Review | Varied Celluloid - Page 2


Posted by Josh Samford On March - 13 - 2012

Familiar (2012)
Director: Richard Powell
Writers: Richard Powell
Starring: Robert Nolan, Astrida Auza and Cathryn Hostick

The Plot: John Dodd (Robert Nolan) is a very ordinary man with seemingly ordinary problems. He has a wife, a teenage daughter, a nice house, and a solid job. What more could he ask for? Well, apparently a whole lot, including some psychological help. John hates his life, and he can hardly tolerate another day where he has to listen to his wife complain about her busy schedule. The last straw seems to come when his wife tells him that they are expecting another child, and this pushes John into a new realm of internal anger. A selfish man on the inside, John complains and rages within his mind but says nothing to the outside world. Slowly, this anger seems to be taking control of his mind and manifesting itself in very dark ways. When he decides that he will do something about the pregnancy, he truly becomes monstrous. John orders a particular type of poison off of the internet, which John then begins feeding his wife during her meals. This drug is not fatal in low dosages, but ultimately causes his wife to have a miscarriage. However, is this the furthest John will take these demented thoughts? Or will his inner-monster push him to go in even more sordid directions?

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Yellow Sea, The

Posted by Josh Samford On March - 9 - 2012

This review was written for the 2012 Korean Blogathon, an annual celebration of all things related to Korean cinema! Spread the word and encourage others to enjoy Korean cinema

The Yellow Sea (2010)
Director: Na Hong-jin
Writers: Na Hong-jin
Starring: Ha Jung-woo, Kim Yun-seok, Lee Chul-Min and Cho Seong-Ha

The Plot: Gu-Nam (Ha Jung-woo) lives in the Chinese city of Yanji, which is placed between North Korea and Russia. He works as a taxi driver and has accumulated a great deal of debt due to his love for gambling. This gambling seems to come from a rather self-destructive streak within his life. His wife, who was supposed to be leaving in order to help the family, left for South Korea several months back, but no one has heard from her since. Their child currently lives with Gu-Nam’s mother, while he attempts to clean up his act and make a better life for the family. This gambling debt that looms over his head, however, makes such a goal impossible. When the gangsters finally come to collect from Gu-Nam, they find that he is unable to acquire the money that they want. So, they offer him a chance at survival. He is ordered to leave for South Korea and kill a business man, and bring back the dead man’s finger. When he does this, all debts are forgiven and his mother and son may live in peace. If he screws up, though, he and his family are dead. When Gu-Nam arrives in South Korea, he finds that the process of killing another human isn’t as easy as it seems. He begins planning elaborate plots, while also searching for his missing wife. Eventually, on the very last night, Gu-Nam goes in for the kill: but someone else beats him to the punch. Gu-Nam still manages to grab the dead man’s finger, but he is caught on camera and now everyone in South Korea knows what he looks like. With the law out for him and having no way back to China, Gu-Nam must evade the police and find another ship that will smuggle him back. However, with this new attention focused on Gu-Nam, his employers also want to see him wiped out. That means Gu-Nam is being hunted by everyone, and he’ll have to rely solely on his wits if he wants to survive this arduous battle.

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Quick Draw Okatsu

Posted by Josh Samford On February - 18 - 2012

Quick Draw Okatsu (1969)
Director: Nobuo Nakagawa
Writers: Kôji Takada
Starring: Junko Miyazono, Reiko Oshida, Reiko Ônobuta and Kô Nishimura

The Plot: A sequel in name only, this entry into the Legends of the Poisonous Seductress series introduces the audiences to a brand new leading character. This time out, Junko Miyazono plays the young and beautiful Okatsu, who is an adopted member of a very strong swordsman school. She takes after her adopted father much more than her half-brother Rintaro, who doesn’t want to have anything to do with his biological father’s school. When Rintaro decides that he has had enough, he runs away from home in order to be with his now-pregnant girlfriend Saki. When he attempts to earn money for his new life, he ends up in a crooked gambling den where he is hustled into a massive debt. While in this den, he is introduced to Rue (Reiko Oshida). Rue is acting as a thorn in the side of the evil government officials who run the gambling den, and whom she feels has perverted the local government. As it turns out, though, this gambling-debt scheme was a preconceived plot by the evil official Shiozaki so that he may finally take Okatsu as his lover. His goal turns out to be hoisting Rintaro with this massive debt, and forcing Okatsu and her father to be liable for the money. When this madman inevitably gets what he wants and tortures the beautiful Okatsu and kills her father, he unleashes the scorn of this powerful young woman and her revenge will be ferocious.

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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, Yûsuke 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.

Return of the Tiger

Posted by Josh Samford On December - 13 - 2011
Review Contributed by Prof. Aglaophotis

Return of the Tiger (1979)
Director: Jimmy Shaw
Writers: Chang Hsin Yi
Starring: Angela Mao, Bruce Li and Yi Chang

The Plot: We open on a gymnasium full of martial artists and acrobats practicing when a young woman bursts in and starts fighting everyone. Upon meeting the sub-man in charge, Peter Chen, the woman introduces her boss Chang Hung from Amsterdam. Chang Hung claims he’s come for the real head honcho, a rich, mobbed-up Westerner named Paul and that he’s out for revenge against him. While Paul and his right hand-man try to find out more about this mysterious Chang Hung, another martial arts tied mobster named Tsing Chi Sang wants to hire Chang Hung for his great fighting skills. But between two mob bosses, the mysterious Chang Hung’s motives become more and more complex, as both mob bosses secretly hate each other and are planning to use Chang Hung to their own means. Will either mob boss get what they want, or is Chang Hung up to something even the bosses won’t see coming?

The Review
When you say the words “Kung Fu Film,” you’re speaking a succession of words that roughly translate to something fun. No matter how dramatic or deep the movie tries to be, a Kung Fu Film is a Kung Fu Film all the way. There are some film themes that might deter from the full tilt martial arts experience though, be it Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon’s art style or Kung Fu Hustle’s overuse of CGi, but rarely is it ever the plot that usually amounts to nothing more than exacting revenge or justice. That’s not entirely the case with Return of the Tiger, though: here we have a fun-filled martial arts flick with a heavy plot that just noticeably weighs the film down.

Return of the Tiger boasts some genuinely good choreography. This is due in part to the movie’s exceptional cinematography, as there are a lot of great mid-shots and close-ups showing every block and counter attack with great impact. The dodging and two man on one fights are incredible even when you can tell an actor or object is flying around on strings. Like every good Kung Fu film though, the final battle between Chang, Paul, Tsing and the henchmen is an amazing ride. The action beats are very well hit and it highlights the movie as a veritable good Kung Fu film. The man playing Chang Hung is damn good, with most of the flips and obstacle-clearing jumps going entirely to him. I get the feeling this is one of those Brucesploitation films that tried to cash-in on the Bruce Lee post-mortem fame, because the guy looks a little bit like Bruce, and even the movie even stars Bruce Li as well as Yi Chang who played The Baron from Exit the Dragon Enter the Tiger (here playing Peter Chen [oddly credited as Mr. Smith]).

Interestingly, there seems to be a kind of gray matter to all of the characters. The villains never do anything too villainous, and the heroes feel more like vigilante crooks. Paul isn’t a woman beating monster, Tsing isn’t a cruel exploitative man and Chang is similar to what Sonny Chiba would have been in The Street Fighter if his character had a conscious. It makes these characters believable and their individual sophistication makes them appear honorable, despite their organized crimes.

The actor playing Paul (ironically Paul L. Smith who played Mr. Booar in the Jackie Chan movie The Protector, Falkon in Red Sonja, Willard the janitor from Pieces and Bluto in the Popeye movie) isn’t too bad. For the most part he’s very stoic and seems like a very calm and collected crime boss. He never actually shines as a villain until the final battle when he starts beating people up in a comedic, but semi-effective, way. Watching the dude fight is kind of like watching Andre the Giant fight in The Princess Bride; it’s rather goofy watching the guy bitch-slap people into unconsciousness, but he’s big and burly enough to pull the effect off.

Speaking of goofy, there is one fight scene in particular that doubles as both unique and utterly preposterous. Even more so than the final fight. About an hour into the movie, Chang gets attacked by motorcycle thugs; while the scene invokes a lot of danger, the hits are at their loosest between every strike and the climax is inappropriately abrupt. The scene even has wicker baskets and cardboard boxes set-up for the occasion despite the fact the scene takes place in the middle of nowhere.

Despite the various martial arts battles, there is something off with the pacing. The action beats, while memorable, are spread apart from each other widely. The movie has this very ‘70’s Intrigue vibe to it in the same vein as Shaft or Detroit 9000, where there’s a long period of figuring out who’s doing what and what’s really going on. It’s not to say it’s boring, and it is necessary since it does serve in setting up the appropriate plot points, it just doesn’t make for a pulse pounding Kung Fu film. Kung Fu: Punch of Death felt like a Kung Fu film through and through, but this one is a bit more plot-heavy, and the end result is a feeling of disjointedness. There’s a promising brawl scene in a goods yard between Chang Hung and several henchmen, but when more henchmen arrive, the others just run away… prompting the newly arriving henchmen to do the same!

The soundtrack deserves a special mention here because the music is both pertinent to the times, and is nothing you’d expect out of a Kung-Fu/Martial Arts movie setting, but is overall perfectly fitting. Composed by experienced Martial Arts movie composer Fu Liang Chou, the soundtrack carries a very heavy 70’s vibe: from the catchy opening theme song to scenes of Paul’s henchmen, the funky 70’s orchestration and Wakka Chikka music does the action and drama some genuine favors. I’ve listened to a lot of forgettable orchestrated soundtracks in my time and a lot of them pertain to films and games of today; composers today could learn quite a bit from Fu Liang Chou’s work here… him and Alessandro Alessandroni. What makes the soundtrack really notable though is Chang’s Theme, which plays every other time the character appears on screen.

Chang’s Theme is rich with the heavy keys of a piano, a guitar that denotes intrigue, a thudding bass line of intimidation and a nice touch of violins. There’s even a nice character theme contrast where Paul and Tsing meet together with their men in the same room, and each boss entering the room with their men contrasts with each other perfectly. The soundtrack isn’t seamless though. There are some funny night club scenes where an Asian singer will clearly be singing along with a live band, but 70’s R&B is being played over him (thanks, localization team). That, and they throw in a soundtrack clip from Live and Let Die near the end. Why you ask? Because it’s a Chinese production and they can get away with nonsense like that. Kind of like how The Boxer’s Omen stole sound clips from Phantasm for no reason at all.

It isn’t until the final act that we learn who Chang and his helper really are, and how they play in this Karate Crime situation, but it’s a real disappointment when we do. It’s not that the twist is implausible, it’s just one of several predictable plot twists available to the audience. The plot twist is like figuring out what Gin Sung really is or guessing the ending to Majesco’s GunMetal: it’s right out there in the open, leaves no room for imagination and is the first option you would go for in a Multiple Choice quiz. The last minute twist regarding Chang and his assistant feels hollow, and while it makes some sense, it feels a little too convenient.

The Conclusion
This is one of those types of Kung Fu films that feels like it should be one of the high contenders within the genre. Return of the Tiger has got ambition, an intriguing story, ‘70’s style, some good action and is fairly well shot, but it sags somewhere along the way. That’s really not a bad thing though: Return of the Tiger is still an entertaining Kung Fu movie, and still very recommendable to anyone looking for a fun action film.





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