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High Kick Girl!

Posted by On June - 22 - 2010
The Plot: Kei Tsuchiya is a brown belt in Karate (played by Rina Takeda, a legitimate karate black belt) but that is only because of how incredibly harsh her master is when it comes handing out belts. Tsuchiya’s skills are truly at the black belt level and to prove this she goes from one karate school to the next in order to challenge their masters. When she wins, she collects their black belts. After collecting nearly all the belts that she can, Tsuchiya begins to search out more exciting endeavors. Her master, Sensei Matsumura, is a master of the art who looks to teach young Tsuchiya that fighting is not the necessary thing to do and that real karate is learned through the repetition of forms and finding inner solitude. The young girl however is still spoiled by her own power and looks to join up, or challenge, a group of young martial artists named The Destroyers. However, as she soon discovers, this group isn’t the type of people she would hope to associate with and they actually have some history with her master Matsumura.

The Review
If you read the front page of this site, you know that I had been excited about this project since first seeing its trailer. I am a fan of mixed martial arts and K1 kickboxing, so I know just how spectacular the “high kick” can be as a offensive technique. I also know that it is rare that we see extremely cute Japanese girls laying a cinematic beating on dozens of grown men. So, knowing Rina Takeda’s background as a legitimate martial artist, I had high hopes for High Kick Girl. While I am not here to rain on anyone’s parade and say that it is a severe disappointment, I will instead simply say that it is an entertaining b-movie that shows areas of promise but simply fails to make good. Light on plot or narrative and high on fight scenes, High Kick Girl is the big dumb karate movie embodied, in one easy to swallow eighty minute caplet. Although it at times has delusions of grandeur, it unfortunately never succeeds at stepping up to become a legitimate threat to the few martial talents that are producing phenomenal films (Donnie Yen, Sammo Hung, Tony Jaa) at a top level.

Making good on the limitations of the V-Cinema (Japanese straight to video productions) marketplace, director Fuyuhiko Nishi manages to create a karate feature that is equally a cinematic spawn from the work of Sonny Chiba and also an odd mix of several popular concepts floating around in the cinematic martial art world. The first incredibly noticeable aspect of the fight choreography is the impact that is made on the actors. In traditional action choreography the fight sequences have always been staged in a manner where the actors pull their punches back within inches of their opponent and the camera is stationed in a position that just misses the gap between fist and face. However, since the rise of Ong Bak: Muay Thai Warrior and the rise of Thai action cinema, a new style of fight choreography has entered into the market place. The punches that are thrown aren’t legitimately as powerful as they possibly could be, but the difference here is that the blows actually connect with their opponents. This stylized form of combat has actually been popular within Japan for many years in their “Puro” form of professional wrestling and Jackie Chan has also been known to feature some brutal connecting shots in his Hong Kong film work (although not in quite as brutal of a fashion). Once again, the blows are not as powerful as they could be, but they are strong enough to look both painful and real. I can only assume that Ong Bak was more than likely the genesis of the fight sequences throughout High Kick Girl, but who is to say?

I don’t think you could make a film that is more obviously a coming out party for any particular talent. Rina Takeda is given a tremendous opportunity as she is pampered and given such a tailored role. The character of Kei Tsuchiya is not an incredibly diverse or difficult role to pull off, but I was shocked at the level of arrogance the young actress/athlete had to pull off. This type of role is not uncommon in Kung Fu cinema, where more times than not the lead character is a young hustler trying to get over on a few hoodlums (Dirty Ho, Knockabout) but to see a female pulling off the role is something different to say the least. This proved to be an interesting choice, because one figures since this is her breakout performance and debut the producers would go for an instantly more likeable character. However, instead we have to slowly buy into this young woman and invest more of our time in her character. How is the young actress in her role? Truthfully she seems a little wooden in the part. However, the fight sequences are of course where she shines and in that regard she is exceptional. The fight sequences, especially those involving the young actress, are done quite well in their unrepentant brutality. Focusing mainly on kicks (duh), there are a tremendous variety of foot-level assaults. Front kicks, spinning back kicks, axe kicks and any variation of the roundhouse that you could possibly imagine is thrown about during this incredibly short feature.

Fight scenes and interesting choices do not a good movie make though! High Kick Girl is about as corny and cheesy as most casual movie goers would expect it to be. Where I had hoped it would be “cutesy” on the worst side, it is instead a cadre of action film cliches and ridiculously clunky character motivations. Skipping first gear entirely, the movie begins with its pace set to “uber”. Where this would normally be a positive for any action title, we unfortunately miss out on so much character motivation and background. Funny moments pop up throughout the picture as we discover that this group The Destroyers have been looking for Matsumura for years, but according to everything that we have seen so far he has been running a dojo in Japan under the same name. When you claim that you have been searching for someone for years, doesn’t that imply that they have at least been hiding? Or does it imply that you are so inept in your searching that you didn’t bother to look in a phone book for “Matsumura – Karate Master”. This is the vague introduction that we have to this elite squad of killers. This is also the END of all character background because we are never truly clued into the reason that this group is out to kill Matsumura. This could be spawned from the fact that this is a V-Cinema title and everything in that industry is ruled by the sequel. So I have a good feeling that this absolutely necessary bit of character motivation was left out for a reason.

The final thing I feel I should mention harkens back to the fight scenes again. This doesn’t have anything to do with the fight choreography mind you, but the choices made by the director. For one… the use of slow motion. Clocking in at just eighty minutes worth of film time, and that is generous and not deducting credits, there is no need to have as much slow motion as there is in this film. I will concede that the use of ambient music (which is likely the second best thing about the movie, behind the fight choreography) during these slow motion sequences creates a very interesting texture. However, this is a big dumb action picture for crying out loud! The second incredibly annoying recurring aspect of the movie is the use of repeated footage. Jackie Chan is the godfather of this, but when Jackie Chan showed us three different shots of himself falling off the side of a building and through three pieces of cloth in Project A he did so showing us the incredible danger of the stunt. High Kick Girl repeats almost every single “painful” looking shot and in slow-as-dirt-motion. If you cut the repeated shots out and you remove the slow motion, we may very well be talking about a one hour long movie.

The Conclusion
The film does a good job at explaining the tenants of Karate and Rina Takeda actually interests me as a future martial arts film star. However, High Kick Girl has some real problems. For those itching to see some cute girls kicking so high that we see their panties, then this will already be on your top ten list. For everyone else, take it with a grain of salt. It isn’t a particularly great piece of cinema and its nowhere near being a action classic. It is a moderately entertaining time and I’m glad that I have seen it. I give it a solid three out of five. It hovers above average, due mainly to the few flares that separate it from the rest of the cinematic world.


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.

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!


    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 Rentarô 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.


    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.



    Posted by On April - 16 - 2010
    The Plot: Jake “Tiger” Sharp (Michael Sopkiw) is a former police officer who has been released after seven years of incarceration. He was guilty of murder in his former life, after killing the man responsible for his wife’s death. After his release he turns to killing for a living, being hired on as an assassin, but he finds that he simply doesn’t have the stomach for violence any longer. He does however hang on to the weapon that his would-be employer passes on to him. A SPAS shotgun which can fire grenades as well as a number of varying projectile weapons. Tiger decides to run away from his worries and head back to his small Georgian home town. Things aren’t so simple for Tiger though, as he finds his old home town has been inundated with hunters looking to get rich off of a foreign investment group which is paying high dollar for deer pelts. Tiger, seeing the truckloads of dead animals and seeing the forests being ravaged by dumb rednecks – he can’t take any more. Along with Connie, his long lost daughter who stumbles into his life with very little reason or established motivation, he will put an end to this crusade of butchery! Although, he may have to fight off a seemingly ENDLESS number of hunters in the area.

    The Review
    Lamberto Bava is one of my favorite directors from the laundry list of Italian exploitation filmmakers that never made it huge over here in the United States. Even though his father is easily one of the most recognizable filmmakers in the history of Italian film, that popularity hasn’t really been passed on to his son. The reason for this fact is pretty easy and as much as it pains me to say it… Lamberto has had a relatively spotty career. Aside from a hand full of relatively great genre pictures, the majority of his output can be pretty contrived. Despite this fact, even the worst of these titles for me holds at least some interest or entertainment value. Blastfighter, made in the mid-eighties, is Bava trying his hand at the action genre. Not just any particular kind of action title either, this is a hillbilly action caper! Made by Italians! If at this point you’re thinking that this sounds like it’ll end up being a hot mess, you would be correct! Now, there are two vantage points that you can look from when approaching a film such as this one. You can either look at it as you would any other movie, approaching with analytical reason and attention to detail, or you can simply admit that this is going to be a bad movie so why not try and enjoy yourself? I generally do not favor the “check your brain at the door” type of review, even though I am excessively guilty of it, but a film such as Blastfighter deserves at least some sympathy from its audience as well as myself as a “critic”.

    If you’ve heard my voice on the VCinema Podcast, then you probably already know that I’m a proud southerner. Although you may think this means I’ll be particularly hard on Blastfighter due to its brazen inaccuracies in southern culture and the disregard for any kind of actual authenticity, you would be wrong. Let’s be honest here, southerners being shown as rednecks sharing an IQ with the same amount of digits that they can find on their left hand, isn’t exactly new. We’re all fully aware of the stereotypes and this is a film made by those fed on a strict diet of Hollywood archetypes. So when I see a group of guys walk up to a singular man in the forest and tell him “ya’ll get your ass off this hill”, I don’t let it bug me. In fact, I tend to love stuff like that because it becomes something of an injoke for me. How anyone could think the word ya’ll could be used in a singular form is outside of my realm of understanding, but it produces a chuckle every time I hear it in a cheap low budget exploitation movie. The cultural carelessness is certainly a factor in why I tend to enjoy the movie myself, but for the rest of the world what little entertainment is going to be derived from a film like Blasfighter is going to likely be based off of the ridiculous action set pieces.

    For a movie that was likely shot on a shoestring budget to say the least, I have to commend Lamberto for plugging as many vehicular explosions into this film as could logically be tolerated. Although the movie is slow to start, once the first truck initially goes up in flames; all of its brothers are just around the bend. Where most low budget titles from this time and era were lucky to get one vehicle to blow up in their movie, Blastfighter must have at least nine or ten. Each one going off in different scenes, one after the other. For a movie of this caliber, I have to admit it’s very effective in the action department. However, that doesn’t excuse it enough nor offer enough salvation for me to tell you the audience that this is a good movie. Truthfully, it’s not a great bad movie either. Starting off as a Deliverance style “normal man at odds with the psychotic hillbilly locals” genre picture, it morphs into a First Blood Rambo knockoff with a strange focus on conservationism. The last thirty minutes really does morph into First Blood, down to the sequence with Rambo stealth-killing all of the police officers. One reason the two sequences are too different to work is that in one film you have the police and the national guard all willing to risk their lives to hunt down one man, because that is their job. In Blastfighter, you have an endless number of hunters running head first into the forest looking to commit murder for apparently no reason in particular. The ultimate problem with Blastfighter comes from the fact that it’s too dumb to be taken serious and it’s not broad or dumb enough to be lumped in there with low budget action classics like Lady Terminator or The Stabilizer.

    Unfortunately Blastfighter is an overall bland mix that reaches certain levels of greatness, but then drops the ball just as things are getting interesting. Such is the case in almost all facets of the feature. For example, look at the electronic synth score that starts the movie off: it’s absolutely great. It brings up memories of delirious eighties cheese and gets your fist pumping. Then in short order the film dumps a cover of the Kenny Rogers tune “Evening Star” over our head, which is belted out by some wannabe starlet. Then it is repeated, over and over again! Our leading man, Jake “Tiger” Sharp (GREAT name) has some really interesting heroic qualities to him such as being an ex-cop who was placed in jail for seeking revenge. That’s a great backstory for a tough guy, and then we find out he is now a hitman as well? You can’t go wrong with this guy! Wait, no, I take that back, yes you can. Tiger might be the girliest tough guy to ever grace the screen. He fights back against hunters… because they kill dear. It’s not that I’m not sympathetic to ecological friendly people or those who have a great love for animals; but eighties action heroes usually fight for loftier goals in my book. They fight against nuclear devastation, life or death situations and not in order to save deers. It doesn’t stop there however, when his daughter first shows up on the scene he stumbles upon her after she breaks into his cabin. Tiger questions the girl and is quickly shouted down by the young woman who refuses to explain who she actually is. So what does Tiger do? Slap her? Kick her out? CALL THE POLICE? No, he takes his pillow and blanket so he can sleep on his own porch. Puzzling that this tough guy wouldn’t even be curious who this woman is that is kicking him our of his own home, much less take some kind of action in order to stop the situation. Then there’s the much ballyhooed SPAS shotgun that we get, which Tiger (what a great name for a leading man, did I mention that?) is given for an assassination job, which unfortunately gets about as much use as the script supervisor likely did on the picture.

    The Conclusion
    It’s a film where the sum of its parts are actually greater than it on a whole. There are moments of sheer over the top bliss, but it’s not enough to take away from the utterly bland moments that tie everything together. Not even George Eastman can save this picture, entertainment wise. I give the film a two out of five, which is possibly lower than it might seem to deserve but keep in mind that for every really great bit the movie throws at you – there’s something equally as bad right around the corner. I would save this one for fans of Lamberto Bava and Italian cult film enthusiasts only.




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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.