Archive for the Geisha of Gore Reviews Category

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.

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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.

Vulgaria-Poster

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.

Nameless Gangster 4

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

The Geisha of Gore Practices Some KUNG FU FROM BEYOND THE GRAVE (1982)

Posted in 2012, 80s Movies, Action Movies, Asian Horror, Colleen Wanglund Reviews, Geisha of Gore Reviews, Ghosts!, Kung Fu!, Martial Arts with tags , , , , , , on July 31, 2012 by knifefighter

The Geisha of Gore Reviews:
KUNG FU FROM BEYOND THE GRAVE (1982)
By Colleen Wanglund

Everybody was kung fu fighting…..including the dead…..in this action/horror flick from the legendary Shaw Brothers. For those of you who don’t know (could there be that many of you?) the Shaw Brothers began their enterprise back in 1924, making and showing their own kind of silent films. The 1950s saw brothers Run Run and Runme Shaw establish Shaw Brothers (HK) Ltd., and that would lead to the most prolific decades for Shaw Brothers movies. Not only did they run their own movie studio/production company, but their film empire also included movie theaters and distribution companies. They even had exclusive contracts with many actors and actresses, just like the old Hollywood system. Their logo is, in fact, modeled on that of Warner Brothers Studios. In 2002 Celestial Pictures bought the rights to the entire Shaw Brothers library of over 760 films, and until this happened very few of the studio’s movies had appeared in any format other than original theatrical releases.

Enough with the history lesson, on to the film!

Directed by Chiu Lee (who also worked as an actor, writer and stuntman) KUNG FU FROM BEYOND THE GRAVE (1982) begins with the Chinese Ghost Month, an annual festival that takes place in the seventh month of the lunar calendar, when it is believed that the spirits of the deceased visit the living from the lower realm. Chun Sing (Billy Chong) is visited by the ghost of his father, who tells Chun that he was murdered by Kam Tai Fu (Lieh Lo), a powerful lord, and that Chun must avenge his father’s death. On his way, Chun comes across the body of a sorcerer and finds the book of magic that the Dark Sorcerer killed him for, but couldn’t find (it was cleverly hidden in the hilt of a sword).

In the meantime, Kam has employed a Dark Sorcerer (Sai Aan Dai) to perform a series of rituals that will ultimately make Kam invulnerable to weapons of any kind. A series of murders have occurred at a local inn, among couples whose hearts have been removed from their bodies. These hearts are what the Sorcerer requires for his bloody rituals. A government agent has been sent to investigate the murders and is staying the inn when Chun arrives. Chun goes to Kam’s home and tells him who he is and that he is out to avenge the murder of his father. After some fights with Kam’s men, Chun leaves and goes back to the inn. Chun is told about a man who may know where his father’s bones are buried and is led to a hidden burial ground in the forest. The man, his daughter and Chun are attacked by an angry spirit and must flee for their safety.

The government agent and his recently arrived partner know what is happening and must put a stop to it. Two of Chun’s allies pose as a young couple in need of a room at the inn and they ultimately foil the plans to steal two more hearts for the final ritual. There is a final battle between the good guys and the Sorcerer with the help of the book of magic and some prostitutes with their monthly female business (don’t ask) and Chun and the government agents manage to rally the town against Kam, with a final fight between Chun and Kam in the hidden burial ground.

My bootleg copy of KUNG FU FROM BEYOND THE GRAVE came to me through a friend of mine who didn’t know what they were giving me. As a fan of Asian films, I knew immediately this was a Shaw Brothers B-movie….and watching it, you will recognize its very low-budget quality.

As to the horror aspect of the film, it’s kind of weak and cheesy. I still am not sure if the dead seen in the movie are supposed to be ghosts or zombies; I know the mythology used says they are ghosts but the laughable special effects seem to have them looking more like zombies. I do think the rituals using the hearts from a couple killed at the height of orgasm was a very cool concept, however I would have liked to have seen more in the way of the black magic and the Ghost Month and its significance to the story. There is a truly bizarre scene when Chun and the Sorcerer meet up and some ghosts “fight” for Chun—the Sorcerer calls on Dracula to come fight the spirits. These particular effects involve the sky turning to night and a wolf howling, introducing the only non-Asian guy in the cast. Alas, Dracula is quickly dispatched by garlic cloves that cause the vampire to explode. It’s weird and out-of-place, as though it was added as an afterthought to boost the horror of the film. I could have done without it. There was also an attempt at humor with these particular spirits, but in my opinion it falls flat.

What really makes KUNG FU FROM BEYOND THE GRAVE worth watching is the kung fu. The fighting is awesome to watch and is beautifully choreographed. Billy Chong is an Indonesian martial artist who also starred in KUNG FU ZOMBIE the same year. His character, Chun, is still just a martial arts student, so he is not the best fighter and that is what makes things interesting. Chun gets his ass kicked more than once but doesn’t give up and finds help along the way….from both the living and the dead. The movie’s bad guy, Kam, is played by another great Indonesian martial artist, Lieh Lo, who also starred in one of the best kung fu films ever made and really established the genre, 1972’s FIVE FINGERS OF DEATH. Lo seems to play his role with much glee, reveling in the badness of Kam. Lo joined the Shaw Brothers in 1962 and was a kung fu superstar before anyone had heard of Bruce Lee.

There isn’t much dialogue, which is at times a blessing, as the film’s English dub is atrocious—but makes for some very funny moments. There is also a lot of ghostly moaning and groaning going on in between the ghosts speaking actual words, of course. The basic story is pretty cliché—“find my body, bring it home, and avenge my death!”—but it works to set it all up, so I guess you just stick with what works. And as I’ve said the special effects are cheap and cheesy. The ghosts’ faces all look as though someone just threw some oatmeal at them, the wire work isn’t too impressive and the magic book shoots really bad looking laser beams to combat bad magic. Yes, I was rolling my eyes and laughing my butt off.

I will say, for all of its faults, KUNG FU FROM BEYOND THE GRAVE is an entertaining little flick. Not quite campy enough to say that it’s so bad it’s good, but close enough. What is especially disappointing to me as a B-movie fan—no matter what country it comes from—is that the latest DVD release of the film from 2003 gets the title wrong. That needs to be rectified when or if it’s ever rereleased to Blu-ray.

© Copyright 2012 by Colleen Wanglund

The Geisha of Gore visits GOKE, THE BODY SNATCHER FROM HELL (1968)

Posted in 2012, 60s Movies, Aliens, Classic Films, Colleen Wanglund Reviews, Geisha of Gore Reviews, Japanese Cinema, Science Fiction with tags , , , , , , on May 23, 2012 by knifefighter

GOKE, BODY SNATCHER FROM HELL (1968)
Movie Review by Colleen Wanglund, The Geisha of Gore

Low-budget Japanese science fiction/horror films of the 1960s are familiar to most of us. They were dominated by rubber suited monsters threatening Tokyo with destruction; or in some cases, protecting Tokyo. These films also shared the popular anti-war theme of post-WWII Japanese movies in general. We all know Godzilla, Mothra, Gamera, and Rodan and they are amazing for revolutionizing the art of Special Effects, especially in regard to miniatures. One particular sci-fi/horror film that really stands out is Hajime Sato’s KYUKETSUKI GOKEMIDORO (1968), which translates to “The Gokemidoro Vampire,” but was shown to English-speaking audiences as GOKE, BODY SNATCHER FROM HELL.

A Japan Air flight takes off from Tokyo into a blood red sky. The passengers include Senator Mano (Eizo Kitamura); arms dealer Tokiyasu (Nobuo Kaneko) and his wife Noriko (Yuko Kusunoki); Mrs. Neal (Kathy Horan), an American going to bring the body of her husband home; Momotake (Kazuo Kato), a psychiatrist; Professor Sagai (Masaya Takhashi), who is a space biologist; and an apparent hijacker (Hideo Ko). Not long after take-off, the pilot (Hiroyuki Nishimoto) receives a message that there is a bomb on board and he is instructed to return the plane to the Tokyo airport. The co-pilot, Sugisaka (Teruo Yoshida), informs the passengers that some classified documents were loaded onto the plane by mistake and he must check their baggage. Fearing being caught, the hijacker points a gun at Sugisaka and orders the pilot to fly the plane to Okinawa. He then shoots the radio just as it was announcing a UFO over Japan. The plane is hit by a flock of bloody birds, and then fired on by the UFO, and it crash lands in a desolate area.

Sugisaka and flight attendant Kuzumi (Tomomi Sato) survey the damage and discover that the pilot and the hijacker are dead. When they discover that there isn’t much food or water, the survivors get rowdy. But wait, the hijacker isn’t dead!  He grabs Kuzumi and runs off with her, but he eventually comes upon the mysterious alien spacecraft. Hypnotized, the hijacker leaves Kuzumi and enters the craft. There we meet the evil alien entity—a mercury-like blob of a vampire called Gokemidoro—which enters the man’s head, to take control of his body. Kuzumi is found, unconscious, by Sugisaka who brings her back to the downed plane. The psychiatrist Momotake hypnotizes Kazumi so she can tell the survivors what happened. The alien in its new form makes its way to the crash site where it plans to feed. The survivors are still at each other’s throats, making Gokemidoro’s job that much easier.

So the first thing you’ll notice about GOKE is that it is most definitely low budget. But then you’ll notice all the stuff that makes this flick so cool. While in the air, the plane flies into a bright, blood-red sky—a background that was later recreated by Quentin Tarantino in KILL BILL VOLUME 1 (2003) when the Bride is on the plane flying to Japan. GOKE is saturated in bright primary colors which soon become garish as the film moves along. When the vampire feeds, its victim’s body turns a bright shade of blue; there are other scenes that are bathed in bright yellows and oranges—something ominous on the horizon, perhaps?

The characters are a cross-section of some of the worst personalities found in humanity. They are greedy, arrogant, and self-centered; completely unwilling to help their fellow man in light of their unlucky circumstances. The young hijacker brings a bomb on board the plane for no apparent reason. Momotake the psychiatrist seems to revel in the other passengers’ selfish behavior as they spiral out of control. Senator Mano and the arms dealer Tokiyasu have had illegal dealings, in which Tokiyasu promised to fund Mano’s campaign in exchange for Mano getting the committee to accept Tokiyasu’s weapons bid. True to scumbag form, Mano has no intention of keeping his end of the bargain. At one point in the film, Mano suggests using Mrs. Neal as bait to see if the alien is truly a vampire, and the others are perfectly willing to go along with the idea!  He feels that using a foreigner will cause fewer problems later on, if they survive the alien encounter. Most of the passengers use others to protect themselves from the alien vampire, as opposed to trying to kill it. It’s a disgusting display of the worst traits found in humanity. The only characters we can sympathize with are the co-pilot Sugisaka and flight attendant Kuzumi. They are the only ones who not only attempt to help the crash survivors, but they are the only ones to show any sort of compassion or faith in humanity (although that faith seems to be sorely misplaced).

The anti-war theme of GOKE is glaringly evident. The survivors who turn on each other immediately reflect the Cold War era of countries turning on each other and posturing with nuclear weapons, threatening the end of civilization as we know it. The final scenes of the film only serve to emphasize the anti-war sentiment. And as with the other sci-fi movies coming from Japan at the time, GOKE’s final scenes call to mind the destruction suffered by a country that actually had nuclear warheads used against it, with devastating results. The American passenger, Mrs. Neal is another nod to anti-war sentiment. She is on her way to retrieve her husband’s body. Mr. Neal was a soldier killed in the Vietnam War, which was exploding in living rooms all over the world due to television news broadcasts with graphic images of death and destruction—something which had never been seen on a nightly basis before.

The end of GOKE holds quite a twist, which to me is shocking when you consider the other genre films of the time. Writers Kyuzo Kobayashi and Susumu Takaku and director Hajime Sato leave no doubt as to the hopelessness of the situation their characters find themselves in. GOKE is one of the bleakest films I’ve ever seen, which is something I happen to like in horror films. As much as I love the kaiju films of the same era, they always seemed to end on a positive note….stressing faith in humanity’s compassion and ability to survive. GOKE doesn’t even hint at redemption for the human race, and that is why it is so disturbing. Sato was not afraid to bring the savagery of the human race to the big screen, barely hidden in an alien invasion/vampire metaphor. It is beautifully filmed and the video and audio effects are stunning, as is the movie’s soundtrack which only adds to GOKE’s very cool apocalyptic vibe.

No one is safe from GOKE, THE BODY SNATCHER FROM HELL!

GOKE, BODY SNATCHER FROM HELL is easily in my top ten Asian horror films of all time. It is haunting, somber and considerably gruesome. In my opinion, it is a must-see flick for any serious horror fan and you can see it pretty easily on Netflix and on DVD.

© Copyright 2012 by Colleen Wanglund