Archive for the Asian Horror Category

The Distracted Critic: SEVENTH MOON (2008)

Posted in 2013, Asian Horror, Demons, Doomed Tourists, Enigmatic Films, Evil Spirits, Paul McMahon Columns, Supernatural, The Distracted Critic with tags , , , , on May 1, 2013 by knifefighter

SEVENTH MOON (2008)
Review by Paul McMahon, The Distracted Critic

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SEVENTH MOON is a movie that slipped past me back in 2008. It was part of the Ghost House Underground series released by Lionsgate. If memory serves, that specialized line of movies was the main gist of its advertising, so I’m not surprised I never realized Eduardo Sanchez (THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT, 1999, and ALTERED, 2006) directed it. I was excited to learn of the film’s existence while I researched his film LOVELY MOLLY (2011) last November, and have looked forward to checking it out.

Eduardo Sanchez is becoming a favorite director of mine. He knows how to develop scary situations and is good at creating characters you can care about. He does that here, too… at least for a little while. The action starts in late afternoon and lasts until dawn. The instant the sun set on screen, though, the most frustrating movie experience I’ve had in a very long time began. But, before I get ahead of myself…

The film opens with a quote, as all Sanchez’s movies have so far. “On the full moon of the seventh lunar month, the gates of hell open and the spirits of the dead are freed to roam among the living.”—Chinese myth.

We meet Yul (Tim Chiou) and Melissa (Amy Smart, MIRRORS, 2008, and both CRANK movies, 2006 & 2009), an American couple on their honeymoon in China. They are wandering a crowded street during the festivities of The Hungry Ghost Festival, marveling at the actions of the locals who are burning papers in the street. The papers signify sacrifice (in order to have the wish written on the paper granted, they have to sacrifice it). After Yul has a debilitating share of wine, they leave the area and meet up with Ping (Dennis Chan, THE MAN WITH THE IRON FISTS, 2012), their chauffer.

Ping starts to drive them to Anxian, where Yul’s family lives. Yul falls asleep almost immediately. The sun sets. Melissa falls asleep, too. Ping stops at the top of a hill and Melissa wakes up. He apologizes for getting lost. “These roads are tricky,” he says. He points to a small village down the hill and says he will go and ask for directions. An hour later, Melissa wakes Yul and tells him what’s going on. He, of course, decides they should leave the car and go look for Ping.

At first they think the village must be deserted. Then they find a crowd of animals tied up in the center of town. They knock on doors and shout questions about Ping. In response, the hidden residents yell out the same words over and over. Melissa asks what they’re saying, but Yul’s Cantonese isn’t very good and all he can say for sure is that they’re calling something to join them. Mel and Yul return to Ping’s car and find that he left the keys, so they start it up and try to drive back to civilization.

It isn’t long before Yul swerves to avoid a naked man running across the road. The car bogs down in mud. He climbs out to push while Mel drives. It takes the added motivation of a ghostly shriek from the dark woods to get him to shove the car free. As she drives, Melissa blames Yul for everything that’s happening because he’d been the one that wanted to come to China.

Mel tries to swerve as another man, this one clothed, runs into the road. She strikes him, and then insists on getting out of the car to help. He is more wounded than the car can account for, but he is conscious and says in Cantonese that the Moon Demons are coming. Mel and Yul get the injured man into Ping’s car, but as soon as Yul climbs behind the wheel, four naked men jump on the car and start pounding on it.

One of the better lit images in the film, a shot of what is called in the credits: 'Pale Men.' Yup. That's what they're called.

One of the better lit images in the film, a shot of what is called in the credits: ‘Pale Men.’ Yup. That’s what they’re called.

Yul guns the engine and drives in reverse because the road is too narrow to turn around. Predictably, he drives off the road and crashes.

Mel immediately realizes that the naked men will follow the car’s path through the brush so she leads Yul and the injured man away from it. The three of them freeze and listen to the Moon Demons thumping on the car, and after a while, the injured man tells them they must find something alive to leave behind for the Moon Demons to kill. That way, they will leave them alone. He might have given Yul a sidelong glance, but it was impossible to be sure, because the thing was so ridiculously dark.

Apparently, these things glow when caught in headlights. This is the clearest nighttime image I could get from the nighttime sequence of the film.

Apparently, these things glow when caught in headlights. This is the clearest nighttime image I could get from the nighttime sequence of the film.

I’ve enjoyed Sanchez’s work before, as I said, but this film is plagued by shockingly poor decisions. The first is his choice of lighting the film…or should I say, his choice of NOT lighting the film. While I realize the majority of the film’s action transpired in a remote area of China that was without streetlights or any other kind of electricity, the night this all happened was supposedly a full moon. Surely the lighting could have been fudged just a little bit? As it was, the majority of the film was nothing but a mass of dark shadows offset by squiggles and blotches of darker shadows. It was literally impossible to make out what was happening on screen. With a make-up effects man as experienced as Mike Elzalde (DREAMCATCHER, 2003, PAUL, 2011, ATTACK THE BLOCK, 2011 and the upcoming NOTHING LEFT TO FEAR), I’d think you’d want to showcase the work you paid for. Apparently not so much.

The second poor decision is the use of a hand-held camera for the entire movie. There is no reason for this at all. The shaky camera work was an important part of the story in THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT because it was supposed to be shot by an amateur film crew (i.e., the main characters did the work). There is no such situation in SEVENTH MOON. Not only is the shaky camera dizzying and hard to follow (especially since nothing is lit properly), it doesn’t stay with one point of view. It jumps all over the place, inside and outside of the car. There are far-off establishing shots and other shots so dark and undecipherable, it seems as if they might have kicked the camera under the car seat.

I’d like to comment on the actors performances, but I have to be honest and admit that I couldn’t see much. There was a bit of screaming and a LOT of heavy breathing, though, and I’ll assume it was all done in the right places. The story, or what I could discern of it, wasn’t memorable. It lacked the element of humanity that’s been present in Sanchez’s other works. Instead of working through problems and confronting personal fears as in BLAIR WITCH, ALTERED and LOVELY MOLLY, in this one it’s just a couple of characters who aren’t very well developed trying to survive the night. It seemed that these characters continually made foolish choices because that’s what they were created to do.

It disappoints me to have to recommend that you ignore a film by Eduardo Sanchez, but truth be told, there’s nothing to see here. At all.

I’m giving this one 0 stars, and although it’s misleading, I’m giving it 0 time outs, as well. Truthfully, I itched to walk away from it for most of the running time, but I knew that if I did I would never go back.

© Copyright 2013 by Paul McMahon

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Geisha of Gore Review: BLACK RAT (2010)

Posted in 2013, Asian Horror, Colleen Wanglund Reviews, Enigmatic Films, Foreign Films, Geisha of Gore Reviews, Killers, Revenge!, Slasher Movies with tags , , , , , on April 30, 2013 by knifefighter

GEISHA OF GORE REVIEW: BLACK RAT (2010)
By Colleen Wanglund

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BLACK RAT (Kuronezumi) is a 2010 Japanese horror film written by Futoshi Fujita—whose only other writing credit is for a film titled KILL (2008)—and directed by Kenta Fukasaku, son of legendary director Kinji Fukasaku, known for such films as BATTLE ROYALE (2000), THE GREEN SLIME (1968), and the Japanese sequences of TORA! TORA! TORA! (1970) (after the studio fired Akira Kurosawa for going way over budget). As a matter of fact, Kenta worked as an assistant to his father on BATTLE ROYALE and finished directing the sequel BATTLE ROYALE II (2003) after Kinji’s death.

Six high school friends each receive a text message telling them to meet in a classroom at their school at midnight.  The message comes from Asuka, who committed suicide a few months earlier.  Four of the teens arrive on time where they are greeted by a girl in a rat mask—the big kind that team mascots would wear.  The masked girl takes attendance and tells the teens there will be “tests” that they must pass in order to gain her forgiveness.  She communicates with them through the use of flash cards. Upon challenging her, the kids are presented with the bloody body of one of the friends who didn’t arrive to the meeting place on time.  He clearly was beaten to death.  “Rat Girl” then attacks the four kids in the classroom, sending them all scattering throughout the dark building. 

The rat girl catches up to one of the boys outside and tells him his test will be to stop her from scoring on a penalty kick on the soccer field.  The boy fails to stop the goal and is put out of his misery, to put it mildly.  One of the girls—a brainiac type—is strapped into a chair wired for electricity.  Her test is to score at least one hundred points in karaoke….which she fails to do.  As another of the friends arrives late to the party, the remaining boy and girl—a tough guy and his Lolita-styling girlfriend—face off in a dark hallway against “Rat Girl.”

The chronology of the film gets a bit skewered after a bit.  There are a myriad of flashback scenes showing how mean the teens were to Asuka.  Asuka had an idea for the school’s year-end festival.  She wants them all to do a variation on a dance they all learned as children that tells the story of seven little black rats who were friends (thus the reason for the mask).  Each one of the teens, we discover, is supposed to represent one of the little rats.  This is also why the girl is wearing the rat mask….to remind the friends of what they did to Asuka.  There are other scenes where the teens were supposed to meet to rehearse the dance but were goofing off, instead.  Asuka manages to smile and stay positive through all of the crap she gets from her supposed friends….though why they’re still her friends is anyone’s guess. There are a few interesting twists and we do eventually discover who the perpetrator behind the mask really is, although as with all good Asian horror, the identity of this person (or persons) is still a bit vague.

One thing that drew me to BLACK RAT is the fact that it is a slasher film…a genre sorely lacking in Asian cinema.  The best example of Asian slasher flicks is probably BLOODY REUNION (2006, South Korea), whose original title is TO SIR WITH LOVE, which makes no sense, but I digress.  BLOODY REUNION, directed by Lim Dae-wung, is a very good movie with some intense torture and death scenes, as well as some psychological terror.  It’s better than a lot of American slasher films.  BLACK RAT, on the other hand, tries to be a really good slasher flick—and it succeeds in some ways—but for the most part it falls short.

The film does a good job of insinuating violence without showing it, particularly with the death on the soccer field and the electrocution after the karaoke failure.  The focus here is on the psychological aspects of the horror.  What makes it effective is the viewer’s imagination making the deaths more gruesome than anything that could be shown on-screen, so it makes your heart race a little faster in anticipation of further horror.  Where BLACK RAT fails to deliver are two particular fight scenes that don’t ring true to me and are pretty much just filler—although one leads to a decent beating where again, the final kill blow is off-screen. 

The story ultimately falls flat, as well.  The film begins with Asuka’s suicide—a jump off the top of the school building—but nothing in the story that follows convinces me that these teens should or could be held responsible for her death.  Nothing they did could even be construed as bullying.  Yes, they were cruel, at times, but nothing to the degree that would convince me this chick was suicidal. And there is nothing else to make me believe that this girl had (or thought she had) reasons to kill herself. There is virtually no character development.  Am I supposed to feel empathy for Asuka and rally behind her, or whoever the rat girl is, in the quest for vengeance?  Am I supposed to feel sorry for the teens who are the objects of misplaced vengeance?  I don’t know because I’m never really given a chance to learn who these kids are.

On the other hand, I appreciated the fast pace of the film (minus the flashbacks).  The blood begins to flow very early on and the kills themselves are well-done.  The rat mask, which is mangled and bloody (Asuka wore it when she jumped) is quite creepy. The only SFX issue I had was a scene where a motorbike explodes.  It was a bad CGI job that was completely unbelievable in how it translated to film. 

Comparatively speaking, BLOODY REUNION gives a better and more original story effectively mixing slasher and psychological horror, and the characters are more fleshed out.  There’s also the subtext of mental illness and obsession that BLACK RAT doesn’t have.  BLACK RAT is not an original story and is full of clichés, which is fine, but it becomes so convoluted that whatever I found interesting can get lost.  I admit I’m a bit schizophrenic with BLACK RAT.  It’s not a film I would recommend to any hardcore slasher fan, but I still found it fascinating.  Even after everything I found wrong with it, I still don’t feel as though I wasted my time—and it’s a short 75 minutes. 

© Copyright 2013 by Colleen Wanglund

The "rat girl" shows them a particularly disturbing flash card in BLACK RAT.

The “rat girl” shows them a particularly disturbing flash card in BLACK RAT.

Transmissions to Earth: THE ABCs OF DEATH (2012)

Posted in 2013, Anthology Films, Asian Horror, Body Horror, Controverisal Films, Dystopian Futures, Just Plain Weird, LL Soares Reviews, Murder!, Surgical Horror, VIOLENCE! with tags , , , , , , , , on April 18, 2013 by knifefighter

TRANSMISSIONS TO EARTH

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presents

THE ABCs of DEATH
Movie Review by L.L. Soares

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The concept is in an interesting one, give 26 filmmakers $5,000 each to make a short film, roughly about five minutes long (some more, some less). The only caveat being that it has to be about death in some way. So we’ve got maybe the most ambitious horror anthology film so far, on the heels of some good ones like THE THEATRE BIZARRE (2011) and V/H/S (2012). But with 26 shorts, it’s not the easiest film to review, so a critic inevitably has to stick to the highlights.

The structure is as follows: a short film plays, followed by the screen going to red, and the name of the film (and the director’s name) spelled out in children’s blocks. While trying to guess who did what is part of the fun (unfortunately, I haven’t heard of a lot of the directors here, so I guess it wasn’t that much fun), I would have preferred if the film names and directors had appeared before each film, but C’est la vie.

The movie begins with Nacho Vigalonodo’s “A for Apocalypse,” where a woman attempts to kill her bedridden husband for past sins, first by stabbing him, then throwing hot grease in his face and bonking him on the head several times with the oversized frying pan. Unfortunately, he won’t die, and just stares at her, while we hear the sounds of cars crashing outside their apartment window. It’s an interesting enough start.

As the movie unfolds we’ll be treated to everything from disturbing films to dark comedies, from traditional animation to Claymation, from Japanese surrealism to South American grit. The list of directors includes people from all over the world, and it’s interesting to see what each of them comes up with. The other thing about anthology films is that, if you don’t like what you’re watching, there will always be a new one starting soon enough.

As for highlights, the more squirm-inducing entries come to mind first. These include Timo Tjahjanto’s “L for Libido,” which involves men being forced to partake in a kind of “circle jerk to the death,” where what they have to watch (and get aroused by) gets more and more disturbing. This one, which comes right about at the middle of the overall movie, might just be the roughest of the bunch. Close contenders include Marcel Sarmiento’s “D is for Dogfight,” where a boxer fights it out with a vicious dog, while spectators shout and gamble on the outcome (all in slow motion), and Xavier Gens’s “X is for XXL,” where an unattractive, overweight woman who yearns to be like the pretty girl on the TV commercials she keeps seeing, subjects herself to a very radical diet involving an electric carving knife. Ti West’s “M is for Miscarriage” is another one with a killer last scene that will leave an impression.

A scene from the intense "D is for Dogfight."

A scene from the intense “D is for Dogfight.”

I also liked Ernesto Diaz Espinoza’s twisted “C is for Cycle,” Bruno Forazni’s self-explanatory “O is for Orgasm,” and Jake West’s hi-octane entry,“S is for Speed.”

More light-hearted and/or stranger fare includes: “H is for Hydraulic Emulsifier,” by Thomas Cappelen Malling, a fun, live-action cartoon where an anthropomorphic dog (dressed like a British aviator) sits at a table next to the stage at a strip club, while an enemy (Nazi) cat woman’s act gets more and more lethal; Noboru Iguchi’s installment, “F is for Fart,” where a Japanese girl’s crush on her teacher leads to an odd exploration of bodily gases that come in various colors; the final short, Yoshihiro Nishimura’s “Z is for Zetsumetsu,” which involves naked Japanese people eating sushi and shouting as the world comes to an end; and “T is for Toilet,” by Lee Hardcastle, where Claymation parents who are trying to get their young son to use the toilet for the first time are in for a nightmare.

A scene from the twisted live-action cartoon "H is for Hydraulic Emulsifier."

A scene from the twisted live-action cartoon “H is for Hydraulic Emulsifier.”

One of the more visually impressive entries is “V for Vagitus,” by Kaare Andrews, taking place in a dystopian future where procreation is against the law, but you can earn “special privlidges” if you join the police force.

Some disappointments include Ben Wheatley’s “U is for Unearthed” shown from the point of view of a monster (vampire?) – it had the distinctive look of Wheatley movies like the brilliant THE KILL LIST (2011), and I guessed who it was immediately, but the short itself was pretty much a throwaway and I wanted something more ambitious from such a talented director. Also, with “R is for Removed” by Srdjan Spasojevic (who also directed 2010’s controversial A SERBIAN FILM), I was expecting something with a real wallop, instead getting something more surreal and strange – a burn victim’s skin is peeled off by doctors section by section, and immersed in fluid that reveals the skin is really strips of celluloid from a movie reel. And “B for Bigfoot,” by Adrian Garcia Bogliano, doesn’t even really have a Bigfoot in it (it should have been called “B for Boogieman,” instead).

"T is for Toilet"

“T is for Toilet”

I hate to jump around so much, but that’s the way you remember these films: some are instantly memorable while others you might forgot soon after watching the movie. For the most part, there aren’t many total duds here. There are exceptional installments, and then ones that are just okay (even the “disappointments” I listed above weren’t completely awful). And I liked the way that there were so many tones and styles and flavors, like visiting a visual Baskin Robbins.

If you’re a fan of anthology horror films, there’s a lot to like about THE ABCs OF DEATH, and you should check it out. You’re bound to find several installments that you really like.

It would just be too difficult to list every single short and rate it individually, but overall, I give the movie three knives.

(This movie is currently in very limited theatrical release and is also available on cable OnDemand in some markets.)

© Copyright 2013 by L.L. Soares

LL Soares gives THE ABCs OF DEATH  ~three knives.

The Geisha of Gore Reviews: SHUTTER (2004)

Posted in 2013, Asian Horror, Colleen Wanglund Reviews, Evil Spirits, Geisha of Gore Reviews, Ghosts!, Supernatural, Vengeance! with tags , , , , on March 19, 2013 by knifefighter

SHUTTER (2004)
A Review by Colleen Wanglund, the Geisha of Gore

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Written and directed by Banjong Pisanthanakun and Parkpoom Wongpoom, SHUTTER is a 2004 horror film from Thailand that was remade as an American film with the same title in 2008 (which they are uncredited for).

The film opens with Tun (Ananda Everingham), a photographer and his girlfriend, Jane (Natthaweeranuch Thongmee), celebrating the wedding of Tun’s friend from college, and they are among the last few left at the celebration.  On the ride home, with Jane driving, the couple hit a girl who seemingly appears out of nowhere.  In a panic, Tun tells Jane to drive away, and they do.  Jane is feeling guilt and anguish over their decision to leave the girl lying in the road and we discover Tun has had pain in his neck since the accident.  She goes to see Tun but he doesn’t do much to console her.  Tun is developing photos he had taken of his sister’s college graduation, but discovers they were all ruined by a weird shadow that Tun cannot explain.  The shadow is a face in some of the photos and Jane believes they are being haunted by the girl they hit and left to die.   The couple drives to the spot of the accident, but the only evidence that anything happened is a damaged billboard.  Tun’s friend calls local police stations and hospitals but there is no record of an accident ever happening.

While Tun finally goes to see a doctor about the pain in his neck, Jane finds a magazine about ghost photography.  Convinced of the haunting, Jane and Tun go see the magazine’s publisher who tells them that most of the photos are manipulated fakes, but that some photos are real.  He tells the couple that he believes there are ghosts, because the dead feel there is unfinished business or a message to be passed on.  He also says that sometimes the dead cannot leave their loved ones.

Next we see that Tun’s friend has committed suicide by jumping off of the building he lives in.  Tun and Jane are then told of two other college friends who have died in the same manner.  In the car, Jane confronts Tun with photos from Tun’s days in school, including one of a young woman.  Tun tells Jane that the girl is Natre (AchitaSikamana), his girlfriend in school but he kept it a secret because all of his friends thought she was weird.  He tells Jane that Natre was really in love with him and she took their breakup very hard.  Tun told his friends, who assured him they would take care of her.  Jane believes it is Natre who is haunting them.  They drive out to Natre’s home and are shocked to be told by Natre’s mother that the girl is home but not feeling well.  While the mother is busy Tun and Jane search the house and find Natre’s corpse in an upstairs bedroom.  They convince Natre’s mother to finally hold a funeral and have her cremated.  At the funeral, Tun and Jane are told that Natre had returned from school depressed but wouldn’t say why.  Natre tried to kill herself by taking pills but she was found and brought to the hospital in time to save her life.  She then jumped off the hospital’s roof and died.   Jane believes that once Natre is cremated the haunting will end—that she is restless because her body was not given a proper burial.

Jane later finds time-lapse photographs that Tun had taken of the apartment and sees the ghost.  Putting the photos in order and using them as a flip-book, Jane sees the ghost near the shelves where Tun keeps all of his work.  She finds a stack of negatives hidden behind the shelves and develops them in Tun’s darkroom.  What the photos show is something horrific that occurred while Tun and his friends were in school.  It seems that Natre’s haunting is far more than just a restless spirit needing a proper funeral.  Natre is seeking revenge.

Thailand has a strict code for movies, so you won’t see much gore and blood—some, but not a lot.  As a result, horror films have to rely on a good story and the right atmosphere.  SHUTTER has both.  The story is a bit more complex than it first seems and there are a few strange twists that make the movie that much more enjoyable.  While you may see a typical ghost story, there is also betrayal and the fact that people are not always what they initially seem.  The story is a solid one and the acting and directing are great.  Thongmee does a fantastic job as Jane, conveying her fears and her cultural beliefs in the case of the dead.  We believe that Jane believes they are being haunted for a reason, but because she does not know the whole story surrounding Natre’s death and Tun’s involvement with the girl, she is also somewhat naïve.  However, Jane is the film’s real protagonist, a strong and determined female doing what she can to protect the person she loves, while at the same time showing true concern and empathy for Natre.

Everingham is very good at portraying Tun as a good guy, and then showing the eventual cracks in the surface.  He is a likeable guy who may or may not have made the wrong decisions where his friends and girlfriend Natre were concerned.  Even his decision to drive away from the accident is understandable because he was scared.  Wrong, but still understandable.  Was that fear for himself or for Jane, who was driving?  Does he deserve what is happening to him?  You, the viewer must decide.  Both Tun and Jane are sympathetic and real.  Natre is also a sympathetic character for me.  It seems she has good reason to haunt Tun and his friends.  The friends turn out to be selfish, brutal and callous; and Tun, at the very least, stood by and did nothing.

Natre the ghost, from SHUTTER

Natre the ghost, from SHUTTER

Unlike some ghost stories out of Southeast Asia, SHUTTER is fairly linear and coherent in its telling.  Yes there are flashbacks, but they work to advance the plot and to bring the true cruelty of the film to light.  SHUTTER is also classically Asian, in that the ghost has lost her identity and has only her revenge left to her.  It is grim with an almost vague ending that is typical of Asian ghost stories, regardless of their country of origin.  Natre is a frightening antagonist and I doubt even Jane would have survived if she were among the ghost’s targets.  Natre was sadistically and savagely victimized in life, but she became powerful in death and able to punish the men responsible in the only way she could.  This, again, is a major cultural aspect of Asian horror films and is clearly demonstrated by Jane’s belief that the haunting would end when Natre received proper funerary rites.  What I did find odd is that Natre’s ghost was dressed in her old school uniform, as opposed to the usual white gown.  Even if she died jumping from the hospital’s roof, she would probably be in a hospital gown.  Then when we see her later in the film, the uniform is gone, replaced by something I couldn’t quite identify.

While not an exceptionally great film in the genre, SHUTTER is still above-average and I did enjoy it quite a bit.  It has an angry ghost, a strong female lead, an insensitive guy, and a decidedly unhappy and not-too-predictable ending.  It’s dark and chilling and worth your time.  And it’s only 90 minutes long.

Interestingly, while remade as an American film in 2008, it has also been remade at least a half-dozen times in other countries in Southeast Asia, including two different times in India.  While I have not seen the American remake (I’m generally not a fan of remakes) I can tell you that it was directed by Masayuki Ochiai whose Japanese horror titles include PARASITE EVE (1997), HYPNOSIS (1999), and INFECTION (2004).  Yes, an American remake of a Thai film by a Japanese director.

© Copyright 2013 by Colleen Wanglund

The Geisha of Gore’s TOP MOVIES OF 2012

Posted in 2012, 2013, Apocalyptic Films, Art Movies, Asian Horror, Best Of Lists, Colleen Wanglund Reviews, Gangsters!, Geisha of Gore Reviews, Martial Arts, Yakuza Films with tags , , , , , on January 12, 2013 by knifefighter

The Geisha of Gore’s Top Movies of 2012
By Colleen Wanglund

I don’t go to see new movies very often…in fact it’s rare.  Most of my theater-going experiences involve midnight screenings of older and classic films.  This past year, however, I did go to quite a few new movie screenings, mostly because of the New York Asian Film Festival this past summer.  Anyway, here are the movies I loved from 2012, in no particular order.

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VULGARIA (Hong Kong 2012) A truly laugh-out-loud comedy starring Chapman To about what one producer went through to get his porn film made, VULGARIA was an opening-night screening at Lincoln Center during the New York Asian Film Festival.  It included a Q&A with the film’s writer and director, Pang Ho-Cheung, who informed the sold-out crowd that the movie is based on true events.  I was very impressed with the fact that nothing was lost in the subtitled translation.

The_Raid_Redemption

THE RAID (Indonesia 2011) This film didn’t screen in the US until 2012 so it counts.  Written and directed by Welshman Gareth Evans, THE RAID stars Iko Uwais as Rama, an idealistic young cop who is along for a raid against a major drug lord’s stronghold—a whole apartment building full of (mostly) criminals.  The film is full of non-stop action, mostly of the martial arts variety.  It’s beautifully choreographed and there are a few nice surprises thrown into the story.

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TORMENTED (Japan 2011) Written and directed by Takashi Shimizu of JU-ON fame, TORMENTED (also known as RABBIT HORROR 3D) is a follow-up to his film THE SHOCK LABYRINTH (2009), but is not a true sequel.  The film tells the story of Kiriko (Hikari Mitsushima) whose younger brother has been mysteriously transported to another world by a giant bunny, and how she tries to save him.  I know it sounds weird, but I found it quite entertaining.  I also understand now how a giant stuffed rabbit can actually be scary.  To me it’s worth the viewing just for Christopher Doyle’s cinematography. TORMENTED is another film that did not make its debut in the US until 2012.

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NAMELESS GANGSTER (Korea 2012) This film stars the legendary (and one of my favorites) actor, Choi Min-sik, as a corrupt customs official who enters into the world of drug gangs almost by accident.  Written and directed by Yun Jong-bin, NAMELESS GANGSTER is an amazing gangster film that takes an unflinching look at corruption and nepotism in various levels of government and how they deal with the gangs that sell illegal drugs.  Choi is superb as a man who, regardless of the loyalty shown him, is only interested in personal gain and saving his own sorry ass.

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4:44 LAST DAY ON EARTH (USA 2011) I’ve included this movie because I saw its theatrical debut in 2012—which included a Q&A with famed cult film writer and director Abel Ferrara and star Shanyn Leigh.  4:44 follows artist couple Skye (Leigh) and Cisco (Willem Dafoe) during the last day of life on Earth.  It is a quiet yet powerful apocalyptic film that did, in fact, terrify me.  I really loved the subtly that Ferrara uses to tell this story and the fact that it elicited such an emotional response from me.

© Copyright 2013 by Colleen Wanglund

The Geisha of Gore Enters THE SHOCK LABYRINTH (2009)

Posted in 2012, 3-D, Asian Horror, Geisha of Gore Reviews, Horror with tags , , , , on September 11, 2012 by knifefighter

THE SHOCK LABYRINTH (2009)
A Film Review by The Geisha of Gore, Colleen Wanglund

In the United States, director Takashi Shimizu is probably best known for his JU-ON films (2000-2003), including the American remake, THE GRUDGE (2004), which he directed himself.  Personally one of my favorites from Shimizu is his vampire flick MAREBITO (2004) which moved away from the typical Bram Stoker-established origin story and went in a new and very entertaining direction.  Shimizu is a very good friend of Yoshihiro Nishimura and has appeared in a few of his films.  You’ve already read where I go on and on about how I think Nishimura is a SFX genius.  Nishimura returns the favor here with both special effects and a cameo acting appearance.

THE SHOCK LABYRINTH (Japan, 2009) is about a group of teens brought back together years after a tragedy occurred to one of the friends.  As children, the group of friends went to an amusement park where they snuck into the closed horror attraction.  While inside, a tragedy befalls the children, killing Yuki (Misako Renbutsu)—or so they thought.  Years later the teens are reunited and the one thought dead also makes an appearance.  After the power blinks out briefly in the apartment, Rin (Ai Maeda), Ken (Yuya Yagira), Motoko (Ryo Katsuji) and Myiu (Erina Mizuno) must take Yuki to the hospital because she appears to be injured.  It is the cliched “dark and stormy night,” and when the group of teens arrives at the hospital they find it empty.

Yuki, who is unconscious for the time being, is laid on a bench in the waiting room while the others attempt to find someone…anyone…to help them.  Yuki regains consciousness and runs off into the darkness of the hospital corridors and the others are left to find her.  The teens get deeper into the building and soon realize they are in the Shock Labyrinth—the same attraction they snuck into years earlier.  Eventually the past the children tried to forget comes back to haunt them…in more ways than one.

Ken, Motoko and Myiu—Yuki’s younger sister—along with Rin (who has been blind since birth) head into the dark corridors of the building and (those who can,) see something strange .  Before they can figure out what it is they saw they are cut off from each other.  Motoko and Myiu head off in one direction while Ken and Rin go another way, trying to find each other and Yuki.  Ken seems to be having waking dreams that turn out to be flashbacks to when the teens were children and lost in the labyrinth.  Slowly we begin to see what actually happened on that fateful day.  The teens themselves, as they remember their own parts in the events that led to Yuki’s disappearance, begin to become victims themselves.  Will anyone survive the Shock Labyrinth?

I made the mistake of reading a review that trashed this film after I had decided that I liked it.  Unfortunately it made me second guess myself….which has never happened to me before.  I decided to take a couple of days to think about my initial reaction to the film and determined to go with my gut.  I liked THE SHOCK LABYRINTH.  I thought Takashi Shimizu had done something different.  It was quite a departure from the JU-ON series that he wrote and directed.  Hell, he even directed the American remake!  One aspect that impressed me was that the movie was filmed in 3D, much like James Cameron’s AVATAR (2009).  It was done for the depth of the picture being captured as opposed to the cheap special effects of things seeming to come flying at us out of the screen.  Granted, the depth amounted to mostly rain and feathers and was unnecessary, but what the hell…I’ll give him and A for effort.

What I liked was the overall story.  What the teens see before they are cut off from each other is themselves as kids….and we see the same scene from the younger kids’ point of view, as well.  This is what ultimately triggers the suppressed memories about what actually happened that day in the Shock Labyrinth to come flooding back to the teens, especially Ken.  I sort of guessed what had happened but it’s still fun to see it played out.  It’s also kind of comical to see what happens to the teens.

Now I said I liked the movie, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t find anything wrong with it.  For one, there’s no real character development, so we can’t really sympathize or empathize with any of the teens.  What happened to them after they were found by park workers as children?  We get a brief glimpse of Ken in a hospital visiting his mother, and then we are told his mom died and that was why he moved away; but that’s it.  Why has he come back for a visit?  We are never told.  We also see that Rin and Motoko share an apartment together.  What we never truly find out is the nature of their relationship.  Are they a couple?  Are they related in some way?  No idea.  They seem more like a couple, but then after getting separated Motoko is only looking out for his own ass, so who knows? A little background would have been nice.

I think the reason I liked the movie so much is because of a weird connection that I think I have to it.  One of the films I went to see (and reviewed) at the Japan Society during the Japan Cuts film festival was TORMENTED (2011).  While not a sequel, the film was directed by Shimizu and shares some things with THE SHOCK LABYRINTH.  In TORMENTED, a young boy is pulled into a dream world by a six-foot-tall rabbit.  The dream world in TORMENTED is the same amusement park in SHOCK, including the labyrinth attraction.  There is also a scene in TORMENTED in which the boy and his older sister are at the movies—the movie they are watching is THE SHOCK LABYRINTH, and a bunny from SHOCK comes out of the screen and into the boy’s hands.  And for your information, the original title of TORMENTED is RABBIT HORROR 3D.  Both films were actually shot during the off-hours in the Fuji-Q High Land amusement park at the base of Mt. Fuji, and specifically in the Labyrinth of Horrors attraction.

Another aspect of THE SHOCK LABYRINTH that I enjoyed was the special effects.  When the kids enter the labyrinth, there are a myriad of “scenes” involving the potential horrors of a hospital–a demented doctor performing surgery on a patient that’s still awake, creepy doctors and nurses, and so on.  Later on in the movie they all seem to come alive, which is a lot of fun.  However, one of the scary scenes involved a doctor—both as a mannequin and in a painting on the wall—that looked suspiciously like my favorite low-budget horror director and SFX genius, Yoshihiro Nishimura.  Well, it turns out it was the SFX Master himself, and he did in fact do the monster effects for Shimizu’s movie.  I definitely got a kick out of that.

That aside, I will say that TORMENTED is the better film, both in the story and technically.  But I do stand by my original assessment of THE SHOCK LABYRINTH—I enjoyed it.  I found it quite entertaining, even if there are some things wrong with it.  I say see it anyway.  In a way, it’s reminiscent of the teen slasher flicks of the 1980s and we enjoyed most of those, right?  See the movie because it’s a lot of fun.

© Copyright 2012 by Colleen Wanglund

The Geisha of Gore Attends THE NEW YORK ASIAN FILM FESTIVAL and JAPAN CUTS 2012!

Posted in 2012, 60s Movies, Anime, Asian Horror, Atomic Accidents, Based on a True Story, Cannibalism, Colleen Wanglund Reviews, Cop Movies, Film Festivals, Gangsters!, Geisha of Gore Reviews, Kung Fu!, Samurais, Yakuza Films with tags , , , , , , , on August 29, 2012 by knifefighter

THE GEISHA OF GORE Takes On:
THE NEW YORK ASIAN FILM FESTIVAL AND JAPAN CUTS – 2012
By Colleen Wanglund

Once again I, your Geisha of Gore, attended this year’s New York Asian Film Festival (NYAFF) and the Japan Cuts film festival, although this time as a legitimate member of the press. During the month of July I experienced some very cool films from all over Southeast Asia and in varying genres—not just the horror that I’m so overwhelmingly fond of. The NYAFF, which is put together by Subway Cinema and The Film Society of Lincoln Center, just celebrated its eleventh year, and it’s bigger than ever. Japan Cuts is a festival of contemporary Japanese cinema held every year at The Japan Society in the Turtle Bay neighborhood of Manhattan and is in its sixth consecutive year. NYAFF movies are shown at Lincoln Center’s Walter Reade Theater, The Japan Society (where the two festivals overlap and support each other) and sometimes a midnight movie at the IFC Center. Both film festivals are run by some very cool people, who welcomed me into the fold officially this past July…and that was due to the help of my wingman from another website, Stan Glick, who knows more about Asian films than most people I’ve met.

Opening night was a blast, as Stan, fellow Knife Fighter Nick Cato and I saw the comedy VULGARIA (Hong Kong, 2012) about a producer who is desperately trying to get his porn film made—an ambitious remake of a Shaw Brothers 1970’s sexploitation classic. Not only does the movie get made, but the producer ends up creating a viral marketing campaign that makes his movie a huge hit. The movie’s director Pang Ho-cheung took questions from the sold-out audience, telling us that the film is actually based on true events—which makes it that much funnier. It was filmed in just twelve days on an extremely low budget, and the script was written by almost everyone involved as it went along! It’s a raunchy comedy without actually being visibly raunchy or vulgar, which is quite the feat, considering the subject matter. I truly laughed so hard I cried. VULGARIA stars Chapman To, who starred in INFERNAL AFFAIRS (2002), INFERNAL AFFAIRS 2 (2003), and TRIPLE TAP (2010), and has had a long career in Hong Kong cinema. There is also the very interesting character of Popping Cherry, played by Dada Chan, who will do just about anything to get into the movies. How she got her name is priceless.

VULGARIA (2012)

Afterwards, everyone was invited into the theater’s gallery where we enjoyed some complimentary Kirin beer to celebrate the opening of NYAFF. The next afternoon I was lucky enough to participate in a press conference with Choi Min-sik, star of OLDBOY (2003), I SAW THE DEVIL (2010) and his latest, NAMELESS GANGSTER (2012). NYAFF held a four-film mini retrospective of Choi’s films, including OLDBOY, NAMELESS GANGSTER, FAILAN (2001), and CRYING FIST (2005). Choi Min-sik is one of the biggest stars in South Korea and for good reason—the man is a brilliant actor. I was thrilled to meet him and be able to ask him at least one question during the conference.

Below is a brief synopsis of some of the other films that screened at NYAFF and Japan Cuts.

NAMELESS GANGSTER (Korea, 2012)—Choi Min-sik stars as a crooked customs inspector who is about to go to prison, but finds a stash of confiscated cocaine and ends up a gangster, using his family connections to stay in power for quite some time. When he faces his impending downfall, he has no problem betraying some of those same family members who helped his rise in the Korean underworld. The movie is brilliant and if you get a chance, go see it!

NAMELESS GANGSTER (2012)

NASI LEMAK 2.0 (Malaysia, 2011)—Directed by and starring rapper Namewee, NASI LEMAK 2.0 is a comedy surrounding food….namely the national dish of Malaysia. At its core, it is about ethnic division in the country using kung fu, Bollywood dance numbers, outrageous stereotypes and surreal comedy in an attempt to get across a message of unity. Not my favorite of the festival movies, but funny and entertaining, nonetheless.

THE KING OF PIGS (Korea, 2011)—An animated film employing washed-out, muted colors and harsh lines to set the tone, THE KING OF PIGS tells the story of the effects of bullying on young school boys and how it continues to affect their adult lives. It is at times a brutal and unflinching look at how class plays a role in Korean society. Directed by Yeun Sang-ho, the film isn’t the most graceful anime I’ve ever seen, but it is based on some of Yeun’s own experiences while in middle school and displays its darkness effectively.

KING OF THE PIGS (2011)

HARD ROMANTICKER (Japan, 2011)—Written and directed by Gu Su-yeon and based on Gu’s own childhood growing up in a Korean ghetto, the film is a hard-ass look at loner Gu (Shota Matsuda—whose father was a star of 70s yakuza flicks) who causes trouble and attempts to elude payback among different gangs. He’s also hounded by a cop looking for Gu to rat out others, but just feeds the cop info on low-level drug users instead. HARD ROMANTICKER is fast, furious and violent, but an entertaining film for those who like the gangster genre.

ASURA (Japan, 2012)—Another animated film, ASURA is about a young boy surviving as a cannibal in war-torn Medieval Japan, who is then befriended by a young woman who shows the boy compassion. The Lord of the village is determined to find and kill the boy and things get dangerous for everyone involved. The film uses an animation process that involves 3D characters over a 2D painted background. The result is a beautiful watercolor effect with an amazing depth. The story is brutal and bloody, but heartbreaking as well.

NO MAN’S ZONE (Japan, 2012)—A moving documentary that was filmed by a crew that basically wandered around the 20-kilometer exclusion zone affected by the radiation from the Fukushima nuclear reactors. It is a few months after the earthquake/tsunami/nuclear disaster, but some of the small villages and towns have yet to be evacuated. It is both heartbreaking and infuriating to see the devastation and the lack of response by the government.

NO MAN’S ZONE (2012)

TORMENTED (Japan, 2011)—Directed by Takashi Shimizu, Christopher Doyle was Director of Photography on this follow-up to THE SHOCK LABYRINTH (Japan, 2009). While not a sequel, TORMENTED (orig. title: RABBIT HORROR 3D) contains some of the same elements and places as THE SHOCK LABYRINTH and a scene from SHOCK is included at one point in TORMENTED. It’s a huge departure from Shimizu’s famous JU-ON films, but a fantastic effort.

HENGE (Japan, 2012)—Directed by Hajime Ohata, HENGE, which translates to metamorphosis, is a short film that clocks in at just around 54 minutes. It is a disturbing film about a man who suffers violent seizures and speaks in an alien language. Over time the man transforms into a bloodthirsty insectoid creature, but his wife stands by her man, even luring victims to the house for him to feed on. It’s gory and worth a watch, IF you can find it. Unfortunately it’s tough for shorts to get decent distribution deals. The film was shown with two other short films as part of “The Atrocity Exhibition.”

LET’S-MAKE-THE-TEACHER-HAVE-A-MISCARRIAGE CLUB (Japan, 2012)—Another short film that was part of The Atrocity Exhibition, this disturbing film follows a group of middle-school girls led by the psychologically damaged Mizuki. Mizuki decides that the girls’ pregnant teacher is dirty and her pregnancy must be ended as a punishment for having had sex. What makes this film even more disturbing is that it is based on true events. This is a fantastic film that will unfortunately not see a distribution deal because of its length, which is an even 60 minutes.

And these were just the films I got to see during the festivals!

Other wonderful films that were screened during the two festivals and must be seen, if you haven’t already (and seriously, what are you waiting for?) included OLDBOY (Korea, 2003), the cult classic starring Choi Min-sik; the bleak horror film GOKE: BODY SNATCHER FROM HELL (Japan, 1968); INFERNAL AFFAIRS 1 and 2 (Hong Kong, 2002/2003), the far superior original versions of Martin Scorsese’s THE DEPARTED (2006); FIVE FINGERS OF DEATH (Hong Kong, 1972), one of the best kung fu films ever made and one that established the genre; ACE ATTORNEY (Japan, 2012) based on a popular video game and directed by Takashi Miike; THIRTEEN ASSASSINS (Japan, 2010) a samurai film, also directed by Takashi Miike; and ZOMBIE ASS:TOILET OF THE DEAD (Japan, 2011) the latest offering from Sushi Typhoon and directed by Noboru Iguchi.

The Japanese classic horror film, GOKE, THE BODY SNATCHER FROM HELL (1968)

NYAFF and Japan Cuts combined to showcase new movies, classic films, special guests, and parties. There were almost 100 films screened between the two festivals, and they get bigger each year. Some of this year’s guests included Donnie Yen, Choi Min-sik, Michelle Chen, Yoon Jin-seo, and Jeff Lau. I’ve looked forward to the festivals every year since I first began attending over three years ago. Samuel Jamier is the head programmer for Japan Cuts and would love to see the festival become one of the biggest showcase for Japanese films of all genres in North America. Some of the cool people involved with the New York Asian Film Festival are Ted Geoghegan, Grady Hendrix, Rufus de Rham, and Goran Topalovic.

© Copyright 2012 by Colleen Wanglund
LINK TO PREVIOUS COLUMNS:

The Geisha Reviews OLDBOY and Chan-Wook Park’s Vengeance Trilogy

The Geisha Reviews I SAW THE DEVIL

The Geisha of Gore reviews GOKE, BODY SNATCHER FROM HELL