Archive for geisha of gore

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 (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 (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.


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.


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

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

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.


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!


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.


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

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:
By Colleen Wanglund

Everybody was kung fu fighting…..including the dead… 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 Takes On BATTLE ROYALE (2000)

Posted in 2012, Bad Situations, Colleen Wanglund Reviews, Controverisal Films, Cult Movies, Dystopian Futures, Geisha of Gore Reviews, Japanese Cinema, VIOLENCE! with tags , , , , , on February 29, 2012 by knifefighter

By Colleen Wanglund

Imagine, if you will, being a high school student on a bus for a class trip, only to wake up on a deserted island and told you now had to kill your fellow students. That is the premise of the 2000 film BATTLE ROYALE. Directed by Kinji Fukasaku, BATTLE ROYALE is based on a1999 novel of the same name by Koushun Takami. On March 20th of this year the film will finally be released on DVD/Blu-ray in North America….YAY! A quick bit of trivia—Kinji Fukasaku directed the Japanese scenes in the WWII movie TORA! TORA! TORA! (1970).

“At the dawn of the millennium, the nation collapsed. At fifteen percent unemployment, ten million were out of work. 800,000 students boycotted school. The adults lost confidence and, fearing the youth, eventually passed the Millennium Educational Reform Act, AKA the BR Act…”

BATTLE ROYALE takes place in an alternate-reality Japan. Shuya Nanahara (Tatsuya Fujiwara) is a high school student struggling to maintain some semblance of a normal life after his father’s suicide. It is the end of the school year and the class of 40 students is returning from a field trip. At some point the students are gassed and the bus is diverted to an evacuated island for the purpose of participating in the annual “game.” The class is awakened by their former teacher Kitano (played by the wonderfully quirky “Beat” Takeshi Kitano), surrounded by soldiers and informed of their situation. They have also been fitted with collars that will explode if the kids try to remove them….or if more than one has survived by the end of the game. The students are shown an orientation video that looks more like an MTV video, complete with a cute pop star-like young woman. The students have three days to kill or be killed and only one student is allowed to leave the island alive. Some of the kids rebel or refuse to participate, but they are dealt with immediately. In one instance they are provided with a demonstration of the collar’s effectiveness (ironically it is used on a student who had stabbed Kitano a year before, causing him to retire).

Along with two additional participants, Kawada (Taro Yamamoto) and Kiriyama (Masanobu Ando), the students are sent out at sixty second intervals with their personal possessions and a pack containing basic supplies and one other item. That additional item is either an obvious weapon or something that may prove to be a weapon. The first night sees many deaths among the kids, including a few suicides. Every six hours Kitano broadcasts a list of the dead over the island’s PA system, as well as the times and locations of “death zones”—areas that will cause the students’ collars to detonate if they are found to be in the zones. The collars also serve as tracking devices and they stop sending a signal when a teen wearing one dies.

Shuya has promised to protect Noriko (Aki Maeda) and they manage to successfully stay alive by hiding and staying out the way of the others. The two run into Kawada, who helps them out by giving them shelter in an abandoned house and tending to Noriko’s wounds. They spend a good amount of time talking and Kawada tells the teens that he is, in fact a survivor from a previous year’s battle. His wish was to survive again but get revenge on those who caused the death of the girl he loved. The house is eventually attacked and the three are separated, with Shuya being badly wounded. Shuya is taken to a lighthouse where a group of girls is hiding, but fear and mistrust get the better of them.

While all of this is going on, we are given glimpses of Mistsuko Souma (Kou Shibasaki), a student who proves to be one of the most dangerous players in the game, as is with Kiriyama. Mitsuko is the popular girl with the exclusive clique among the class but here on the island she has become a cold assassin, willing to kill anyone to get off the island. It is eventually revealed that Kiriyama volunteered for the battle because he thought it would be fun. He is as ruthless as Mitsuko. Meanwhile another student, Shinji Mimura (Takashi Tsukamoto) and two of his friends have a plan to hack into the military’s computers and blow up their compound on the island, effectively starting a revolution. Part of Mimura’s plan is successful, but not all. Shuya, Noriko and Kawada arrive at Mimura’s hiding spot too late to help them. Now they are on their own again, determined to leave the island together. Who ultimately will win the BATTLE ROYALE?

Okay, the first thing I love about this movie is that it stars Beat Takeshi. The man is amazing. He’s a director, actor, poet, television personality, screen writer, comedian, singer, painter and author. His movies are offbeat and Takeshi has developed quite a cult following both in and outside of Japan. He is a professor and owns his own talent agency and production company. The man is a dynamo. His biggest commercial success was his portrayal of the blind swordsman in ZATOICHI (2003).

….Sorry, back to the movie…..

BATTLE ROYALE, a dystopian parallel universe that condones teens committing violence against each other. It’s also a social commentary on how the younger generation seems to be turning its back on tradition. They no longer have the respect for their elders that previous generations had. We see this in the phone calls between Kitano and his daughter, although this is probably found most blatantly in the character Mitsuko. She is most assuredly self-centered and that is ultimately what makes her so dangerous. While we are given only glimpses into the teens’ characters prior to the battle, it is clear that Mitsuko is a bully. When she does finally meet her match, it is at the hands of someone who is just like her.

BATTLE ROYALE has not been released in the U.S. until this year, possibly due to comparisons with the Columbine tragedy. But note that this year also gives us the release of the similarly-themed HUNGER GAMES.

That said, the strongest characters in the film are the teens who do care about others. Shuya and Noriko manage to survive until the third day. They have taken care of each other and Shuya would probably die rather than allow that to happen to Noriko. So the message isn’t all bad. There is hope for redemption for this generation of teens.

When BATTLE ROYALE opened in Japan, it was a box office success, despite being given a rarely used rating of R15 (no one under the age of 15 admitted). While the graphic violence against teens seems exploitative, there is clearly a message of disillusionment with society in general, as well as a fear of the destruction of civil order. After all, it isn’t only that the kids are forced to kill each other off in a “SURVIVOR-with-weapons” scenario. It is the fact that adults distrust and dislike the teens so much that they force them into the battle for their very lives. They are given the ultimate punishment for defying their elders. BATTLE ROYALE is Darwinism at its dirtiest….only the most murderous will survive. It can also be considered an allegory on the competitiveness in Japan—both in school and in the workforce. At some point every society begins to fracture. BATTLE ROYALE shows us the extreme.

BATTLE ROYALE is, in my opinion, a good movie. The screenplay hits some of the points made in the book, although in a more exploitative way. There is quite a bit of violence and the SFX guys did a fantastic job but, considering the material, it is far from gratuitous. The young cast does a great job, especially Tatsuya Fujiwara as Shuya (who also starred in the DEATH NOTE films), and the main characters are fairly relatable. BATTLE ROYALE created a stir in Japan’s Parliament due to its violence but it is a memorable film for anyone who has seen it, and I highly recommend it.

© Copyright 2012 by Colleen Wanglund

Geisha of Gore Review: DEMON WARRIORS (2007)

Posted in 2012, Art Movies, Asian Horror, Colleen Wanglund Reviews, Demons, Foreign Films, Geisha of Gore Reviews with tags , , , , on January 24, 2012 by knifefighter

By Colleen Wanglund

When I say “religious-based horror” what do you think of?  In Western horror, it’s usually movies like THE EXORCIST (1973), THE OMEN (1976) and ROSEMARY’S BABY (1968).   In Thailand, one of the predominant religions is Buddhism, and that is the basis for the 2007 movie DEMON WARRIORS.

Written and directed by Thanakorn Pongsuwan (and co-written by Yutnathorn Kaewthong) DEMON WARRIORS (or OPAPATIKA in Thai), tells the story of a battle that breaks out between humans and the opapatika.  A narrator explains that in the Buddhist tradition there are three types of natural birth.  One is sangsethaca, in which life comes out of rot and decay, like worms and maggots.  The second is anthaca which is birth from an egg.  The third is chalaphucha where life comes from the womb, like humans and animals.  There is a fourth, but unnatural, birth called the opapatika which can only occur through suicide.  These opapatika, or demons, are supernatural beings with un-human-like powers.  It is also explained that there is a price to pay for these powers, because suicide is a sin.

Techit (Leo Putt) is a private detective investigating the demons.  He is turned into an opapatika by Sadok (Nirut Sirichanya), who employs Techit to find four particular demons.  Techit is assisted by Thuwachit (Pongpat Wachirabanjong), Sadok’s human henchman (and the narrator).  The two are sent out with armed mercenaries to find the four particular demons and bring them to Sadok.  Techit is also told to follow a woman named Pran (Khemupsorn Sirisukha), whom the opapakitas seem to be drawn to.

The four opapakitas that Sadok wants brought to him are very powerful.  Paison (Shahkrit Yamnarm) is an assassin who is scarred with the lethal wounds he inflicts on others.  Ramil (Athip Nana) is an adrenaline junkie who can project a powerful and deadly spirit to do his bidding.  Arut (Ray MacDonald) is an invincible and ruthless fighter at night, but is weak during the day and has no memory of what he did the night before.  Finally there is Jirat (Somchai Kemglad) who is immortal, but he considers this a curse.

Techit and Thuwachit, along with many paramilitary types, spend a good deal of the movie tracking down the opapatikas and trying to subdue them.  That isn’t so easy.  We also eventually discover that Sadok is rotting away and will die very soon.  He needs to feed on the hearts of the opapatikas to prevent his death and give him their individual powers.  The woman Pran—who may be a demon—seems to be attempting to talk Jirat and Paison into giving themselves up, with the promise of relief from their suffering.  There are flashbacks to Paison’s life before his suicide and they include his wife’s rape and murder.  Consumed with a need for revenge, Paison killed himself to gain the power to exact that revenge.  This also has allowed him to fall in love with Pran and protect her.  Pran is seen with Jirat many times but he doesn’t trust her.  Jirat thinks something is not right about Pran and tries to warn the others.

Each of the opapatikas gains a super power when they die, but, as I mentioned earlier, there is a price to pay for that power.  The opapatikas, with the exception of Jirat, can be killed by other opapatika.  They also discover that they still suffer the grief that led them to commit suicide and seek out their present plane of existence.  In addition to this suffering, there are consequences to using their power.  Techit’s power is intuition, or reading minds.  Every time he reads someone’s mind, however, he loses one of his five human senses.  Arut, as stated earlier, is an unstoppable fighter when the sun sets but is weak during the day.  And whenever Ramil sends out his monstrous spirit, he becomes physically uglier.

While DEMON WARRIORS has an interesting story, I have major issues with its execution.  As far as the characters go, the only one who has any depth is Paison.  We see bits of his past and what spurred his choice of suicide in the first place.  We know nothing of the other opapatika, except the prices they pay for their strengths.  We don’t even know why Techit became an opapatika.  There is a brief exchange between Techit and Sadok where the detective tells Sadok that he’ll hunt down the other opapatikas as long as Techit gets what he wants….but what does he want?  We don’t know.  Later in the film, Sadok tells Jirat that he envied his gift of immortality.  We are also told that Jirat has no memory of a life prior to becoming a demon.  Was he more than just a man who committed suicide?  No idea but that could have made for an even more interesting story.  Why did the others commit suicide to become demons?  We are never informed.  The characters, for the most part are flat.  Jirat gets a bit intriguing for the pain that his immortality causes him, but even that fails epically.

During the same early conversation between Techit and Sadok we are informed that no human can kill an opapatika.  So why send all of those mercenaries to their deaths?  There are a massive amount of bloody deaths in this film, but it crosses the line into overkill.  I love a good fight scene, but after a while they just become tedious exercises in wasting time.  The fight scenes and wild shoot-outs are effectively pointless, since the human mercenaries cannot do any real harm to the demons.  And what a huge waste of money for Sadok, who must pay to arm them!  It’s just silly.

I also had an issue with the portrayal of the opapatikas.  They were dead but could still interact with the corporeal world around them.  They could be seen by others as regular humans and even have sex, and yet there never seemed to be anyone around when the fighting was going on.  And what about other opapatika?  Surely there are others….aren’t there?  If it is in fact a parallel existence then how could Paison be an assassin-for-hire and Ramil be involved in drag races?   The demons can kill humans and yet there is no real physical distinction being made.   There was some confusion, as well, when it came to Techit.  If he used his mind reading power he would lose his five senses, one at a time.  Techit lost his hearing first, but I didn’t see where this was detrimental to him.  Even when he supposedly lost his sight, he didn’t remotely seem blind.  What was up with that?  Karma may be a bitch but in this flick she’s a pussycat.

Then there is the character Pran.  We do ultimately find out who this woman really is, but for most of the movie we, as well as the opapatika are clueless.  She spouts a lot of philosophy in her quest to get the demons to work together for….what?  She promises relief from their painful existence, but what does this relief entail?  Paison has projected his feelings for his dead wife onto Pran and wants to protect her.  Jirat finally tells them not to trust her, but it’s too late.  Pran, like most of the characters in DEMON WARRIORS is two-dimentional.  There is no substance what-so-ever.

I had anticipated a decent movie when I started watching, but I ended up bored and unimpressed.  DEMON WARRIORS was a mess, in my opinion.  It ran too long, used fight sequences too often, left far too many loose ends and didn’t use special effects very effectively.  I also found it far too preachy on the subject of suicide.  Of course it’s a bad thing, but the movie tries too hard to hit you over the head with its message.  DEMON WARRIORS is rambling and muddy.   I wasted an hour and forty-five minutes of my time so you won’t have to waste yours.

© Copyright 2011 by Colleen Wanglund

The Geisha of Gore’s BEST OF 2011

Posted in 2011, Asian Horror, Best Of Lists, Colleen Wanglund Reviews, Geisha of Gore Reviews, Superheroes with tags , , , , , , on January 4, 2012 by knifefighter

The Geisha’s Best of 2011
By Colleen Wanglund, “The Geisha of Gore”

I write about movies, but I don’t see very many new releases each year.  Usually when I go to the movies I see old movies playing in revival houses.  This year alone I’ve seen H.G. Lewis’s THE WIZARD OF GORE (1970), Alejandro Jodorowsky’s EL TOPO (1970) and THE HOLY MOUNTAIN (1973), and Frank Henenlotter’s FRANKENHOOKER (1990) and BASKET CASE (1982), among others, all on the big screen in various theaters around my neck of the woods.  I did manage to see a few new releases, but my list for The Best of 2011 will be a short one.

In no particular order, my favorite movies of 2011 are:

THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE 2 (FULL SEQUENCE)—(October 2011) Written and directed by Tom Six and starring Laurence R. Harvey, this flick blew me away.  It was far darker and gorier than the original and had me laughing at some very weird and disgusting moments.  I love torture porn (though not the term) although I generally don’t like sequels.  Let’s just say that like the Grinch, my heart grew three times that day.

I SAW THE DEVIL—(March 2011; DVD/Blu-ray May 2011)  Directed by Jee-woon Kim and starring Byung-hun Lee and Min-sik Choi, I SAW THE DEVIL tells the story of a serial killer and the secret agent who chases after him to get revenge for the death of his fiancé.  This is a brilliantly done psychological twister of a film.

THE LAST CIRCUS—(August 2011) From Spain, this movie was intense and bizarre.  It is about a weird love triangle involving two clowns and an aerialist in a run-down circus set against the last failing years of the Franco regime.  Not for the squeamish, THE LAST CIRCUS keeps up its frenetic pace until the unpredictable and “Holy Crap!” ending.

HELLDRIVER—(world premiere 2010; DVD/Blu-ray December 2011) I got to see the New York premiere at the Japan Society with my daughter in April, and we had a blast.  HELLDRIVER is the kind of horror/comedy that I love.  Full of original zombies and lots of gore, this is a Special Effects feast for the eyes from Yoshihiro Nishimura and Sushi Typhoon.

THOR—(May 2011) I’ve seen some pretty craptastic superhero movies—CAPTAIN AMERICA (1979), JUDGE DREDD (1995), HULK (2003), and DAREDEVIL (2003)—but I really liked THOR.  Starring Australian hottie Chris Hemsworth and directed by the Shakespeare-obsessed Kenneth Branagh, THOR turned out to be a really good comic book movie.  The origin story was handled well and there was a lot of action.  It didn’t try to do too much, which some other comic book movies have done in the past.  It kept things simple but entertaining.

Honorable Mention goes to THE TWILIGHT SAGA: BREAKING DAWN PART 1 (November 2011)….just kidding!  I couldn’t resist.  Hell, it’s not even really a horror movie.

© Copyright 2011 by Colleen Wanglund