the actors so that the punches have more impact. The choreography is extensive and shots go on for as long as they need to be. No fast cuts with two-moves slapped together and called fight choreography here, this is the real deal.

The Conclusion
Although it isn’t perfect and it suffers from being a bit cliche, Drunken Monkey is a very good modern martial arts film that pays homage to the legacy of the great filmmakers involved. I would definitely recommend it to Lau Kar-Leung fans looking to find something that hearkens back to his old days, as it does an excellent job in that department. I give the film a high three out of five stars. While I think it could possibly make it to a four out of five, for right now I have to say the cliche structure of the project might leave it feeling a bit old-hat despite how fun and nostalgic it can be.

Life Gamble

Posted by Josh Samford On December - 2 - 2010

Life Gamble (1978)
Director: Chang Cheh
Writers: Chang Cheh, Ni Kuang
Starring: Fu Sheng, Philip Kwok, Lo Meng, Lu Feng, Chiang Sheng and Li Yi-min

The Plot: Mo Jun Feng (Lo Meng) is a swordsman in search of weaponmaster Qiu Zi Yu (Phillip Kwok), who is retired and in hiding. Mo Jun Feng desperately needs seven deadly daggers made, after his were stolen, but Qiu refuses to come out of hiding in order to help. Qiu has no interest in making weapons after an instance where he made a weapon for a man named Yan Zi Fei (Lu Feng), who turned on him immediately after completion of the special weapon. The situation nearly left Qiu dead, but he is a cunning martial artist who has traded weapons for training many times in the past. Mo Jun Feng on the other hand still embraces the martial world and has been hired to kill four less-respectable martial artists who have recently stolen a jade worth thousands. This group has decided to gamble for the sole ownership of this valuable jade and the four are in the process of heading to a gambling house run by Mao Kai Yuan, who specializes in rigging his games. Yun Ziang (Fu Sheng) is a masterful martial artist who has been living in servitude to the master gambler. Xiao Hong, a lovely young lady who has recently started work at the gambling house, immediately catches Yun Ziang’s eye. Unknown to him however, Xiao Hong has been placed undercover in this gambling house in order to gain information at the behest of the constable, who also wants to help Mo Jun Feng take down those who have stolen the valuable jade. What will Yun Ziang think of his muse once her secret is revealed? Will Mo Jun Feng convince Qui Zi Yu to come out of retirement? Will the jade be returned to its rightful owner? Tune in and find out!

The Review
There is no doubt about it, Chang Cheh is one of my favorite directors of all time. He makes the list next to filmmakers as distinguished as Andrei Tarkovsky and David Lynch, as well as filmmakers who aren’t quite as distinguished such as Rugero Deodatto and Lamberto Bava. I can’t outright deny the fact that the man was a workman director and likely never said no to any script handed to him, but even amongst the hundreds of other martial art films from his era you could always tell when you were watching a Chang Cheh film. Filmmakers such as Liu Chia Liang may have been just as adept at staging action and maybe even surpassed Chang in terms of narrative structuring, but few could match his ingenuity and his ability to deliver precisely what the audience wanted. Life Gamble is a film that takes Cheh in his prime and matches him yet again with the Venom clan with the intention of delivering another martial classic. Do they reach that goal? To be honest, no they do not. However, like pizza, even when a Chang Cheh film is bad, it is still pretty good. The choreography, as always, is top notch, and the film looks as good as any of Cheh’s work ever. As with many of Cheh’s more ambitious works (Ten Tigers From Kuangtung, House of Traps), it unfortunately falls prey to its own narrative structure.

Our film today was released within the same year as Five Deadly Venoms, 1978, which was a good year for the Venom clan. That year also saw the release of Crippled Avengers, which also featured a prop that again shows up in this film! That’s right, the iron hands that Lu Feng wears in Crippled Avengers show up yet again with the exact same powers! As fun and clever as Crippled Avengers is, Life Gamble instead focuses on melodrama and a dry delivery that ultimately comes across feeling cold. The fun bits of gimmickry that we get on occasion never come close to making up for the massive influx of characters. This is the heart of the problem with Life Gamble, instead of focusing on a singular narrative strand it instead looks to complicate everything around it. Although I have not read about it anywhere, I can imagine this story being based upon some kind of historical context or perhaps a popular Chinese myth. If that is so, one can imagine that local audiences could have been more adept at keeping up with the characters due to a familiarity with their story but for those of us not accustomed, it can be downright infuriating.
The crux of the story follows a stolen jade, but instead of having the four criminals who took the previous object being our main antagonists we focus on a series of characters who inevitably end up as cannon fodder. This jade ultimately has anywhere from ten to twelve martial artists vying for it at any given point during the film, which is pretty difficult to keep up with for even the most experienced of western viewers. The first half of this movie in particular will leave you dizzy from the consistent flow of new characters, a flow that gives the appearance of never actually stopping. We watch as a new character walks in and out of the story every few minutes until you simply can’t keep up with the names any longer. Thankfully I had been taking notes for my review and jotted down names every time a new character made an introduction, otherwise I would have been terribly lost while writing out this review. I still have questions about characters and their motivations, despite taking notes, so what does that tell you!

There are returning aspects of Chang Cheh’s oeuvre here that should remain interesting for fans. Chang Cheh delivers yet another of his treacherous female characters, this one looks to ensnare Lo Meng with her womanly charms. Cheh actually makes up for the potentially offensive display of femininity by giving us a “good” woman as well, with the character of Xiao Hong. The previously mentioned iron-hand from Crippled Avengers does indeed show up again. This fits in with the continual appearance of maimed and deformed leading men in Chang Cheh’s work. Generally, it seems he loved tiny additions that would make his characters seem different. His films with the venom clan in particular would feature a bevy of gimmicks, from the weapons that they carried to their uniform appearance, and they helped give these films an appearance of solidarity. The weaponry shown in Life Gamble certainly fits that bill as well. Lo Meng and Fu Sheng’s characters both carry sets of throwing-daggers with them at all times, but the real fun comes when they get to show off their various hidden techniques. I should also mention the nunchaku style weapons that Phillip Kwok gets to handle during the final minutes! The weapon may be called a two-section staff, but it looks like nunchaku to me!

The venoms all do well in their parts. Chiang Sheng unfortunately doesn’t appear for very long, only in a few scenes really, but he is well suited for his part. He is at his most reserved here and really has few lines throughout. Lu Feng and Phillip Kwok make out the rest of the Venom representation and they do a great job in holding their own upside the incomparable Fu Sheng. Phillip Kwok is at his most leader-like, and has a interesting story arch that has him hiding his ability to build weapons before ultimately coming around to do what is right. Lu Feng plays an interesting character that is back and forth between good and evil. You never know precisely where his character is going, but once he has that iron hand attached it is hard to imagine him being anything other than a bad guy. The actors all work together well and although this isn’t their most action packed title, the fight sequences are innovative and fun. The concluding thirty minutes essentially devolves into one fight scene after the other but after so much “plot” in the preceding hour, it is actually a relief. The set decoration and visual style of Chang Cheh is all here and in top form, as he maneuvers his camera to catch every bit of action throughout the movie. His use of the camera has always amazed me and when you watch, you can see how he choreographs the movement of the camera to shape itself alongside the movement of the actors. It gives the choreography an even more fluid feel. This is just another reason why I love this director.

The Conclusion
Life Gamble is nowhere close to being one of Chang Cheh’s best works as a director nor is it close to being one of the best Venom films. However, it is a solid kung fu title and will entertain far more than your average no-budget Taiwan effort. I give the movie a three out of five. While I wish it were better, I don’t think it deserves much less than a three. At the end of the day it is still slightly better than being generic and the second half really comes to the rescue.

Heroes of the East

Posted by Josh Samford On December - 1 - 2010

Heroes of the East (1979)
Director: Liu Chia-Liang
Writers: Ni Kuang
Starring: Gordon Liu, Yuka Mizuno and Yasuaki Kurata

The Plot: Ah To (Gordon Liu) is the son of an important businessman who is being forced into a marriage with a Japanese girl. He at first hates this fact but soon finds love with young Kuda. After the dust settles and the honeymoon is over though, it turns out that his new Japanese wife is addicted to martial arts and has to practice her Karate and Judo at all times. She is soon breaking through brick walls in the courtyard and smashing everything in her way, and rumor gets out that Gordon Liu is being beaten by his own wife! The two get involved ina series of contests between martial arts and Gordon continually schools the young Japanese Karate master with Chinese kung fu. When she has had enough of his dismissal of Japanese karate, she heads back to Japan. Ah To, seeing no way of getting her back, is convinced by one of his friends to send a scathing letter to her dismissing Japanese martial arts. When she receives the letter however, her master and sifu takes challenge with this and an epic showdown between Chinese Kung Fu and Japanese karate is on the way!

The Review
Liu Chia Liang and Chang Cheh will both live on throughout the years as the essential godfather’s of the kung fu genre. There have been filmmakers who have come and gone throughout the years who have added their own element to the genre, but few can claim to have inspired and created so much of what is now considered canon within this genre. Liu Chia Liang (brother of our star Gordon Liu), famed for his most popular title 36 Chambers of Shaolin, ultimately inspired every martial arts training sequence from that point onward for more than thirty years. Heroes of the East is a title that has been recommended to me many times over by my friend Coffin Jon over at the VCinema Podcast (which I co-host!), but I held off on it until Kung Fu Christmas rolled around yet again. A mix of political intrigue between two nations that have rivaled one another for ages as well as slapstick comedy, Heroes of the East is a strange brew that goes down smooth and leaves you slightly dizzy.
The entire premise for Heroes of the East seems to hang on the tension-fueled relationship between the Chinese and the Japanese. For those of you who don’t know these two countries have had a long legacy of disputes, not the least of which would come during the second world war when the Japanese ransacked the country and took part in all sorts of attrocious acts. The amount of anger the Chinese held towards the Japanese could be felt in many films made by the post-war generation and although Heroes of the East doesn’t go out of its way to actually make amends between the Chinese populace and the Japanese, it is an interesting and slightly more open minded view of the clashing cultures made within this era. In many older kung fu films the Japanese were the defacto villains; similar to the way Russians were portrayed in American action films during the cold war. The two films that immediately pop into my head would be Bruce Lee’s The Chinese Connection as well as Chang Cheh’s Chinese Super Ninjas, both films featured stereotypical evil Japanese caricatures promoted as the lead villains.

As stated, the film doesn’t exactly alleviate all of the issues between the Chinese and the Japanese but it does a decent job of portraying a slightly more open minded view of the debate between countries. While Gordon Liu does indeed trounce every Japanese fighter he comes in contact with, the Japanese fighters are at least shown to be dignified warriors. Their skill isn’t shown to be any less than the Chinese ultimately, since Gordon Liu is nearly godlike in his skill level here, but the lack of even-ground for both techniques is slightly disconcerting. What does one expect from a Hong Kong film marketed towards patriotic Chinese though? It would be hard to imagine Gordon Liu being beaten by a Japanese fighter with that in mind.
Although there are some serious issues being discussed here, Liu Chia Liang doesn’t take the subject matter as deathly serious. Instead there is a lot of regular Hong Kong humor at play here. Similar to titles like Dirty Ho, the comedy can be a bit over the top but it is a loveable kind of goofy that you’re either going to find endearing or annoying. Much of the comic relief is brought about through Gordon Liu’s affable servant who continually leaks out information regarding his master and the tumultious relationship he has with his karate-skilled wife. The scenes of combat between Ah To (Liu) and Kuda makes for some of the most entertaining segments of the film. Taking a regular argument between husband and wife and amplifying it with martial arts turns out to be a entertaining, if dangerous, combination! I really enjoyed the very obvious differences between the kung fu and the karate choreography. You don’t even have to be familiar with martial arts to look at the two different styles and understand the differences. As always, karate tends to look a little sloppy because at its nature it is a style based on force rather than elegance but it still looks brutish and powerful. In direct contrast to the small steps and dance-like maneuvers of Gordon Liu, THEGIRLSNAME actually looks like the more powerful fighter!

Gordon Liu impresses in one of his few performances where he actually sports a full head of hair and it actually makes him look quite young. Who am I kidding, even at age fifty the man looks good for his age. Liu is in high spirits here as he deftly represents Chinese martial arts and does so with the chops that only he had. Although there isn’t any one big training sequence here, as he and his brother were both known for, there is a funny bit where Liu has to learn drunken boxing by sending his servants to fight with a local master who accepts no students. The drunken old man continues to trounce the servants while Liu sits in the background mimicking his style in order to the movements down. The scene did feel a bit tacked on but it was so clever that you can’t help but enjoy yourself. As always, an impressive and very different form of martial arts cinema from these two great family members.

The Conclusion
If there are any problems with Heroes of the East, it may be in the pacing. Clocking in just a wee bit over an hour and a half, the film feels like an epic when in actuality it really isn’t THAT long. Although it does tend to be a little longer than your average Shaw Bros. martial arts picture. There is an odd beat to the film, as the first half is primarily comedic adventures in a rough marriage where the second half devolves into an endless series of fight scenes. Regardless, for what it is this one doesn’t disappoint. I give the film a four out of five stars! A good time to be had by all!

School of the Holy Beast

Posted by Josh Samford On November - 30 - 2010

School of the Holy Beast (1974)
Director: Norifumi Suzuki
Writers: Masahiro Kakefuda, Norifumi Suzuki
Starring: Yumi Takigawa, Emiko Yamauchi and Yayoi Watanabe

The Plot: Maya Takigawa (played by Yumi Takigawa) is a young delinquent who is hanging on to a past that has abandoned her. Her mother was a devout nun who at some point became pregnant by an unknown father, which lead to her eventually committing suicide. Now Maya looks to discover just who pushed her mother to her fateful end, and in the process discover who her father is, by infiltrating the convent! As she does so, she discovers that the beautiful exterior is simply for outward appearances and this school of god is nothing more than a home of torture inflicted by a group of hypocrites. Maya will use all of her contacts, intellect and anger to open this case and destroy this school from the inside-out!

The Review
To be perfectly honest, the nunsploitation genre is something that I have never full-researched. School of the Holy Beast is arguably not even a part of that subgenre, depending on who you talk to, but it had enough elements going for it to rope in my attention. For one, this is a seventies-era Toei production. That alone counts for something. So, regardless of how good or bad the content may be, the movie will probably remain interesting. Number two, it was directed by the amazing Norifumi Suzuki! Third, it has made the top tier amongst many pinky violence lists that I have seen on the internet. Although it doesn’t really seem to belong in this genre, it still makes for an interesting reference before watching. Those three things add up to a concoction that no true Asian cinema nerd could possibly refuse. Going into the movie, I found myself slightly puzzled as to how the film would categorize itself and to what genre it most belonged, but after watching… I find myself even more puzzled than before!

School of the Holy Beast is a true genre film jack-of-all-trades. It knows a little bit about everything, but not a whole lot about any one thing. To be honest, the nunsploitation genre does not actually entice my personal interest as a viewer. This is partly the reason I have put off watching the movie, despite having the DVD just lying around for several months. I was not raised Catholic, I honestly know little about that culture, and films that sell themselves on eroticism generally do little for me. I can enjoy an artistic pinku title, but sexual marketing generally turns me off as a viewer. The jolly surprise that I discovered with School of the Holy Beast however, is that this movie actually goes a bit deeper than what expectations might lead one to believe. There is sex, and plenty of it, but there are also some interesting political and cultural points made, as well as a ton of vivid artistic imagery.

If you take away the religious garb, School the Holy Beast is most assuredly a women-in-prison movie. In fact, when the nuns have visitors from the outside they are forced to have conversations through steel bars as if this were a real prison. Similar to films such as Female Prisoner #701: Scorpion and Criminal Woman: Killing Melody, the monastery that these girls stay in is ruled by a dominant and pious group who want to enforce strict discipline on the inhabitants. The difference here is a palpable sense of skepticism for Christian leadership. While the film never shows utter disdain for the religion itself, there is a great deal of anger felt throughout the movie. These catholic nuns are shown to be the true bearers of the Inquisition, and they enact massive amounts of bizarre torture throughout the film. This seems to create a slightly surreal atmosphere within the movie, because we are constantly shown a strange dichotomy of worlds. Despite the outside world being a very obvious 1970-era Japan, the interior of this monastery is truly medieval in terms of its torture and pious attitudes.

The way the convent is depicted shows a truly bizarre vision of Christian theology. A vision that is shown through the prism of a culture that is not accustomed to this religion. Essentially, all Christians are shown to be self righteous and hypocritical bigots who are unable to control their own actions. Some would argue that this presentation is merely being factual, but an intellectually honest person recognizes this as a stereotype. Hypocrisy seems to be a main theme running throughout the film. The stern preaching of the priest and his lead abbess is shown in direct confrontation with their actions, which are far less moral. The character of father Kakinuma is an interesting one to me. He leads the monastery with a righteous hand, but he secretly has an internal war going on between his faith and his worldly ideals. The background for this character is that he resents god for having never manifested himself physically in front of him, and his immoral activities are either a result of this resentment or are simply a part of his own true disbelief. The film isn’t really clear, and since we do know that he has been abusing his power for at least the past eighteen years, I think it is safe to say he has held onto his beliefs for even longer. If he has lived with this resentment for over 18-20 years, when was he ever actually in touch with his own religion? Within the Christian faith, God is said to be pleased through acts of faith and worship, yet this man of the cloth shows neither faith nor fulfills even the basic tenants of Christian fellowship… and yet demands for god to show himself. His hypocrisy is not just felt through the face that he puts on for the crowds and the church, but through his own internal strife and (dis)belief in God.

Christian theology is referenced throughout the film. During the final minutes, there seems to be a reference made to the story of Jacob. In that story, Jacob wanted to marry a woman named Rachel, but he was tricked by Rachel’s father into taking Leah (Rachel’s sister) as his wife before ultimately marrying Rachel. Although the parallels that are made aren’t wholly compatible with the original story nor this film’s context, there is enough in the film that I think that this was intentional. Also, in one of Maya’s final confrontations with a relative who has been absent her entire life, a relative who also claims to be a devout Christian when they instead revel in hypocrisy, she uses the phrase “I don’t even know you.” This line, within the context of the film, also seems reminiscent to a quotation from the Bible. In Luke 13, Jesus says: “Once the owner of the house gets up and closes the door, you will stand outside knocking and pleading, ‘Sir, open the door for us.’ “But he will answer, ‘I don’t know you or where you come from.”. For those outside of the religion, it might seem like grabbing and picking at pieces of a scripture that hardly seems applicable. However, this quotation from Jesus is used very often and is one of Jesus’ most memorable parables. The situation is flipped inside of this film, however, and instead of the flock coming to the master – a worldly lamb is speaking to a worldly Sheppard who has always been absent. If you look hard enough, there is enough subtext to appreciate the film on a different level outside of the generic “Oh my gosh, lesbian nuns!”. While one does not have to study theology in order to understand the basic tenets of the film, I think the movie does have plenty to say for those who want to pick up on some of these aspects.

School of the Holy Beast is a very mixed production. We have moments of slapstick comedy that feel best suited for a 1980s teen-sex romp, but then we have the other side of the movie which features a searing indictment of organized religion. Not to mention, the movie has absolutely beautiful photography. The torture sequences, which can be explicit in their sexuality at times, are actually quite amazing as well. There is one sequence in particular that stands out as being both beautiful and revolting at the same time. This bit of torture revolves around Maya, and it shows her being wrapped up in thorns from a rose bush and then being swatted with bouquets of thorny roses. As she twirls in anguish, we watch as rose pedals flow through the air making the entire experience surreal and beautiful. No questions about it, the film absolutely looks spectacular, and the backdrop of a European castle only helps re-enforce this beauty.

The Conclusion
While the true intentions of the film are entirely up for debate, I think School of the Holy Beast is intelligent enough to garner a larger audience than your average nunsploitation title. The film is beautifully helmed and marks some of Suzuki’s best work from a visual standpoint. Although I may end up at odds with some, I’m giving the film a four out of five stars. It is a confrontational film that carries the attitude of the era while directly attacking social ideals.

Delinquent Girl Boss: Worthless to Confess

Posted by Josh Samford On November - 29 - 2010

The Plot: Our film opens in a girls reformatory that more aptly resembles a prison, and it is here that we meet Midori (Yumiko Katayama) and Rika (Reiko Oshida). Midori is a rough and tumble girl with family issues, but Rika is a helpful, almost naive, delinquent herself. Middori’s father, who loves her but disaproves of her yakuza boyfriend, comes to the gate and hands a family necklace to Rika so that she can pass it along to his daughter. Midori doesn’t want the trinket however and acts offended when Rika tries to give it to her. After both girls are released from school/prison, Rika heads off to live with Midori’s father, Muraki, who owns a mechanics shop. His situation is rather dire though, as Midori has been living a very selfish life with her boyfriend and they have racked up huge debts with some local yakuza thugs that Muraki now has to pay. Knowing that Rika has nowhere else to stay, Muraki allows her to live on site and work. Rika tries to patch things up between Midori and her father, but Midori is still as stubborn as ever. She soon meets up with her old friends from the reform school, including Mari who is pregnant and out of work because her husband’s illness has caused her to have troubles with her former employers and the debts she could not pay off. With Rika’s help, these girls will have to form together in order to solve all of their problems!

The Review
If you have paid any attention to Varied Celluloid over the past year (and let’s not pretend, we know you haven’t!) then it should come as no surprise that I am addicted to the Pinky Violence genre. After putting these films off for years, all it took was the right couple of films and I am now hopelessly hooked. For those who are not familiar, the Pinky Violence genre is an expansive (or ridiculously select, depending on who you ask) number of Japanese films made during the seventies. These are essentially female youth films that focus on the bad girls of Japan. The original production studio for all things “Pinky Violence” was Toei, but the girl-gang and corrupted-youth market essentially spread out to all of the studios who were suffering from financial instability. Delinquent Girl Boss: Worthless to Confess is one of the Toei produced pieces of Pinky Violence and is actually the fourth film in the Delinquent Girl Boss series. Despite being a Toei production and a sure piece of Pinky Violence history, Worthless to Confess isn’t your run of the mill entry into the genre.
These movies are well known for their female empowerment, almost as much as they are for their ample amounts of nudity and ridiculous exploitation. Although Worthless to Confess does have its inspired moments of silliness (the conclusion is bonkers!), it is a far more mainstream production than the average. Featuring a great deal of comedy and some rather typical drama, it is a better time capsule of the time and movement than it is a action movie of any sort. There are the pre-requisite elements all lined up in a row for us here, that is for sure. We have a group of bad girls incarcerated (this time in a reform school) who are set loose and form a bond with one another as “street sisters”. The group runs into some male yakuza thugs who hassle them and its up to our girls to set them right, while wearing the most fashionable outfits that they can possibly find of course. This is a skeleton that many films within this genre are built upon, but without the bite that those films have Worthless to Confess can at times seem like a toothless watch dog. It does manage to save itself in the final ten minutes, by pacing up the action to ridiculous levels, but it proves to be too late in getting there to really leave this feeling like a great genre entry.

The best aspect about Worthless to Confess is going to be the cast. The beautiful Reiko Oshida contributes everything that she can to her role, but the male pigs in the audience (myself included) will have to drag our eyes away from her beautiful legs every five minutes. Sporting a pair of very short-shorts, Oshida shows off her naturally thick thighs and drives the male (or female!) audience wild. A true beauty, she actually proves to be quite the talent in this film. She stretches out and handles a multi-faceted character who is difficult to read, but is always charismatic and engaging. Rika strikes the audience as naive, due to her inappropriate attitudes, but there is a certain amount of clever ulterior motives at foot in all of her actions. I like the way Oshida plays this off, really finding that perfect balance that allows her to be silly and sexy at equal times. Although she at first appears to be ignorant, she grows on the audience throughout the picture. Aside from Oshida we also have the beautiful Yumiko Katayama who plays Midori, and is perhaps best known for appearances in genre favorites like The Horrors of Malformed Man, Female Prisoner #701: Scorpion and Criminal Woman: Killing Melody. She is actually the only actress in the film to really show any kind of skin. The nudity is rather inoffensive, mostly in place to show off the tremendous tattoo that Katayam sports for this film, which is a nest of vines and flowers across her back that stretches out to her right breast and forms as a rose on her nipple. The tattoo is really impressive to tell the truth and one of the more unique criminal tattoos that I have seen in a girl-gang film at this point.
The comedy throughout the film works very well and there are several very funny moments in the movie that do not rely heavily on slapstick. A favorite moment of mine comes in the conclusion of the film (which I will get to in a second) where our girls take part in a massive battle and has each one sporting a sarashi (traditional bandaging that goes around the stomach up to the chest) but the cloth pieces are so tight that it really presses against their chest. I simply remember Reiko grabbing at Katayama’s bandaging, pulling it up and saying “Midori! Your boobs!”. It seemed like a spontaneous moment and I couldn’t help but chuckle. The girls bring the good humor as well as the serious drama, as we see the movie ultimately evolve into a very poignant revenge tale based around the tenants of sisterhood. If this entire film were as stylish, entertaining or as wild as the last ten minutes of it are – we would be talking about one of the very best films this genre has ever seen. The drama comes into full swing, the violence finally comes to fruition and it is as if director Kazuhiko Yamaguchi finally decided to let loose in a torrent of creative ideas and shots. With our girls wearing their matching red trenchcoats, Delinquent Girl Boss: Worthless to Confess finally makes good on all of its promise but it unfortunately seems too late in the game.

  • This is the fourth film in the Delinquent Girl Boss series and follows Blossoming Night Dreams (1970), Tokyo Drifters (1970) and Ballad of Yokohama Hoods.
  • The Japanese title for the series is Zubeko Bancho, which roughly translates as “Bitch Boss”. It might also be interesting to note that the term Sukeban, which translates as “Girl Boss” and is synonymous with the Pinky Violence genre as well as the actual Sukeban series (Sukeban, Girl Boss Guerilla, etc.), is a conjunction of Suke (girl) and Bancho (boss) in Japanese.

  • The Conclusion
    It is a weak piece of Pinky Violence, I can’t argue that fact, but for fans of the genre there is still enough interesting elements here to keep you busy. It is tragic and touching by its close, but it takes a lot for the film to stir up those emotions in us. For fans expecting fast paced energy, go in with your expectations lowered and you may walk out pleasantly surprised. I give the movie a three out of five. It’s a solid movie, but unfortunately lacks the qualities that might make it special.





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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.