Archive for the Kung Fu! Category

Bill’s Bizarre Bijou Takes On NINJA III: THE DOMINATION (1984)

Posted in "So Bad They're Good" Movies, 1980s Movies, 2013, Bill's Bizarre Bijou, Campy Movies, Evil Spirits, Kung Fu!, Ninjas, William Carl Articles with tags , , , , , , on June 20, 2013 by knifefighter

Bill’s Bizarre Bijou

By William D. Carl

This week’s feature presentation:

NINJA III: THE DOMINATION (1984)

bbbninjaposter

Welcome to Bill’s Bizarre Bijou, where you’ll discover the strangest films ever made.  If there are alien women with too much eye-shadow and miniskirts, if papier-mâché monsters are involved, if your local drive-in insisted this be the last show in their dusk till dawn extravaganza, or if it’s just plain unclassifiable – then I’ve seen it and probably loved it.   Now, I’m here to share these little gems with you, so you too can stare in disbelief at your television with your mouth dangling open.  Trust me, with these flicks, you won’t believe your eyes.

It is summertime, and a young(ish) film critic’s thoughts turn to summer movies.  I don’t need authentic period atmosphere, beautifully written scripts, believable characters, or somber drama; I need explosions, monsters, muscular men with huge guns, explosions, beautiful women partially clothed, crazy action scenes, and explosions.  When I was growing up, one studio really embodied the world of summer entertainment.  Even most of their fall and winter movies seemed like displaced summer features.  Join me as I enter the world of Cannon, as owned by Golan and Globus.

Cannon Films, aka The Cannon Group, had been around since 1967.  Owned by Chris Dewey and Dennis Friedland, they produced and distributed many films, both artistic and exploitative over a twelve year period, including JOE (1970), FANDO AND LIS (1970), and NORTHVILLE CEMETERY MASSACRE (1976).  In 1979, facing heavy debt, the two men sold Cannon to a pair of Israeli cousins, Menahem Golan (who had already directed the horrifying disco musical THE APPLE – 1979, as well as the Israeli version of AMERICAN GRAFFITI, LEMON POPSICLE – 1978) and Yoram Globus who had served as producer for Golan’s films.  During the 1980s, the team managed to tap into the zeitgeist, releasing a massive amount of B-pictures.  In 1986 alone, they released 43 movies to a film-hungry public.  And, yes, most of them contained some form of explosions, monsters, or other exploitable/marketable production facet.  The two cousins were notorious for attending Cannes and selling pictures to the money men with nothing but a one-sheet poster or a concept or a billboard for a movie yet to be written.  This is how the world discovered such gems as ENTER THE NINJA (1981), THE LAST AMERICAN VIRGIN (1982), TREASURE OF THE FOUR CROWNS (1983), BREAKIN’ (1984) and BREAKIN’ 2: ELECTRIC BOOGALOO (1984), MISSING IN ACTION (1984), RAPPIN’ (1985), LIFEFORCE (1985), DEATH WISH 3 (1985), THE DELTA FORCE (1986), THE NAKED CAGE (1986), COBRA (1986), INVADERS FROM MARS (1986), THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2 (1986), MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE (1987), and CYBORG (1989).  Interestingly, they were also known for their distribution of art films, releasing many of the 1980s best quality films.  For every Sylvester Stallone arm-wrestling opus, we got John Cassavetes’ LOVE STREAMS (1984), Andrei Konchalovsky’s RUNAWAY TRAIN (1985) and SHY PEOPLE (1987), Neil Jordan’s THE COMPANY OF WOLVES (1985), or THE ASSAULT (1987 – winner of the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film).  By 1989, the cousins had spent themselves into a very large hole.  Following several box office flops, Cannon was taken over by Pathe’, an arm of the MGM Studios, and Cannon changed forever.  Interestingly, for a brief time, Cannon was the low budget arm of Pathe’ and was run by Italian horror maestro Ovidio G. Assonitis (BEYOND THE DOOR – 1974, TENTACLES – 1977).  The end of the 1980s brought the end of Cannon Films as a Golan and Globus production.  Still, they left a legacy of outrageously whacky summer movies.  I will be writing about many of them during this summer, reliving those days at the drive-in when Chuck Norris blasted away hundreds of Vietnamese without a trace of irony, when ninjas raced across American rooftops, when monsters invaded the earth in new and wicked ways.  Welcome to the world of Cannon Films.

We begin our look at Cannon with NINJA III: THE DOMINATION (1984).  Why should we start with part three, you may ask?  The answer is simple.  Not only does this movie have ninjas running rampant in America, but it also has ghosts, exorcisms, and medicinal Jazzercising.  Cannon had already released the hit films ENTER THE NINJA (1981) and REVENGE OF THE NINJA (1983), tapping into a public’s undiscovered love of a great ninja movie.  Both starred Sho Kosugi, an All Japan Karate Champion and character actor.  Strangely, in ENTER THE NINJA, Kosugi was the bad guy, facing off against an aging Franco Nero.  After the amazing success of the first film, Kosugi became the good guy for the second movie, whooping ass in Salt Lake City and putting evil drug dealers in their place.  Despite his problematic English, Kosugi had the martial arts skills, and the ninja was scheduled to be brought back a third time.  In the meanwhile, however, POLTERGEIST (1982) had been a huge hit, and the country was also in the throes of aerobic-exercise fever.  What better way to bring back a master ninja than to have him battle a demonically possessed Jazzercise instructor?  Umm…

NINJA III: THE DOMINATION begins with a ninja in a Bronson Canyon cave, rolling back a big fake rock to reveal a cache of ninja weaponry, beautifully lit from below.  How the electric light was rigged in a cave in the middle of nowhere is a matter for others to ponder.  We are already off to the next scene…Ninjas stalk the golf course!  A rich white guy who is playing golf with his six bodyguards is attacked by the evil ninja.  Within a few minutes, the rich guy, his girlfriend, and all bodyguards are dead.  The police arrive in force, but despite being shot more than twenty five times, the ninja manages to kill at least thirty cops (I lost count) and escape into the desert.  He even manages to bring down a police helicopter using ninja stars, a hilarious scene that was obviously shot on the ground!  Lucky for him, a sexy telephone line repair woman, Christie (Lucinda Dickey, en ex-Solid Gold dancer and star of the forthcoming BREAKIN’ and BREAKIN’ 2: ELECTRIC BOOGALOO—both 1984—and possibly the worst actress to ever headline a motion picture) is in the neighborhood.  When she tries to help him (who doesn’t want to help a bleeding guy with a sword wearing ninja gear?), she is possessed by the evil ninja’s spirit and takes the sword back home with her.

Ninja Shokosugi vs. Black NInja

Ninja Sho Kosugi vs. Black NInja

When she is interrogated by the police, one of them comes on to her as if they are in a sleazy singles bar.  This is Officer Billy Secord, who was at the blasting of the evil ninja along with several other cops who managed to survive the massacre, played by the smug, hirsute Jordan Bennet.  He stalks Christie, calling her home (which is uber-Eighties cool, complete with actual arcade games, a dance floor, neon signs on the walls, and a Nagle print).  Christie, it turns out, doesn’t only fix the phone lines, but she is a Jazzercise instructor as well!  Billy follows her to one of her classes, and she shuns him again.  On her way out of the gym, she prevents a bunch of guys from raping a woman from her class, ripping a metal beam from a fire escape and beating the crap out of them.  Billy, turned on by this display of martial artistry, drives her home, where she seduces him in the unsexiest seduction of all film history.  By utilizing one gruesome bit of product placement, she covers her chest in V-8 Juice, which the lucky cop slurps up.  Then, Billy removes his shirt, exposing shoulders and a back so hairy he appears to be wearing a sweater.  Later, while Billy sleeps, Christie wanders to her closet, which glows.  She watches as the ninja sword she took from the evil black ninja floats on a visible string all over the room.  When Billy awakens, he proves his detective skills by telling her how beautiful her sword is . . . forgetting that the sword is evidence in a multiple murder of a few dozen policemen!

Take that yuppy scum!

Take that yuppy scum!

As their vegetable-juice based romance blossoms, Christie sees Billy’s partner and recognizes him as one of the men who shot the ninja who possesses her.  That evening, her arcade game goes all TRON on her, zapping her with lasers as wind blows through her room, and maniacal laughter rings through the place.  Her hair gets much bigger, making her resemble Adam Lambert with less make-up.  She heads for the Bronson Canyon Cave, retrieves some ninja weapons, and kills Billy’s partner.  Christie knows something is terribly wrong, although Billy remains blissfully unaware.  When she starts losing larger amounts of time, she decides to work out, doing hours of aerobics in her apartment to heal herself.  Jazzercise as alternative medicine doesn’t work, so Billy takes her to a doctor first, who tells her that, “Medically, you’re a very fit young woman. No evidence of any abnormality in the brain, no tumor, you have a strong heart, your diet is better than average. You are under severe stress, of course, but otherwise Doctor Bowen, the psychiatrist you saw, says there’s nothing out of the ordinary. Aside from your exceptional extrasensory perception and your preoccupation with Japanese culture. No harm in that!”  He then consults a cop in the “Asiatic Division” who recommends a healer, played by James Hong (BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA – 1986, THE VINEYARD – 1989).  He ties her up, and her hair grows bigger than ever, really making her look like Adam Lambert!  He tries to exorcise her, but he isn’t strong enough.  Fire erupts, lightning and thunder resound in the room, and Christies does some amazing gymnastics while being chained up.  “You fools!  You cannot stop me!  I am ninja!”  The Asian Max Von Sydow informs Billy that “Only a ninja can destroy a ninja.”

Finally, Sho Kosugi shows up, called by several elders in the Chinese community.  He wears a stylish eye-patch, and he follows the various crime scenes of the evil ninja/Christie picking up on clues we, the viewers, don’t get to peruse.  The ways of the ninja are, indeed, inscrutable.  Through a flashback, we find out that Kosugi has been hunting the black ninja since he killed Kosugi’s family and threw a ninja star into his eye.

Christie doesn’t recall the exorcism, but she finds two more of the cops who had shot the black ninja during the slaughter of half the police department.  When our heroine returns to her home, she faces all kinds of poltergeist activity in her apartment.  “No, you don’t,” she shouts.  “Not again!”  While things blow up around her, fog and evil laughter flood the apartment, plates float around along with the sword.  She does what anyone would do when confronted by the occult.  Yes, she’s back to trying to Jazzercise the demon from within her, working out to loud, dreadful disco music and ignoring the chaos around her.  It doesn’t work, and the forces pull her into the closet a la Tobe Hooper’s POLTERGEIST (1982).  When she emerges, she is in full-on ninja mode.

Ninja Possesses Lucinda Dickey!

Ninja Possesses Lucinda Dickey…or is it Adam Lambert?

At Billy’s partner’s funeral, she climbs some tall trees and shoots several cops with arrows, killing the two she recognized.  It’s another police massacre, with at least ten dead officers by the end of the chase scene.  There are some pretty cool stunts here, with Christie (or her stunt double under all that ninja gear) pulling men off the back of motorcycles and fighting her way through the cemetery, swinging from tree to tree.  Luckily, Sho Kosugi appears and pursues the rogue ninja.  There’s a good fight between them in a half-finished abandoned house with ninjas hanging from beams and bursting through floors.

The cops, thinking Kosugi is the bad guy, take him into custody, while Billy finally figures out his girlfriend is killing every cop in the county, returns to her apartment.  He confronts an amnesiac Christie and marches her at gunpoint to a Japanese Temple above the town (what?!) where orange-robed monks practice kendo and where the final confrontation will occur.  Thus begins the final battle, which is over-the-top crazy, filled with great stunts and shoulder pads on Christie that have to be seen to be believed.

Ninja Adam Lambert Lives!

Ninja Adam Lambert Lives!

Will Christie kill Billy, the last police officer left alive who shot the black ninja?  Will Kosugi smack the evil out of Christie?  Will I ever be able to drink another V-8 Juice again?

NINJA III: THE DOMINATION is certainly not a good film, but it’s a fabulous sort of time capsule for the Eighties.  Full of blaring disco music (Body Shop by Dave Powell is especially atrocious), martial arts, aerobics montage scenes, video game references, and more bad acting than you can shake a Japanese sword at, it is never boring!  The hair, the tight jeans, the sheer number of leg warmers – combining ninja action and supernatural horror into one huge laughable concoction, NINJA III never fails to entertain.

I give it three V-8 Juices out of four.

© Copyright 2013 by William D. Carl

 

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G.I. JOE: RETALIATION (2013)

Posted in 2013, 3-D, Action Movies, All-Star Casts, Based on a Toy, Bruce Willis Films, Cinema Knife Fights, Criminal Masterminds, Kung Fu!, Michael Arruda Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , on April 2, 2013 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT:  G. I. JOE:  RETALIATION (2013)
By Michael Arruda

gijoe-retaliation-poster

(THE SCENE: A toy store.  MICHAEL ARRUDA is in the Action Figure aisle checking out some vintage G. I. Joe action figures.)

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  These toys bring back memories.  (Holds up an action figure with fuzzy hair.)  Here’s one of my favorites:  G. I. Joe with life-like hair and Kung Fu grip.  I don’t know why these toys were so cool—there’s not much to distinguish them from other action figures—but when I was a kid, they were the best.  I think it was all the accessories that came with them.

Anyway, welcome to CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT.  Today I’m reviewing G.I JOE: RETALIATION (2013), so there’s a reason I’m visiting this vintage toy store today.  See, this film was produced in association with Hasbro toys, and it plays that way.  Like other toy tie-ins (such as  last year’s BATTLESHIP)  G. I. JOE just doesn’t cut it as a movie.  It has about as much depth and conflict as one of these toys.

G. I. JOE TOY:  Hey, I have depth and conflict!

MA:  Wow!  It talks!  I don’t remember the G. I. JOE toys talking when I was a kid, but anyway, glad to have you here with me.  I could use the company, since L.L. SOARES is off on another assignment.

And you’re right.  You toys can have depth and conflict, when a kid is playing with you, using his or her imagination, and today’s movie could have had depth and conflict too, if it cared at all about telling a genuine story, which it obviously doesn’t.

G.I. JOE:  So, you didn’t like the latest movie about me?

MA:  Well, it’s not really about you, per se.

G.I. JOE RETALIATION is a sequel to G.I. JOE:  THE RISE OF THE COBRA (2009) which clearly was one of the worst movies I saw that year, yet supposedly it made a ton of money, and the events in RETALIATION follow the events in COBRA.  Unfortunately, while there are fleeting references to characters and events from the previous movie, the assumption seems to be that the audience is so familiar with these characters and events that we know them well and, as such, we care for these folks already.  Sorry to say, that’s the wrong assumption.

G. I. JOE RETALIATION opens with the “Joes” defending the freedom of America by travelling to Pakistan to secure a nuclear bomb that’s about to fall into enemy hands.  The unit is led by young hot shot, Duke (Channing Tatum), who when he’s not saving the world, trades humorous barbs with his best buddy, veteran soldier Roadblock (Dwayne Johnson).

This all changes when the Joes are ambushed, and only Roadblock and two young soldiers Flint (D.J. Cotrona) and Jaye (Adrianne Palicki) survive.  It turns out that the ambush was ordered by the President of the United States (Jonathan Pryce) who doesn’t seem to be himself lately.  That’s because the real president has been kidnapped, and in his place is the Joes’ arch enemy Zartan (Arnold Vosloo), who conveniently and inexplicably has the power to shapeshift, so he looks exactly like the president.

Zartan’s dastardly plan involves ridding the world of nuclear weapons so he can have complete control over it.

GI_Joe-_Retaliation_poster

(The door to the toy store opens and in pops Adam West as Batman)

BATMAN:  That EVIL CRIMINAL!

MA:  Holy Hasbro, Batman!  What are you doing here?

BATMAN:  What any good citizen should be doing on a Saturday.  Shopping for toys for Gotham’s underprivileged children.  I see you are busy reviewing a movie. I’ll come back another time.

MA:  Don’t leave on my account.  I can review a movie while you’re here shopping.

BATMAN: Thank you, citizen.  (BATMAN exits into another room of the store.)

MA:  Back to G.I. JOE.  Roadblock decides his little unit needs help, and so he turns to the retired General Joe Colton (Bruce Willis) for assistance.  Together, they come up with a plan to take down the evil Zartan and rescue the president, before Zartan can succeed with his plan to take over the world.

BATMAN (from other room):  Has he no shame?

MA:  Meanwhile, there’s also a subplot involving Asian rivals Snake Eyes (Ray Park) and Storm Shadow (Byung-hun Lee) who battle it out under the watchful supervision of the wise Blind Master (RZA).

And thrown in for good measure, there’s also the crazy and evil Firefly (Ray Stevenson) who gets to cause all kinds of mayhem in support of his boss Zartan.

Since this is a G.I. JOE movie, there’s no surprise which side wins here.

G.I. JOE: RETALIATION is a sad excuse for a movie that unfortunately is part of the growing trend of movies that look good but have no story. Visually, these movies are striking, slick and polished, but they’re ruined by poor writing, done in by weak dialogue, tired overused plot elements, and a clear lack of clarity when it comes to storytelling.  In short, the writing sucks.

See, we’ve reached the point where movies can be so impressive based on visuals alone that, for some filmmakers, the art of storytelling is secondary and oftentimes nonexistent.  G.I JOE: RETALIATION is one such movie.

It looks great, it has above average action sequences, it boasts a talented cast, but if you’ve seen the RESIDENT EVIL movies, the TWILIGHT series, or films like BATTLESHIP, you know what to expect from G.I. JOE.  All fluff and no substance, shallow cardboard characters, deplorable dialogue, and boredom the likes of which moviegoers should never be subjected to.  It’s cruel and unusual punishment.

There’s no reason in the world why this couldn’t be an excellent movie.  Look at its cast, for instance.  Now, I’m not a big fan of Dwayne Johnson, but the guy does have an agreeable screen persona.  He should be a likeable lead.  But he’s lost here, directionless, reduced to being nothing more than a walking talking toy.

G.I. JOE:  I think I’ve just been insulted.

MA:  Bruce Willis is stuck in a thankless supporting role, and he’s done this thing so many times before (heck, in this year alone he’s done it a bunch of times!) he might as well be asleep.  He offers nothing new or refreshing to his role here.

I love Jonathan Pryce, and he once again makes for a decent villain, this time as the President of the United States, but he’s mired saying such clichéd lines he sounds like he belongs in an AUSTIN POWERS movie.  And if you can believe Jonathan Pryce as President of the United States, you’re a better man than me.

Current hunk and heartthrob Channing Tatum is barely in this one at all, meeting his demise early on in the film.  Even so, you still have Byung-hun Lee from I SAW THE DEVIL (2010), Ray Stevenson—who, in spite of the dreadful script, still manages to entertain as Firefly—and RZA.

D.J. Cotrona is fine and believable as Flint, and Adrianne Palicki is very good as Jaye.  It also doesn’t hurt that she’s an absolute knockout.

But the script here by Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick is horrible.  Before we even get to the story, we have to get by the names of the characters—Roadblock, Storm Shadow, Firefly, Duke, Snake Eyes, Blind Master.  They sound like X-Men rejects.

The actual story is ludicrous.  Zartan’s plot for world domination is about as believable as Caesar Romero as the Joker.  It also suffers from a lack of details.  For example, Zartan shapeshifts to look exactly like the President of the United States.  How?  That would be a pertinent piece of information to relay to the audience, don’t you think?  To be fair, it is mentioned in one brief scene, but blink and you miss it.  I guess the thinking is, who cares about such details when the movie looks so good.  Well, I care because I want to enjoy the movie.  It’s like saying Superman got his powers from another planet, and then leaving it at that. What planet?  How did he get these powers?  What’s his story?

I found myself asking that question throughout this movie.  What’s his story?  What’s her story?  What’s this movie about?  The answers weren’t provided.

Now, Reese and Wernick wrote the screenplay for ZOMBIELAND (2009).  There’s no comparison between these two movies.  ZOMBIELAND was creative and edgy, while G.I. JOE: RETALIATION is mind-numbing and childish.

It’s rated PG-13, yet clearly plays like a PG movie.  When I saw it, the theater was filled with young kids, many of them under 10.  That’s about the right age level for this movie.

Director Jon M. Chu has made a very good-looking movie, but a movie without a story just isn’t good enough.  Sure, there are some neat action sequences, especially a really cool mountaintop chase scene.  But if I don’t care about these characters, if I don’t know why the hell they’re doing what they’re doing, the end result is it’s like I’m watching a really cool video game.  It’s not a movie.

And just when you thought things couldn’t get any worse, G.I. JOE is in 3D.  I chose not to see it in 3D, and I doubt 3D effects would have made this movie any better.  It stunk quite nicely in 2D, thank you very much.

G.I. JOE: RETALIATION was a complete waste of my time.  Admittedly, it’s a slick looking production, and it’s teeming with talented actors, but the story is so horribly boring I was ready to leave the theater midway through the film.

I give it one and a half knives.

 gijoey

You’d be better off purchasing one of these vintage G. I. Joe toys and setting it up on a shelf in your den.  In fact, looking at one of these toys for two hours might provide more mental stimulation than watching G.I. JOE: RETALIATION.  At least your imagination would be free to engage.

G.I. JOE:  Thank you.  I’ll take that as a compliment.

MA:  You’re welcome.

G.I. JOE:  Hey, do you think I can get a part in the next G.I. JOE movie?

MA:  The next G.I. JOE movie?  Don’t make me ill.

Okay, folks, that’s it for now.  L.L. Soares will be back next week, and he and I will be here with a review of another new movie.

—END—

© Copyright 2013 by Michael Arruda

Michael Arruda gives G.I. JOE: RETALIATION ~one and a half knives!

Bill’s Bizarre Bijou: SCORPION THUNDERBOLT (1988)

Posted in "So Bad They're Good" Movies, 1980s Movies, 2012, Action Movies, B-Movies, Bill's Bizarre Bijou, Campy Movies, Exotic Locales, Just Plain Fun, Just Plain Weird, Kung Fu!, Monsters, William Carl Articles, Witches with tags , , , , , , , on November 22, 2012 by knifefighter

Bill’s Bizarre Bijou
By William D. Carl
This week’s feature presentation:
SCORPION THUNDERBOLT (1988)

Welcome to Bill’s Bizarre Bijou, where you’ll discover the strangest films ever made.  If there are alien women with too much eye-shadow and miniskirts, if papier-mâché monsters are involved, if your local drive-in insisted this be the last show in their dusk till dawn extravaganza, or if it’s just plain unclassifiable – then I’ve seen it and probably loved it.   Now, I’m here to share these little gems with you, so you too can stare in disbelief at your television with your mouth dangling open.  Trust me, with these flicks, you won’t believe your eyes.

Godfrey Ho’s name rings out on the landscape of bad cinema like Gabby Hayes’s triangular dinner bell in one of John Ford’s Westerns – loud, annoying, and, when you get closer, stinking to high heaven.  He is a “master” of cinematic mash-ups, where several partially shot movies are combined with newly shot footage, then unleashed on an unsuspecting public.  Al Adamson was the original director who favored this method, giving viewers such gems as HORROR OF THE BLOOD MONSTERS (1970), DOCTOR DRACULA (1978), and BLOOD OF GHASTLY HORROR (1972).  In this new era of literary mash-ups, we’ve been offered classics by Jane Austen and Charlotte Bronte with new writing featuring SENSE AND SENSIBILITY AND SEA MONSTERS, LITTLE WOMEN WITH WEREWOLVES, and my new favorite, Ayn Rand’s ATLAS SHRUGGED WITH DEMOCRATS.  (Please don’t ask your local bookseller for this made-up title; they will punch you in the neck).  Godfrey Ho made his living off movie mash-ups.  In fact, the writer credited on most of his movies is AAV Creative unit, a conglomeration of Ho and his pals.  I think they had fifty words or so, and they combined them in different ways to get titles.  How else do you explain COBRA VS NINJA (1987), HITMAN THE COBRA (1987), INFERNO THUNDERBOLT (1986), and today’s messed-up, mashed-together SCORPION THUNDERBOLT (1988), which features neither a scorpion nor any kind of thunderbolt.  It does, however have witches, snake men, boobies galore, Richard Harrison as himself, hitchhiking assassins, and more nonsense than you can shake a MAJESTIC THUNDERBOLT (1985) at.

Our story (excuse me while I have a laughing fit) begins in an unknown Asian city where a blind man plays his flute in a creepy way, and a witch with some seriously long fingernails works some sort of spell, and a young woman works in an office.  The young woman is drawn by either the flute player or the witch, who is spanking several slices of bread on a table as someone plays voodoo drums , and she goes outside, where she is promptly assaulted by a man wearing makeup and flowers in his hair.  Then, some kind of snake thing attacks her, and, I guess, kills her, as the police suddenly appear to investigate her gory murder.  A young female reporter/photographer, Helen Hughes, pushes her way into the crime scene and takes pictures of the woman’s wounds, while the blind flute player lurks in the shadows.

The police have a meeting about the fourteen women who have been murdered, and one group decides to show a monster mask they figure will match the teeth marks on the body – a big snake man/sperm cell creature.

Helen Hughes gets a phone call while she’s jazzercising that says they have caught the murderer.  Cut to a crowd attacking a crazy man who acts like Jerry Lewis.  He climbs a tree and throws nuts at the doctors trying to get him to an asylum.  Helen offers him a kitty to eat, and he falls for it.  The docs throw a big net on him and they take him away.  Suddenly, a witch with long silvery fingernails is playing with snakes and eels while weird Theremin music plays (Jean Michel Jarre’s Oxygene!).  She orders her minions to find Richard Harrison and bring her his ring.

A hatchet-faced hitchhiking woman flashes Richard on the freeway, and he picks her up.  She says she’s an actress, and he wants to see her newest movie.  Luckily, the studio is open, and she gets him into a viewing booth where they see her newest opus, which mostly entails her being tied up and body-painted by a tiny Asian man.  “I’ve got to admit,” Richard Harrison says.  “You’ve got f****ing talent!”  Oh, Richard…how you have fallen!  This is even worse than EVIL SPAWN (1987).   Then again, Harrison made more than ten of these Godfrey Ho movies, so he had to know what he was getting into.  Suddenly, the hitcher is stripped naked, and they have sex in front of the movie, which is still playing the same scene, until she vomits orange and dies on top of him.  He screams, “Who sent you?”  She does not answer.  She is dead, Richard.

A young couple, Inspector Lee and his police-woman girlfriend (where did they come from?), are victims of a home invasion of a man Lee put away years ago.  Now, he’s out of jail and tying up the girlfriend and cutting off her clothes while laughing like Dwight Frye.  He injects her with something and the doorbell rings.  Inspector Lee breaks loose and a karate fight ensues while the woman hangs bleeding and naked and tripping like crazy, man.  Helen is at the door (how does she even know these cops?), and she cuts the policewoman down while the blind flute player plays his music outside.  And there goes the witch with her Theremin music again as the karate battle moves outside.

RIchard Harrison – Master of Kung Fu!

Three girls in an apartment are watching it through their window.  When the fighters move away, the girls dance wildly to disco music (which sounds suspiciously like Midnight Starr!) while disco lights throb.  Then, a rubber-suited snake man appears and kills them all.  I think we just moved into a different movie.  One with a particularly awful man in a suit monster, so bad that they had to Vaseline the lens up before showing the creature.

Then, we’re at a totally different place with Helen who has cats thrown at her by  production assistants.  She has a weird friend who has invaded her house.  She throws a birthday cake in his face, and he tries to rape her.  Flashback to the happy(?) couple frolicking on beaches to bad electronic music.  Wait, that friend is Inspector Lee.  How long have they known each other?  What the . . . oh never mind.

And there’s that damn flute player again, playing in a street full of prostitutes.  In a nearby building, more girls are discovered killed by the monster.  When the cops arrive, the hookers scatter like roaches when the light is turned on.  It’s Inspector Lee (I hope his girlfriend’s all right…nobody said anything).  It seems a woman has been tied up spread-eagled on the floor while a drunken ex-boyfriend shoots pool balls into her vajayjay.  Who are these people?  No idea.  But there’s Helen, untying the poor pool table chick.

Anyone for pool?

And now, we’re in a real disco where lots of people dance, the witch works her spells in her place, and Richard Harrison is attacked by his plumber while he’s doing shirtless push-ups!  Even sweaty, he can karate chop this guy into oblivion.  “Who sent you?  Tell me!”  The guy dies, I guess.

Next, inspector Lee takes Helen out to the woods shooting small adorable animals like bunnies!  They play cute for a while, falling in love in a bad montage of hunting and fishing.  Yep, that’s romance in a Godfrey Ho flick, people.  They are attacked by a ninja (probably from some other movie), but it’s really their criminal who got away going after Lee again.  How did he find them all the way out in the woods?

On their way back to the city, their car fills up with snakes.  They don’t notice at all, even when the little creatures are crawling all over them.  Lee reacts by admitting the snakes killed the car’s brakes and they crash into a culvert.  Luckily, snakes hate upside down cars, and Helen and Lee escape.

The blind flute player is interviewed on TV, and it turns out he is a night watchman (wait a minute!  How good can he be when he can’t even watch at all?)  Lee and Helen go to a sleazy hotel, where she freaks out in the hot springs and the snake monster is back in all his rubbery glory, tearing up the wait staff and other hot springs victims.  Obviously, the witch is controlling the eight foot tall snake man.  And now, Helen has disappeared!  Oh no, there she is on the bed, but she looks totally psychotic.

More assassins attack Richard Harrison for his ring.  He never seems to be wearing a shirt, and he seems to be just extraneous footage, nothing to do with the other plotlines . . . like the snake man and Helen and Lee and the escaped convict or the witch.  How many movies did Ho use in this one?

The cops reveal their model of the snake man!

And we’ve only hit the halfway point, folks!  Before the movie’s over, we’ll get Richard Harrison consulting his kung-fu master, a vampire witch in a red castle who is “thoroughly evil,” a golden sword and a mystical mirror, a fabulous confession scene, the Prince of Snakes vs. a family of redneck snake killers, some revolting mondo footage, some soft core outdoor sex scenes including snake sex, fingernail stabbings at orgies, a blue-haired ninja, and, yes, a kitchen sink scene!  And just what the heck does the blind night watchman have to do with anything and how’d he get up in that tree?

Does any of this make a lick of sense?  Nope.  Is any of it boring for even one second?  Oh, hell no!  This is one of the best flicks I have ever seen to show to a group of drinking buddies to prove how fun a lousy movie can be.  You ain’t seen nothing till you see a breastfeeding baby turn into a snake creature and chow down on Mommy.  Or Richard Harrison snapping thrift store ninja necks to electronic dance music.  Or an eight foot rubber snake monster flying through the tree tops attacking the entire police force.  And the final music during the end battle is stolen from the last scenes of RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK (1981)!

It seems Godfrey Ho pasted together pieces of a Taiwanese film, GRUDGE OF THE SLEEPWALKING WOMAN (1983) with another kung-fu flick and new scenes with Richard Harrison.  In the process, he created one of the wackiest movies ever to shoot its stain upon a drive-in movie screen.  The tone shifts constantly, from high camp humor to gory killings to sexy rom-com to violent kung-fu chaos, all atrociously dubbed.  Just after his hitchhiking trick pukes orange Julius on him, Richard Harrison asks, “What the hell does it mean?”  I couldn’t agree more!

Now, I need to watch more Godfrey Ho fiascos.  Maybe, ROBO-KICKBOXER (1992) or NINJA DEMON’S MASSACRE (1988) or THUNDER OF GIGANTIC SERPENT (1988) or NINJA THUNDERBOLT (1984).

For normal people, I give SCORPION THUNDERBOLT one snake monster out of four.

For sick souls like us, I give it three and a half shirtless Richard Harrisons out of four.

Unbelievable!

© Copyright 2012 by William D. Carl

THE MAN WITH THE IRON FISTS (2012)

Posted in 2012, Based on Classic Films, Campy Movies, Cinema Knife Fights, Exotic Locales, Fantasy, Gore!, Kung Fu!, Martial Arts with tags , , , , , , , on November 5, 2012 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: THE MAN WITH THE IRON FISTS (2012)
By Michael Arruda & L.L. Soares

(The Scene: A Chinese village.  On one side of the street stand warriors dressed as lions, and on the opposite side are warriors dressed like wolves.  Between them is a bordello, with beautiful Chinese women dancing in the windows.  On the bright red roof of the building, stand MICHAEL ARRUDA and L.L. SOARES.

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  It looks like a good battle tonight, between the heavily favored lions and the underdog wolves.

L.L. SOARES:  This sounds suspiciously like a sporting event.  I think I’ll pass.  (Starts climbing down the side of the building.)

MA:  Hey!  Where are you going?

LS:  Where do you think I’m going? (Below him, an attractive woman waves at LS, and he winks back).

MA:  You can’t leave!  We have a movie to review.

LS:  Well, let’s get started then.  I was ready before, but you started watching that skirmish down there.

MA:  It looks like a good contest, as long as the wolves don’t go taking their shirts off, that is.

LS (climbing back onto the roof):  That’ll happen in two weeks.  When we review the final TWILIGHT movie.

MA:  Don’t remind me!  (He shudders).  All right, let’s start this week’s review.

Today, we’re reviewing THE MAN WITH THE IRON FISTS (2012) a stylish action yarn directed by hip hopper RZA, who also co-wrote the script with Eli Roth, and stars in the lead role as well.

The story is narrated by the Blacksmith (RZA) who tells us he makes weapons for warriors so he can save enough money to run away from Jungle Village with the love of his life, Lady Silk (Jamie Chung).

When a warrior, Gold Lion (Kuan Tai Chen), leader of the Lion Clan, is betrayed and murdered by his right hand man Silver Lion (Byron Mann), Gold Lion’s son X-Blade (Rick Yune) vows to avenge his father’s death.  In killing Gold Lion, Silver Lion and his warriors also steal a treasure in gold, which Gold Lion had been protecting.  The Emperor wants his gold back, and dispatches an army to wipe out the Chinese village unless he gets it back.

LS: That’s actually a pretty good synopsis.

MA: Wait. I’m not done yet.  There’s more.

Meanwhile, the Wolf Clan wants the gold as well, and vows to defeat Silver Lion and his men.  All of this is good for business for Blacksmith, as he makes weapons for everyone and his grandmother.

LS: Kind of like how Toshiro Mifune worked for both sides of a gang war in old Japan in YOJIMBO (1961). But he had a much more devious plan in mind…

MA: A mysterious British soldier named Jack Knife (Russell Crowe), also descends on Jungle Village, and he may or not be working as an agent for the Emperor.  And when people come to this village, they all seem to stay at Madame Blossom’s (Lucy Liu) place, a brothel where the girls are more than just prostitutes.  You guessed it.  They’re warriors, too!

Silver Lion and his fellow felines seem to have the upper hand, as they have a secret weapon, a warrior known as Brass Body (Dave Bautista), a seemingly unstoppable killer who can cover his body with brass at will, and when he does so, he looks like a polished cousin of The Thing from the FANTASTIC FOUR.

LS (laughs): Yeah, he did kind of.

MA: Which warrior will win?  Who gets the gold?  And will Blacksmith survive all the fighting around him in order to escape with the girl of his dreams?  To find out, you’ll have to see the movie, but I can save you the trouble and tell you that the answers really aren’t all that compelling. You see, surprisingly, I found THE MAN WITH THE IRON FISTS to be a disappointment.

LS: You forgot to mention that at one point The Blacksmith gets half of his arms hacked off by the Lion Clan and he replaces them with iron hands. Don’t worry, it’s not a spoiler. It’s in the title! Man, those giant iron hands of his look kind of cool and goofy at the same time.

MA: I just couldn’t get into this movie.  While it did have a story to tell, unlike last week’s disaster SILENT HILL: REVELATION 3D, I found it to be a mediocre one at best, and while it was chock full of colorful characters with wild sounding names, these guys really didn’t do a whole lot.  As a result, I didn’t really know the characters all that well, and I would have to say that was my biggest disappointment with this one.

For example, Jack Knife (Russell Crowe) enjoys a very memorable and very cool introductory scene, where he tangles with a guy named Crazy Hippo.  I love that name, Crazy Hippo.  But then, that’s about it.  Jack Knife doesn’t really stand out in any other scenes.  He becomes, like the rest of the cast, just a character in a fight scene.  He’s not really a person.

LS: Yeah, Crazy Hippo is pretty funny. And I agree about Jack Knife. He has a terrific entrance, but nothing else he does lives up to it. Russell Crowe actually disturbed me a little in this movie. He looks bloated and old, nothing like the guy we enjoyed in movies like GLADIATOR (2000) and CINDERELLA MAN (2005). He used to be a buff tough-guy! Man, did he age quickly!

MA: We don’t know what motivates him, where he’s come from, or where he’s going.  He’s just there to fight.  When I first saw him, I thought of Clint Eastwood’s A Man With No Name, but he becomes the Man With No Storyline.

LS: Good point.

(A group of warriors suddenly comes up on the roof with them. They are dressed like wolves. The leader looks an awful lot like TAYLOR LAUTNER)

LAUTNER: So you guys love to make fun of me in your reviews of the TWILIGHT movies, huh? Well, here’s where you get yours.

LS: Don’t forget to take your shirt off, first. Wouldn’t want to get that thing dirty.

LAUTNER (takes off his shirt): Thanks for reminding me.

(Warriors attack, and MA and LS continue with their review as they fight them off)

MA: Similarly, X-Blade vows to avenge his father’s death, but then he disappears for the bulk of the movie.

Blacksmith (RZA) should be the driving force of this story, but he really isn’t.  He shares no chemistry with the love of his life, Lady Silk, and he’s missing any kind of passion as things grow more difficult for him.  The more he becomes involved with this deadly group of warriors and assassins, the worse things get for him and his plan to whisk his woman away, but you wouldn’t know it by watching him. He expresses about as much urgency to escape his troubles as a nail.  We don’t really see any emotion in him until the end, and that emotion— no surprise here— is anger, as he seeks vengeance against those who maimed him.

LS: Well, I think I can solve that particular mystery. RZA is a really talented guy, but acting isn’t one of his talents. As for his chemistry with Lady Silk, it’s nothing to do with her. He doesn’t really have chemistry with anyone.

MA:  Good point.

LS:  Look, with THE MAN WITH THE IRON FISTS, he shows us that he’s a director with potential. He just isn’t as promising as an actor. There are a few scenes, especially when he has his big showdown with Brass Body, when you just know he had a blast filming this stuff.  It’s like he finally gets the chance to be a superhero. But we don’t get to have as much fun, because his acting is pretty bad. He has one emotion throughout, which sometimes seems like solemn seriousness, but in the end just seems like he didn’t know what else to do with the character. His performance says “this is a serious guy,” but then, he’s got nothing else to say. I know it must have felt terrific to get to star in your first big movie as a director, but for the audience, we needed a lead actor with more dimension.

MA:  Maybe he should have hired Denzel Washington, although Denzel might be a little old for the role, I guess.

LS: Are you kidding? Denzel can do anything!

MA: THE MAN WITH THE IRON FISTS boasts three main characters—Blacksmith, Jack Knife, and X-Blade—who should be strong enough to carry an entire movie on their own, but they can’t even do it together.  These guys should be cool, but it turns out they’re too superficial for this to be the case.

Ultimately, then, the script by RZA and Eli Roth does this movie in.  It presents a somewhat interesting premise, a tale of warriors and assassins and a treasure of gold, but it isn’t fleshed out to the degree that it’s a solid, entertaining story.  I expected the gold to be fought over by a group of strong characters, but we hardly know these folks.  It makes their efforts that less interesting.

LS: Yep, the script isn’t very good. Of course, you can’t put all the blame on RZA for that. Eli Roth is a veteran at this stuff, and should have provided more pizazz to the proceedings. Roth knows how to write a good script, so the fact that he couldn’t beef this one up makes him look like the weak link here. He should have been able to enhance RZA’s ideas and concepts and turn this into a really kick-ass movie. As is, he kind of lets the guy down.

(LS and MA stop for a moment, to see that they have defeated all of the wolf warriors, who lay unmoving on the roof)

LS: That was easy.

MA: Yeah, I haven’t even worked up a sweat.

LS: As you were saying?

MA: There really aren’t any memorable lines either.  This one should have been better.

I did like the slick style of the action scenes here, and I thought RZA’s directorial effort was a good one.  If anything, THE MAN WITH THE IRON FISTS is fun to look at.  But without compelling characters, this one feels like one long music video, with lots of colorful characters putting on their moves for some polished choreographed fight sequences, but no one really saying or doing anything of interest.

LS: And that, ultimately, is the problem with the movie. RZA shows visual flare as a director. His action scenes are great. There’s a lot of interesting use of color. The fighting and the gore scenes look good. The non-action scenes aren’t as strong, but that feels more like the weakness of the script than RZA’s directing. It’s like he took on all of the responsibilities he could, and in the end, it just shows us what his strengths are, and what they aren’t.  But since his name is all over this movie, in the end, he’s the one who’s going to get most of the criticsm.

As a director, he’s got some promise. But he needs someone with a surer hand to write the scripts (clearly not Eli Roth, who I normally like a lot!), and he needs to leave the acting to the professionals.

But in the end, what is the goal here? In some ways, I felt like THE MAN WITH THE IRON FISTS was just trying to be a stylish homage to the old chop-socky grindhouse films of yore. The kinds of movies RZA grew up on and that clearly have influenced him throughout his career (the group of rappers he belongs to is called the Wu-Tang Clan, after all, after an old martial arts film), and as a homage to old school kung-fu movies, it kind of works. The thing is, it doesn’t strive to be anything more. Sure there are some fun scenes here, some great action, and a goofy, if tired, plot. But the fact that RZA shows potential as a director means he should have been able to give us a lot more than what’s on the screen, and it feels like he held back.

Ultimately, the biggest disappointment about THE MAN WITH THE IRON FISTS is that its director didn’t cut loose and give us something really spectacular. Hopefully, if he gets a chance to direct another movie, he’ll be more confident and really blow our minds.

(Suddenly, TAYLOR LAUTNER stirs and wakes up)

LAUTNER (raising his fist to the sky): Damn you critics! This was to be my moment of victory. Of revenge. And you robbed me of even that. Once again you have humiliated me and my pack…

(LS pushes him off the edge of the roof, and he falls onto the Lion Clan below. Who then take turns beating the crap out of him)

MA (looking down): Well, at least he didn’t get his shirt dirty.

Anyway, as you mentioned, THE MAN WITH THE IRON FISTS is not really an actor’s movie either.  The actors are here to fight, not to act, and as a result no one in this movie really stands out.  RZA certainly didn’t wow me as Blacksmith.  He seemed too reserved throughout this movie for a guy in his predicament.  Russell Crowe enjoyed a couple of good moments early on as Jack Knife, but later he too is reduced to a music video/video game persona.

Dave Bautista is somewhat memorable as Brass Body, but only because of the way he looks and the neat special effects which turn him into a shiny brass fighting machine, not because of his acting performance.

LS: I liked Brass Body a lot. But you’re right, he has just one emotion, like The Blacksmith. In a bad grindhouse movie, that’s fine. But this movie could have transcended that.

Brass Body (Dave Bautista) and the Blacksmith (RZA) battle it out in one of the movie’s highlights in THE MAN WITH THE IRON FISTS.

As for the women, their roles are pretty thankless, but I did like Lucy Liu as the bordello’s Madam Blossom. I almost always like her in these kinds of things. She’s pretty reliable. And she seems to be having fun. Jamie Chung is beautiful as Lady Silk, but she doesn’t have hardly anything to do. There are lots of other very pretty women in the bordello, but their just reduced to eye candy. The scene where the bunch of them fight back is a highlight, though.

MA: Yeah, but over all, this movie surprisingly lacked in the “cool” department.  I expected it to be cool with an edge, with either a bawdy sense of humor or in-your-face action sequences to drive it along, but the film has neither.  It’s nowhere near as hard-hitting as I expected.  Sure, there are a couple of gory scenes, but most of the violence is of the superficial variety, not all that realistic looking, and somewhat diminished by fake looking CGI blood.

LS: I am so tired of CGI blood! I want the texture and ooziness of old-fashioned Karo syrup! I’m sure the CGI stuff is so much easier to clean up, but man, does it look fake!

MA:  It really looks fake!  It either needs to be improved, or filmmakers should seriously consider not using it as an effect.

THE MAN WITH THE IRON FISTS is a stylish piece of eye candy that unfortunately has very little else to offer, other than its slick visuals.  Its story is mediocre, and its characters aren’t fleshed out, as they come off like music video characters, not movie characters, and as result, they aren’t there to back up the colorful shenanigans director RZA so smoothly splashes onto the screen.

I give it two knives.

LS: I pretty much agree on every level. This is a hopeful debut by director RZA, I just wish that the movie hadn’t played it safe and cranked up the volume.

I give it two knives as well. It’s not a horrible movie. But it’s not the balls-to-the-wall martial arts flick I was hoping for, either. It’s just kind of blah.

MA:  And blah is the right word, which for a movie like this, I find unbelievable.  How can a movie with characters named Jack Knife, X-Blade, and Crazy Hippo be blah?  Yet, it is.

LS:  In our Coming Attractions column, I said that the trailer made this movie look like a stylish martial arts flick like Tarantino’s KILL BILL movies. But that’s silly. The KILL BILL movies are so amazing, because Tarantino is one of the best directors alive, and he can make any genre of movie into something fantastic. RZA has got a real sense of style, but he’s no Tarantino.

Oh well, I had high hopes for this one, but the honest fact is, it’s a movie by a first-time director who needs more experience before he can give us something really worthwhile. But at least he’s on the right track. Hopefully, he can only get better.

(We can hear TAYLOR LAUTNER crying below as he gets the stuffing kicked out of him. His wails and sobbing get louder as we FADE TO BLACK)

-end-

© Copyright 2012 by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

Michael Arruda gives THE MAN WITH THE IRON FISTS ~ two knives!

LL Soares gives THE MAN WITH THE IRON FISTS ~two knives.

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 EXPENDABLES 2 (2012)

Posted in 2012, Action Movies, Buddy Movies, Cinema Knife Fights, Heroic Warriors, Jason Statham, Kung Fu!, Sequels, Sylvester Stallone! with tags , , , , , , , , on August 20, 2012 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: THE EXPENDABLES 2 (2012)
By Michael Arruda

(With Special Appearances by L.L. SOARES, PETE DUDAR, MARK ONSPAUGH, NICK CATO, DAN KEOHANE, JOHN HARVEY and COLLEEN WANGLUND.)

(The Scene: A beat-up military plane which has seen better days, flying low over a South American jungle. At the controls sits MICHAEL ARRUDA. Next to him with a cigar dangling from his mouth is L.L. SOARES.

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  We’ve reached our target. You’d better tell the rest of the team to be ready. It’s show time!

L.L. SOARES (bangs on door behind them):  Okay, people, look sharp!  We’re going in.

(CUE Dramatic military music. The door on the side of the plane opens. Into the doorway, wearing a parachute appears NICK CATO with his name superimposed on the screen in big bold letters. He leaps from plane. He’s followed by PETE DUDAR, MARK ONSPAUGH, DAN KEOHANE, JOHN HARVEY and COLLEEN WANGLUND, each with their names emblazoned on the screen and a dramatic beat of music as each makes their appearance. Finally, the camera settles on MICHAEL ARRUDA & L.L. SOARES as they prepare to bail, with their names also in massive letters on the screen, followed by the huge, larger-than-life title:

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHTERS

(End opening titles)

MA:  Say, there’s only one parachute left.

LS:  You don’t need no stinkin parachute!  (He grabs parachute and leaps from plane.)  Sucker!

MA:  Gee, thanks, you no good cigar-chomping critic!  (addresses camera)  Well, I guess this is it. It’s been a nice ride.

On the other hand, who says I have to go down?  This is a plane. It has landing gear. I’ll just find a nice spot to land, and I’ll be all set.

(Looks below to see thick forest and mountains everywhere.)

MA:  Well, who says I have to land here?  (looks at fuel gage which reads EMPTY.)    Would you believe this is a new-fangled electric plane with a long-life battery?  I didn’t think so. (flies over a large body of water). Would you believe this is a seaplane?  Actually, it is a seaplane!

(Crash-lands plane on water. Gets into a lifeboat and paddles towards shore.)

MA:  That wasn’t so bad after all. I’ll catch up with those guys eventually. In the meantime, I’ll review today’s movie, THE EXPENDABLES 2 (2012), Sylvester Stallone’s action-packed sequel to his 2010 summer hit, THE EXPENDABLES.

If you like thunderous explosions that’ll blow out your eardrums, and guns the size of cannons, then THE EXPENDABLES 2 is the movie for you. There’s so much testosterone in this one, they’ve called for a congressional hearing.

In THE EXPENDABLES 2, Sylvester Stallone returns as Barney Ross, the leader of a group of misfit mercenary soldiers known as The Expendables. The group includes Ross’s right hand man, Lee Christmas (Jason Statham), as well as Gunner (Dolph Lundgren), Yin Yang (Jet Li), Hale Caesar (Terry Crews), Toll Road (Randy Couture), and newcomer Bill The Kid (Liam Hemsworth of HUNGER GAMES fame, and younger brother of Thor—er, Chris Hemsworth).

Ross is once again hired by the mysterious Mr. Church (Bruce Willis), this time to locate a missing safe which contains extremely valuable contents. Church adds a new team member to Ross’s group, a safe expert named Maggie (Nan Yu.)

It’s supposed to be a routine caper, but—surprise! surprise!—before they can finish the job, the Expendables are intercepted by a force greater than their own, led by an evil villain named Vilain (Jean-Claude Van Damme). Vilain is one cold-hearted bastard, and after he forces Ross and his group to hand over the contents of the safe to him, he brutally kills one of Ross’s men.

Quicker than you can say “revenge,” the plot of the rest of the movie is set into motion, as Ross

and his team vow to avenge their friend’s death, get back the contents of the safe, which is valuable because it has to do with weapons-grade plutonium, and completely annihilate Vilain and his forces in the process.

But this is easier said than done. Vilain commands an entire army, and so Ross and company need some help along the way, and they get it from some old friends, Trench (Arnold Schwarzenegger) and Booker (Chuck Norris). Even the mysterious Church comes out of the woodwork to lend a hand, setting the stage for the massive concluding battle which puts Stallone, Schwarzenegger, Norris, and Willis together on the big screen in an eye-popping ear-splitting finale that is a dream come true for the 1980s action movie fan!

I have to admit, I really enjoyed THE EXPENDABLES 2. I enjoyed the original EXPENDABLES as well, but that one left me a bit disappointed. For all its collective action-star firepower, the action sequences in the first one weren’t that memorable, the plot was rather flat and silly, and the villain a dud. All of these items have been improved upon in the sequel.

The movie opens with a blast, as its riveting pre-credit action sequence is better than any of the action scenes in the original.

Stallone, who directed the first one, turned over the directing duties to Simon West this time around, and I think this was a good decision because the action scenes here have more oomph and are much more high octane than what we saw in the original.

(A speed boat pulls up next to MA, and it’s driven by SYLVESTER STALLONE.)

STALLONE:  Are you saying I’m too old to direct an action movie?

MA:  I don’t know if you’re too old, but this sequel does seem to have more energy about it.

STALLONE:  I’m not too old!  (He speeds away.)

MA:  If I had to guess, I’d say Stallone’s still got plenty of juice left to make movies like this, but nonetheless, director West does a nice job here.

THE EXPENDABLES 2 also has a better story than the original, a better script by Stallone and Richard Wenk, and better use of the film’s stars.

(STALLONE’s speed boat returns.)

STALLONE:  So, I’m not too old to write?

MA:  I never said you were too old.

STALLONE:  That’s good, because I don’t think I’m too old, if you know what I’m saying.

MA:  Yes, I know what you’re saying.

(STALLONE speeds away again.)

MA:  Where was I?  Oh yes. If you go see THE EXPENDABLES 2 to enjoy this collection of action stars do their thing, you won’t be disappointed as these guys all have generous screen time.

(MA reaches land. He ditches the life boat and begins walking through the jungle.)

MA:  It goes without saying that the impressive cast assembled here is a lot of fun, and the script seems to give each of them key moments to savor and enjoy.

Sylvester Stallone is still damned believable as an action star.

(Wielding a machine gun, STALLONE runs by MA).

STALLONE:  Glad to hear I’m not too old to act!

MA:  Not at all!  Even at your age, 66, you still look ripped.

STALLONE:  I’ll kick Van Damme’s ass!  (Disappears in jungle.)

MA:  Rocky is still going strong, and in his climactic bout vs. Van Damme, it’s believable that he could take everything that Van Damme dishes out.

Jason Statham is also enjoyable once again as Lee Christmas, though his screen time is slightly diminished here to make room for the extra time given to the other big name players. I like Statham a lot, and I’ve become a fan over the past several years. He and Stallone share an affable chemistry on screen, and they really do seem like friends.

Even Dolph Lundgren gets to enjoy some fun moments, as the story reveals that in spite of his size and brawn, he’s also a Fulbright scholar with an advanced science degree.

Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis both have more screen time than they had in the original, and they get to play a large part in the film’s explosive conclusion. They also get to poke fun at themselves. Schwarzenegger seems to say “I’ll be back” every time he has a line, and at one point Willis complains. “You’re always coming back. I’ll  be back!”  To which Schwarzenegger replies, “Yippee-ki-yay!”

Chuck Norris plays things straighter than Willis and Schwarzenegger, but still gets to enjoy some decent screen time. Nan Yu is also very good as newcomer Maggie.

But the best performance in the movie belongs to Jean-Claude Van Damme as Vilain.

Van Damme plays Vilain as one icy cold dude, and he’s one of the better screen villains I’ve seen in a while. He has to be. He’s up against nearly every 80s action star on the planet. It seems a bit unfair. As formidable as Van Damme is, the numbers are clearly stacked against him. Perhaps Stallone should have cast some 80s villains to team up with Van Damme to make things a bit more even.

Even so, Van Damme rocked, and he easily delivered the best performance in the movie. The intense hand-to-hand battle between Van Damme and Stallone during the film’s conclusion is worth the price of admission alone!

THE EXPENDABLES 2 won’t leave you feeling ripped off or cheated. It delivers the goods and then some.

In spite of its R rating, THE EXPENDABLES 2 is free of any “F-bombs” and the violence, while bloody, is strictly of the neat video game variety. It’s as unrealistic looking as it comes. The film as a whole has a larger-than-life comic book feel to it. Never once do you feel as if Stallone and his men are in danger. They shoot, their opponents die. The bad guys shoot, and Stallone and friends remain untouched. In fact, that’s how you can tell the difference between the good guys and the bad guys in this movie. The good guys hit everything they shoot at, while the bad guys can’t hit a damn thing!

I didn’t mind this though. It just added to the fun, in a Bugs Bunny sort of way.

THE EXPENDABLES 2 is a wildly entertaining thrill ride that doesn’t attempt to be anything more than what it is, an exciting action movie that’s full of gargantuan weapons, thunderous explosions, and larger than life characters.

It’s easily one of my favorite movies of the summer, and I give it three knives.

 

Hey, I’m finally here!

(Walks by a sign which reads “Welcome, Cinema Knife Fighters to GuerillaCon!”  Sees his fellow Cinema Knife Fighters sitting behind a table on a panel. The audience is comprised of men, women, and zombies dressed in military fatigues.

ZOMBIE raises his hand and stands up to ask a question.)

ZOMBIE:  As a zombie myself, I found the movie’s interpretation of zombies completely unrealistic. I don’t know where Romero got the idea that we can’t run!

SOLDIER IN AUDIENCE:  Who cares about that crap?  All we want to know is, how many heads get blown off in the movie?

MA:  Well, here’s where I say so long. Time for me to join the panel.

LS:  Hey, it’s Mike Arruda!  What took you so long?  What did you do?  Crash the plane or something?

MA:  As a matter of fact, I did.

LS:  You goober!  Didn’t you know it was on autopilot and programmed to land right outside this building?

MA:  Er— of course I knew. I just wanted to man up and rough it. This is a review of THE EXPENDABLES 2 after all. Autopilot?  Who needs an autopilot?

(Suddenly SYLVESTER STALLONE stands next to MA.)

STALLONE:  What’s the matter?  Too old to land a plane?

MA:  I made out okay.

STALLONE:  But the plane didn’t.

MA:  So, is there going to be an EXPENDABLES 3?

STALLONE:  Dunno. I’m not getting any younger. (smiles)

MA:  I hear Steven Seagal might be available—.

—END—

© Copyright 2012 by Michael Arruda

Michael Arruda gives THE EXPENDABLES 2 ~three knives.

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