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Death Race 2000

Posted by On May - 27 - 2010
The Plot: In the year 2000 the world has made a turn for the more violent side. The president no longer lives within the country and instead rules from afar. The worldwide media has taken on a fanatical obsession with the Transcontinental Road Race that leads contestants across America in a homicidal race for worldwide recognition and fame. While making this trip contestants are encouraged to score points by running down any bystandards who stand in their way. Along for the ride is “Machine Gun” Joe Viterbo (Sylvester Stallone), “Calamity” Jane Kelly (Mary Woronov), Nero “The Hero” (Martin Kove), Matilda “The Hun” (Roberta Collins) and the returning champion: Frankenstein (David Carradine). Frankenstein is said to have lost the majority of his body parts during previous races and is now more machine than man. Placed with a new navigator named Annie Smith (Simone Griffeth), Frankenstein will have to deal with both his opponents in the race as well as Annie who is an undercover agent for the rebel movement against Mr. President.




The Review
Death Race 2000 is a movie that I have been familiar with for years, but have unfortunately never really sat down to take in. I have caught bits and pieces on television before and we actually had a showing of it at a VCinema gathering, but in a situation like that you find yourself talking more than watching. So, when contacted by the fine people of Shout Factory! about reviewing the film and their latest special edition DVD for their Roger Corman Cult Classics line, it seemed like a fine time to give the movie a spin! I’m glad that I did, because Death Race 2000 exemplifies the grandiose charm that cult cinema can deliver. Directed by Paul Bartel, the film shows that some times the smartest thing you can do when attacking a situation or a theme is to make fun of it. A raging satire, the film proves to be both an intelligent look at violence and its effects on our society as well as a truly over the top piece of comedy that takes shots at everything from politicians to the media. Before watching the film, I decided I would put forth some thought as to why this film has survived after all of these years. Although it isn’t the biggest cult film ever made, it has developed a relatively large audience and has even prompted a Hollywood remake. So, what is it that draws viewers to this movie? Upon watching and really examining it, I don’t think there is any one single answer to that question. Like most things, the answer is complex and there are a multitude of reasons but the combination of rising star power and the truly bizarre nature of the movie are the key elements for me.

Made in a time when David Carradine was known primarily for his TV work on Kung Fu, it seems that the jump to the silver screen with Death Race 2000 proved to be a very bizarre choice. A campy, violent and over the top satire – one wonders why Carradine picked this project ahead of any other potentially more serious fare. Regardless of his reasons (let’s be honest, it had to be the money…), the choice to do this movie was a brave one indeed. Featuring what for the time had to be considered a tremendous amount of violence as well as frequent bouts of nudity, Carradine jumped into the offbeat cinematic world head first. His co-star, a then unknown Sylvester Stallone, comes to the screen in a larger than life portrayal of your most basic villain. In the year that followed the original release of Death Race 2000, Stallone would score huge with his own film Rocky and of course we all know his career following that. From then on out Stallone would be properly placed right up top alongside Carradine on any promotional materials for Death Race. So as the years have went on, you have these two popular figures from American entertainment in what can only be described as an absolutely bizarre piece of science fiction like no other. Of course audience members are going to be dragged in by that! Still, that doesn’t explain why the fans remain. In the same way that filmmakers such as John Waters have retained an audience, there is something peculiar and fun about watching a film go so completely over the top that it no longer constitutes any semblance of reality.

Placing the picture in the near future (well, for us it is now the past) and painting such a strange cultural landscape, Bartel and Corman did well in establishing the film as being something alternate to reality. They also establish so many changes to the world without ever delving into any kind of drawn out exposition. In this world we are now the United Provinces of America, which paints the future as some kind of dystopian land where perhaps Canada has been absorbed into the US. The president, who has no name other than President, rules our country from houses he owns in foreign countries. What has happened to the constitution up to this time is not known. All we know is that free elections have been outlawed and our governing bodies have outlawed dissent. It almost doesn’t even matter that they have, since the majority of Americans would apparently rather sit back and watch “The Race” instead of possibly fighting back against this totalitarian regime. Technology is shown to have made some progress, with mentions of three dimensional television sets, but for the most part everything except for the fashion seems to have remained the same. Automobiles still apparently run on fossil fuels and people still work in very every-day situations. The morality has changed however, which is infinitely more dangerous than technology proves to be.

The obvious explanation for this lack of digitalization is the budget for the film. Roger Corman, who is infamous for his penny pinching, obviously couldn’t afford to really set the stage for a science fiction blockbuster. The special FX are pretty hokey from the start. The opening moments which show obvious matte paintings that are supposed to represent the thousands in attendance at the start of the race help showcase this. Along with the paintings are pieces of animation that allow us to see some kind of Tram system circling the skyline. Even for 1975, I am quite confident no one fell for this little trick. This adds to the charm of the movie however and simply places you in the cheap world of this film. The special FX may not be of the highest caliber (aside from the moments of gore, which were fun and surprisingly intense), but the performances of the cast help to sell them. Almost every member of the cast is as over the top and unforgettable as any actor could be. David Carradine manages to provide a more subdued attitude for his role and while playing next to someone like Stallone who simply rips the lid off of things, it actually seems to work very well. The two often bounce off of one another throughout the movie, despite their not spending much time together on-screen, their bitter rivalry creates a chess match between scenes and creates a tempo for the movie. Stars such as the media journalists who are consistently giving their play-by-play of the race help to sell the movie and its over the top attitude better than anyone else however. Lines are shouted at all times, one liners are repeated over and over again and a blatant attempt at a Howard Cossell impersonation simply can’t help but to entertain. That is the name of the game with Death Race 2000 though: entertainment.

The DVD
Shout Factory is releasing this classic on DVD and Bluray as part of their Roger Corman’s Cult Classics line. The film has been transferred with great care and the result is a beautiful looking version of this classic. I highly doubt you’ll have ever found a better looking version of this movie! Shout Factory also delivers a tremendous disk that is packed to the brim with extras. Featuring two commentary tracks, the first with Roger Corman and actress Mary Woronov and the second with assistant director Lewis Teague and editor Tina Hirsh. Corman and Woronov is the instantly noticeable track here as the two are having a lot of fun walking down memory lane. Along with the commentary tracks there are also several featurettes. A featurette looking back on Death Race itself, a featurette on the general design aesthetic of the film, an interview with costume designer Jane Ruhm, an interview with Roger Corman hosted by Leonard Maltin, an interview with Paul Chihara on the creation of the films score, a detailed interview with author Ib Melchior and a short interview with the late David Carradine on his career and Death Race 2000. Aside from the featurettes there are several trailers, radio and TV spots including a trailer with commentary provided by John Landis and the good people of Trailers From Hell. This cult classic has been treated with the utmost respect and care by Shout Factory and should prove hard for them to top in their jam-packed schedule of other Roger Corman classics that are coming down the pipe line!

The Trivia
  • Based upon the story “The Racer” by Ib Melchior, it of course does not resemble that story in the least. Melchior was at first very disappointed with the direction the movie took, but when watching he decided that in its own way the project was of its own incredible value and retained his overall message.

  • The largest budget expenditure for the film was David Carradine himself. The cars, which were mostly VW’s that had new bodies built for them, were actually relatively cheap to make.

  • Roger Corman hired Sylvester Stallone for his role after seeing him in The Lords of Flatbush. He thought he would make a tremendous “heavy” and that would be his main role in film. His wife at one point said that the young actor even had what it took to be a leading man, but Corman was adamant that playing the supporting “heavy” was what the actor was born to do.


  • The Conclusion
    Although it has its problems, I don’t think anyone would pretend that this of all things is a “perfect movie”, I do have to admit I am now a fan. Grandiose in its delivery of atmosphere, Death Race 2000 is something wholly unique and one of the better pieces of wacky science fiction you will ever see. It is smart, accusatory and witty in its satire of both we the audience and other filmmakers as well. Violence is shown as a laughing matter. Is the movie ridiculous? Sure, but it has a point. I absolutely recommend it as if it needed saying. A four out of five, for this nice piece of cinematic insanity!



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    Vengeance is Mine

    Posted by On May - 20 - 2010
    The Plot: Vengeance is Mine tells the story of Iwao Enokizu (Ken Ogata), a psychotic killer who commits several murders while on the run from the law. Raised by Christian parents in Japan during the great war, Iwao rebelled from his parents early on. Deciding that to turn the other cheek was the wrong way of handling nearly any situation. As he grew into a man he found himself getting in trouble with the law more and more.

    When finally released from his first prison sentence he found himself with no real direction and soon takes to murdering and bamboozling women for their money. Traveling from town to town pretending to be other people, we watch the final 78 days of Iwao Enokizu as a free man and we try to figure out this unrepentant and dreadfully evil man.



    The Review
    Shohei Imamura is a filmmaker that I unfortunately have very little personal experience with. His work has been well documented within various Japanese cinema circles, but he has also been acknowledged amongst various other accredited arthouse masters. I can’t even pretend at this point to fully understand his style or even what to expect from further works, having only seen this one feature, but I will say that something like Vengeance is Mine would speak volumes within any directors oeuvre. Although not a perfect feature in my opinion, it is a brutal and discomforting look at a serial killer (based upon real life murderer Akira Nishiguchi) who essentially has no real reason for the things that he does. He is man’s greed multiplied by his own selfishness, with no ultimate goal or sense of reality.

    Clocking in at two hours in length, it is an epic look at the latter part of this man’s life from the point of his first killings on through the 78 day manhunt that would lead to his capture. Although it is not an exploitative film by its nature, it is a gripping and powerful look at a world that is unforgiving in its societal depravity. With that focus on social perversity, it does step into waters that will challenge viewers. Although the violence is brutal, especially one particularly sordid murder sequence that turns into a bloodbath, much of the killing takes place off camera. When giving showcase to what little violence there is in the movie, and showing its tremendous impact, that feeling of extreme violence carries on throughout the feature.

    Imamura takes a step back from the story and reserves judgment. We are never sure just what his intentions are nor what he thinks about this utterly despicable man. In the same way that we never get inside the mind of Iwao Enokizu, we can never fully gather where the filmmaker looks to take us. Keeping the film in a very documentary-like format, not surprising as the filmmaker was working in the documentary field for several years previous to this feature, Imamura keeps us grounded in reality. Shaky cameras are the tool of the day as well as subtitles that read across the screen, often callously reading off the police report on various victims.

    The film offers no melodrama in dealing with this situation but instead offers us intrigue as we take a brooding look at an unrepentant man. This is essentially the crux of the story, as the character of Enokizu is what holds the entire film together and provides us the most insight into society at large. He is a man who offers no monologue as to why he did what he did, he gives us no detailed portrait inside of the world that lies within his mind, he simply is who he is.

    The character of Iwao Enokizu is what holds the entire film together, both on a obviously structural level (he is the lead character after all…) and also on a entertainment level. Perhaps entertainment isn’t precisely the word I am looking for here, but it will have to suffice. He is an enigmatic character that we watch and try to figure out along the way. We try to see at what point he will crumble, show his fear of death or divulge his secrets. Aside from being raised in a Catholic household within a country that is predominately Buddhist, we are never given the idea that he had a childhood any different from the ordinary. When we do see glances of his childhood, we see the violence had already built up inside of him even as a young boy. So, in that regard this character comes off as quite contrarian to what we know of the common serial killer, which gives the film an air of unpredictability.

    Aside from his base motivations (his extreme selfishness does fit the general profile) the character does fall in line with other serial killers in the fact that his killing does not come from a sexual need. Although most killers are often sociopaths, which is what Enokizu is a text-book version of, there is usually that added edge of childhood drama or sexual repression. This proves not to be the situation with Enokizu, making the character all the more allusive. Dealing with one of Japan’s earlier documented serial killers, the story may not have been familiar to Japanese audiences at the time but the story is certainly familiar for US audiences. Iwao Enokizu himself has all of the blatant familiarities physically that we have come to know from various serial killers. He’s not a physically impressive specimen, is very mundane and has no visual qualities that differentiate him from your average businessman. With his glasses on, he gives the appearance of your average nerdy father. When people expect to find a monster, they do not turn to the average salaryman. This was how he was able to allude the law for as long as he did, but he just couldn’t hide the psychosis so prevalent in his personality.

    The performance of Ken Ogata in the lead is quite simply spectacular. It is an out of control personality that really only requires him to either play things up with anger or in silence, but he makes this horrible man seem real. Through his booming laughter and his fast-talking charisma, which allows him to scam the women that ultimately give him money, he gives this heartless character traces of humanity. Through his portrayal of the physical violence and his remorseless confessions in jail however, which we cut to throughout the film, we see the real serpent that lies beneath the skin and Ogata nails the role down perfectly. A physical and mental role for the actor, he delivered a performance that ultimately holds the entire film on its shoulders but never tilts for nary a moment. Without question, one of the most intriguing portrayals of a serial killer ever committed to film.

    The Trivia
  • During the scene where Rentarรด Mikuni spits in the face of Ken Ogata, the sequence was improvised and not scripted at all.

  • Although following the novel, which was told in a documentary style as well, director Shohei Imamura flew to Kyushu in order to get his own feel for the story and do his own investigation during pre-production.


  • The Conclusion
    I did say however that it wasn’t a perfect film, and I stick by that statement. I think that at a few ticks past the two hour mark it perhaps goes on a bit long for the point that it intends to drive home. The subplots dealing with Enokizu’s family and the love triangle that blossoms there could be much of the reason for the length. I suppose I understand the reasoning, as without it we would be watching this man kill and abuse humans for the entire length of the movie. However, the movie does start to lose a bit of steam at points because of the length. The documentary style of filming also becomes a bit tiresome over the long haul, but once again that could just be because of the length of time we wade around in the format. Still, with those things said, Vengeance is Mine is a masterful look at some incredibly dark material. It is something that all film fans should search out and appreciate at some point. Released through the Criterion Collection, it’s available and beautiful to look at. Hopefully you’ll find some time to give it a spin if you haven’t at this point. I give it a four out of five.



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    Violence Jack 1-3 Review

    Posted by On May - 7 - 2010
    Hey everybody, back again with my reviews for the Violence Jack series! This is the first anime review I’ve actually written since my original Fist of the North Star review back in… wow, I don’t know when that was. Five years ago? Anyway, I finally found something that I simply had to write about in the genre. Violence Jack is definitely the kind of thing you want to get out of your system and express either your horror or fascination. Read on and discover the magical world that is post-apocalyptic Japan!

    The Plot: In the first movie Harem Bomber, a man known as Slum King controls the lands and doesn’t take kindly to Violence Jack stepping into his territory. Jack does battle with some of Slum King’s men and they are separated, but Violence Jack has his eye on the Slum King. At the same time as this is happening, a young girl named Mari is kidnapped by the Slum King’s men and is sent to a sex camp to live her life as a slave. Her boyfriend Ken however, who she hasn’t seen since the great earthquake that destroyed Japan, is now a member of the Slum King’s army and will look to rescue Mari from this horrible situation. In the second entry in the series Evil Town we are introduced to an underground civilization that has been split into three sections. In one group there are the respectable men from older Japan who want to establish order, in the second there is a violent biker gang lead by the psychotic Mad Saurus and in the third section all of the women have separated themselves from the other groups due to their being raped. When the respectable men discover Violence Jack amidst all of the rubble, it creates a new tension between the three groups as to who will control Violence Jack. In the final movie Hell’s Wind Hin we see a small village in the desert wastelands who are being tormented and tortured by the psychotic biker gang The Hell’s Wind. Violence Jack, always looking for a challenge, introduces himself to the bikers but is gunned down. However, bullets are not enough to actually kill Jack. He just needs time to recuperate. Along the way he’ll seek the aid of a young boy who simply wants to hide from the villains, as well as a young woman who had everything she has ever loved ripped away by these evil men. Will the forces of good prevail?

    CONTINUE READING THE REVIEW HERE

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    Violence Jack 1-3

    Posted by On May - 7 - 2010
    The Plot: In the first movie Harem Bomber, a man known as Slum King controls the lands and doesn’t take kindly to Violence Jack stepping into his territory. Jack does battle with some of Slum King’s men and they are separated, but Violence Jack has his eye on the Slum King. At the same time as this is happening, a young girl named Mari is kidnapped by the Slum King’s men and is sent to a sex camp to live her life as a slave. Her boyfriend Ken however, who she hasn’t seen since the great earthquake that destroyed Japan, is now a member of the Slum King’s army and will look to rescue Mari from this horrible situation. In the second entry in the series Evil Town we are introduced to an underground civilization that has been split into three sections. In one group there are the respectable men from older Japan who want to establish order, in the second there is a violent biker gang lead by the psychotic Mad Saurus and in the third section all of the women have separated themselves from the other groups due to their being raped. When the respectable men discover Violence Jack amidst all of the rubble, it creates a new tension between the three groups as to who will control Violence Jack. In the final movie Hell’s Wind Hin we see a small village in the desert wastelands who are being tormented and tortured by the psychotic biker gang The Hell’s Wind. Violence Jack, always looking for a challenge, introduces himself to the bikers but is gunned down. However, bullets are not enough to actually kill Jack. He just needs time to recuperate. Along the way he’ll seek the aid of a young boy who simply wants to hide from the villains, as well as a young woman who had everything she has ever loved ripped away by these evil men. Will the forces of good prevail?


    The Review
    In the field of Japanese anime I am still very much a ‘noob’. At this point in time, I still have not seen anything from director Hayao Miyazaki who is the undisputed king of the Japanese animation market. My brain, when it comes to anime, is still very much stuck in my past. A past that was shrouded in a bizarre fascination with violence and insanity. As a younger man I finished off the classics, such as Vampire Hunter D, Akira and Ninja Scroll. However, the world of Japanese animation is an impenetrable force for me as it is simply so huge! There are animated series to wander through, tons of OVA (original video animation, straight to video anime) releases and so forth! It is a difficult and vast genre to try and wrap your head around. So, the anime titles that ultimately end up drawing my attention may not be the very best that the genre has to offer, but they are usually pretty fun! In the case of Violence Jack, ‘fun’ may not be the best description!

    The brain child of controversial manga artist Go Nagai, Violence Jack is just another one of his violent, subversive and cruel creations. There are three separate OVA titles that I will be reviewing here and they are some of the most disturbing anime titles I have ever seen. These mini-movies almost make the Legend of the Overfiend series look normal in comparison! And that is a series about demons raping humans! Violence Jack takes you into a world that is dark and pessimistic, where ignoring common morality ends with the wholesale slaughter of any person on screen. Set in a desolate wasteland that used to be Japan (as is so often the case with anime titles), these titles absolutely wreak havoc on your brain as you watch them one after the other. Regardless of the possible depression or disgust you may feel afterward, there’s no getting past the fact that the Violence Jack has power behind it. It’s an absolutely brutal piece of animation and today I plan to take a look at all three titles. All three films being reviewed are from their uncut form.

    VIOLENCE JACK 1: HAREM BOMBER
    The first entry into the series establishes the world in which our stories take place and it also introduces us to Violence Jack himself. The funny thing is that with each successive feature, Violence Jack changes as much as the scenery does. Truthfully not a single entry in the series is connected to any of the other titles. Each time Violence Jack simply wanders into a situation and with him, violence comes to pass and destroy everything around him. This first entry in the series is ultimately the tamest by comparison in terms of exploitation and gore, but it certainly has its moments of bloody violence. Jack slashes and hacks through his enemies with his gigantic blade, making his way to take on the Slum King himself! The love story that blossoms throughout is interesting and we are given our first look at the interesting moral dynamic of the Violence Jack series.

    Each feature in the series has its own moral guideline and message that it delivers by using some pretty extreme parables. Ultimately this first film is about doing what is right and being considerate towards others, a theme that pops up throughout the OVA’s and likely the original manga as well. Each film shows us the sins of our characters and ultimately shows us that their crimes will not be forgiven and their repentance comes in the form of a ten foot tall giant who kills them in brutal fashion. It is hard to detail the exact scene that justifies the moral judgment that the film makes, but I will say it comes near the end of the movie and a lead character refuses to repay Violence Jack’s kindness and instead chooses cowardice. This ultimately leads to this character’s death and brings about the end of our first foray into the world of Violence Jack.

    Overall Harem Bomber is likely the most ‘fun’ you will have in the series, since the gore and rape is scaled back to only minimal levels. Well, keep in mind that when I say ‘minimal’ that still means we get graphic lesbian rape and various women being beaten with whips. I give this entry a three out of five, as it truthfully lacks the intrigue that later episodes bring about. Instead we’re given a rather generic post-apocalyptic adventure story that is pretty common in the world of Japanese animation.




    VIOLENCE JACK 2: EVIL TOWN
    And oh buddy, this is where the audience really decides whether or not Violence Jack is for them or not. This is where the series takes its audience directly into the mouth of hell. Ironically it does so while showcasing a group of underground dwellers! Evil Town is easily the most vile of the series and the most well known due to its extremely graphic nature. In terms of violence and sex, it is nearly pornographic in its display of both. In fact, in the sex that is shown you might as well call it pornographic since the sex is as explicit as you could possibly make it in Japan. With mosaic blurs placed over all of the crotches, of course! There is a fairly infamous sequence during the middle of the feature where we finally discover that the seemingly normal males of this underground society actually gang raped all of the women after putting them to sleep. The rape sequence is of course shown in graphic detail with various sexual positions run on various women, while they shout and scream in agony. It is at this point that we are truly welcomed to the world of Violence Jack.

    Keeping in tune with the mythos that was detailed in the first movie the film sets itself up with a relatively simple formula. When Jack comes to any town and his violent ways are flared up ultimately all involved will die or destroy themselves. He is essentially a walking curse and in this underground society that means the three classes fighting with one another will ultimately destroy one another as you might have guessed. However, once the violence starts to roll you’ll be surprised at the amount of atrocities you will witness. A room full of children is turned into a slaughter house as they are stabbed and slashed to death right before our eyes. Another rape sequence pops up that is even more graphic than the first and the infamous cannibal sequence may just turn your stomach. Evil Town is as nihilist as the series could possibly get and it may be the most shocking anime feature you will ever get your hands on.

    However, while it is most certainly a gory and sadistic entry into the series, it continues that same bizarre moralistic approach to the material. This time the story deals with man’s intolerance and the responsibility of those who are stronger. Where these men should be minding over the women, protecting them from wrong, they instead give into their base emotions and ultimately pay the price for their sins. Had the three groups been able to peaceably live with one another and had Jack there to help them escape, all would have survived but instead they sealed their own fate. This very simple morality tale once again leads to a slaughter unlike you have ever seen. I think the extreme parable works well however and the levels of depravity that the feature takes on may hide its moral compass, but I like that and think it makes the movie all the stronger for it. Easily the best of the series, I give it a four out of five.




    VIOLENCE JACK 3: HELL’S WIND HIN
    In the final installment of the series, we start things off with an extremely brutal bit of gory violence in order to let the viewer know exactly what they are in for. Showing a young man and his wife being chased down by a biker gang known as Hell’s Wind, we see as he runs over a member of the gang in his pursuit to outrun them but he is soon forced out of the vehicle and is brutally murdered. How is it done? With a chainsaw of course. This bit of chainsaw carnage takes the intensity of the scene from Scarface but amplifies it by adding this extremely gory violence. While this happens though, it shows the world in which Go Nagai crafts for his audience. There is no escape, there is no hope for a hero to show his face and stop this atrocity. We are simply forced to endure the cruelty of man.

    When the story takes on its Seven Samurai inspired plot, things slow down a bit but without the complication of too many characters (as was displayed in Harem Bomber) the story remains interesting enough to keep our attention. The violence of course doesn’t stop during this period, as we see the Hell’s Wind break into this town and begin their extreme torture and brutality on the innocent civilians of this community. Humans are decapitated, bodies split in half and intestines are thrown around like confetti. It’s a pretty brutal sequence, but after the chainsaw scene and the immense brutality of Evil Town it is hard to feel much of anything. Yet, with all of this extreme cruelty, overall Hell’s Wind Hin certainly feels like the most positive feature in all of the series. It also dissolves the myth of Jack being a cursed being who brings nothing but death to the lands, as the ending to this feature is slightly more positive in its outcome than the previous features. However, with the amount of antagonism that was on display in Harem Bomber and Evil Town that can mean just about anything.

    The bad guys are literally bad in this entry and the decent people truly are decent, which is certainly a turn around from Nagai’s previous two films which essentially showed the better part of humanity as pond scum. Despite its twists in the format of the episode, it still retains the morality tale as we see that man’s indifference towards evil ultimately proves to be an evil all to itself. As the little boy in the story seems to learn, we must all find the courage within us to fight off whatever evils we may confront in life. When we ignore those evils, we pave our own road to hell in essence. While this may not prove to have the power that Evil Town proved to have, I still think it’s the second best of the series due to its change of pace. It’s a nice way to end the series and takes away some of the depressing sting that the other two films had. I give it another four out of five, although if I did half-stars I think it would be in the 3.5 range.



    The Conclusion
    This series won’t prove to be for everyone. It’s a dark and morbid curiosity for those looking to see the darker side of Japanese animation, but at the same time I think it proves to be an interesting assortment of ideas that could prove to be a more intelligent output than some would give it credit for. However, I could just be crazy and I’m rationalizing my enjoyment for a series of films so disturbing and horrifying. I have no shame though, so you should know better. If after reading all of this you still hold some interest, then perhaps you are the type of person who can handle Violence Jack. If you’re feeling a little queasy after reading about the various atrocities though, then maybe not! I have no doubts that his films are certainly better pieces of artistry. If you’re looking for sleaze instead, this is the place to find it!

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    God of Gamblers: Returns

    Posted by On May - 5 - 2010
    The Plot: Ko Chun (AKA: The God of Gamblers) is a veritable one man wrecking machine when it comes to the art of of high stakes gambling. His skills are unmatched in any game of cards, or in any other form of gambling actually. Ko Chun however has decided to settle down with his beautiful wife and finally enjoy life as he anticipates the birth of his first son. When Ko Chun’s friend arrives, The God of Guns, the two decide to go out for some target practice behind the house. While the two are out having fun, a new challenger arrives for Ko Chun. He is The Devil of Gamblers, a talented man of vice who doesn’t share the gentile and nice qualities that have made Ko Chun so popular. He is an evil man who will do anything for the love of money. When Ko Chun’s wife informs The Devil of Gamblers that under no circumstances will her husband play him in a game of cards, things get ugly. The Devil of Gamblers takes over the mansion with his armed guards and disembowles Ko Chun’s wife so that he can remove the child from her belly and place it in a specimen jar. She is still alive when Ko Chun (after a massive shootout) finds her, but her final words pre-emptively shut down any quick shot at vengeance that Ko Chun might have had planned. She makes him promise that he will not gamble nor admit that he is The God of Gamblers for one whole year. With some time to waste, Ko Chun then sets off to travel across Asia in order to explore his own mind. During this time he finds a young boy and his father, who is a gentile old gangster, who are assaulted by forces working alongside The Devil of Gamblers. The father is killed during a battle between factions leaving the young boy in Ko Chun’s hands to look after. Ko Chun’s group of friends gets larger as he takes this boy and eventually finds a group of gambling swindlers who may not be the brightest con-artists of all time, but they have their hearts in the right place. With his new array of friends, the days pass and it is almost time for The God of Gamblers to make his return!

    The Review
    Chow Yun-Fat is about as iconic an actor as one can find in all of cult cinema. He is an actor that carries a presence that few others can pull off. The same on-screen presence is found in actors such as Bruce Campbell or maybe Kurt Russells. Chow Yun-Fat, through his work with legends such as John Woo, Tsui Hark and Ringo Lam, managed to plaster his face as the new breed of Hong Kong hero and cinematic legend throughout the eighties and nineties. The most notable of his films have been well covered throughout the blogosphere and websites dedicated to cult cinema. Films such as Hard Boiled, The Killer and the A Better Tomorrow series have deservedly been well documented through various outlets, but the God of Gamblers series remains one of the few talked about major hits in Chow Yun-Fat’s massive Hong Kong library. The series, unlike his other more well known films, would feature Chow hamming it up onscreen in a much more comedic fashion than some might expect. The first film in particular is well known for this fact, as it features Chow essentially playing a child trapped in the body of a grown man. This second (or fourth, or sixth depending on who you ask) film in the series returns Chow to his more charming and debonair self… for about thirty minutes of its running time. At the very least it beats the original film in that regard, as Chow was only seen in his tuxedo for maybe five minutes in that film. The most shocking addition to the series however isn’t Chow dressing in plain clothes and acting silly, it is the film’s propensity to violence and heroic bloodshed in the same vein as his work with John Woo!

    Although far from being the pinnacle of Chow Yun-Fat’s career, the God of Gamblers series certainly has its fair share of fans. That fanbase has mostly lied in the constituency of hardcore Hong Kong film fanatics, but their loyalty has helped the series catch on here in North America. Likely edging out some of Chow’s more obscure (but very solid) work such as Prison on Fire or Peace Hotel in terms of fan appreciation. Personally, as a film fan, I have to say that Hong Kong comedies are universally hit or miss with me. More often than not I find them striking out in a big way, but every now and then you’ll find a gem that actually makes the search worthwhile. I won’t say that the original God of Gamblers was THAT movie for me, it was interesting enough to warrant my exploration further into the series. This second entry, due to my familiarity with it from a highlight video of Chow Yun-Fat’s greatest gunfights, actually held the most interest for me. The original God of Gamblers was not an action film in any regard, which fit in line with everything I had already heard about the series up until this point, but this sequel actually manages to mix the comedy of that first film with the wild action that has made Chow Yun-Fat such a notable and historic actor in the eyes of cult film fans everywhere. Director Wong Jing has never been one to shy away from mixing up a strange brew with his films, but I think he actually managed to create something interesting here.

    Packing along two very solid gunfights during its run-time, it would be unfair to lead you the reader on and say that God of Gamblers: Returns is a tremendous piece of action cinema. It is not. It is, with no hesitation, an action-comedy. You can believe me as well, there is a heavy emphasis on the comedy in that allocation of words. Your personal preference as far as Hong Kong comedy will go a long way in determining your level of entertainment here. For those of you who are inexperienced in Hong Kong comedies and what to expect, just imagine a very weaselly looking gentleman in your head. Now imagine this gentleman crossing both of his eyes. Then, when you have that ready, imagine this gentleman half-shouting all of his lines and making very silly faces in your direction. These comedies are usually very over the top and broad in their attempts at humor, so if you set your goals low you will either have fun while ignoring the silliest parts or you will find yourself rolling your eyes. Thankfully God of Gamblers doesn’t take the easiest route to its comedy, and while it does most certainly pack a very goofy sense of humor (a guy gets a nosebleed while looking at a pretty girl, characters instantly dress/undress in a moment’s notice, etc.) the film manages to mix in some very dark and violent moments that punctuate the overall aura of friendliness.

    The introduction to the film features two very interesting elements that perfectly define these darker moments that I speak of. First, we get our introductory shootout sequence. The character ‘The God of Guns’ brings the same level of uncanny knowledge (or magic) that The God of Gamblers seems to have with cards, but instead translates his magic in the world of firearms instead. This shootout features Ko Chun and the God of Guns running rampant through a mansion shooting anyone and anything that gets in their way. Shotguns and dual handguns are the tools of choice as this scene establishes Ko Chun’s ability to dish out violence. However, the scene takes a bizarre twist as it comes to a close with The God of Gamblers finding his dying wife in her bed, with her stomach sliced open and his fetal son placed in a jar on a dresser across the room. The wind is taken out of our sails as Chow ultimately finds himself wandering around for the next few scenes, only to inevitably wind up in a few wacky situations where he can use his gambling skills and still remain secretive about who he really is. It is a 180 degree turn that we take after this violent opening, and inevitably other bloody sequences pop up throughout, but not before we can have some very silly fun along the way. Throughout much of the film, since the God of Gamblers isn’t actually allowed to gamble, we see Ko Chun instead use his friends as figurative puppets. This is very kin to the traditional martial arts ‘grand master’ who would use those who didn’t know Kung Fu in order to beat their opponents by simply kicking the back of their leg and forcing them to throw their own foot in the face of an opponent. This could be seen in various martial art films including Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow as well as various other Kung Fu comedies. The effect is well done and the comedy, in the face of the bloodshed, actually seems fairly subdued in spite of all the wackiness.

    The Trivia
  • One of Chow Yun-Fat’s last films made in Hong Kong (along with the classic Peace Hotel) before his jump to the Hollywood film system.

  • Although it is often considered the first true sequel to the original God of Gamblers, because it is the first film to continue with Ko Chun’s character, there were roughly five other films made between the release of the first film and this feature. The official sequels were God of Gamblers II and God of Gamblers III: Back to Shanghai. Unofficial continuations come from Stephen Chow’s popular Saint of Gamblers series which spawned All For the Winner and the spinoff (of the spinoff) The Top bet



  • The Conclusion
    Overall, God of Gamblers: Returns is a pretty fun action comedy. It has its problems, such as the pacing which is pretty drawn out, and the various oddball elements (a telekinetic gambler, references to Dragonball, etc.) make the movie seem goofier than it probably deserved to be. Still, if you’re a fan of Chow Yun-Fat and you’ve exhausted your search for his greatest action roles – then this might be the ticket for you. It’s an obscure but fun piece of fluff that solidifies itself as a partial entry into the Heroic Bloodshed film genre. I give the movie a three out of five, as it was fun but certainly nothing that you would kick yourself for missing out on.



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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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