Special Mission tells the story of the daring rescue of a princess in the Middle East by the King of Scorpions. The film also stars Yang Ming, Xu Jiawen, Guo Zhen and Si Li.
Special Mission is getting a domestic release on April 27, 2018, but here’s hoping for a U.S. release. On a related note, Fan Siu Wong will also be seen in Steven Seagal’s anticipated martial arts film, Attrition.
Without further ado, here’s the Trailer for Special Mission:
Director: Byun Sung-Hyun Writer: Byun Sung-Hyun Cast: Sol Kyung-Gu, Siwan, Kim Hee-Won, Jeon Hye-Jin, Lee Kyoung-Young, Jang In-Sub, Kim Sung-Oh, Choi Byung-Mo, Heo Jun-Ho, Kim Ji-Hoon Running Time: 120 min.
By Martin Sandison
Since its inception in the mid-90’s, the Korean noir genre just keeps producing gems. Movies such as Lee Chang-dong’s Green Fish, Kim Jee-woon’s A Bittersweet Life and Park Chan-wook’s Oldboy are a few of the all-time classics; twisting and subverting noir tropes such as the femme fatale, unique visual style and brutal violence. Director Byun Sung-hyun’s first foray into the genre, The Merciless, almost deserves to be in the same breath as the aforementioned films, with a breakneck, gripping narrative, innovative action, superb characterisation and a visual style that is both obtrusive and atmospheric in its aesthetic brilliance.
Jo Hyun-soo (Im Si-wan, The Attorney) is an undercover cop in a prison in Busan, investigating various gangsters. He becomes close to a fellow inmate, Han Jae-ho (Sol Kyung-gu, Public Enemy) and a dangerous game begins between the two as they emerge from prison to rule the underworld. Twisted loyalties, gang wars and brawls ensue, with chaotic results. Who will survive this insane narrative? Watch on to find out…
Byun’s earlier films have encompassed Hip Hop culture centered comedy (The Beat Goes On) and romantic comedy (Whatcha Wearin’?), so it’s surprising that he directs The Merciless with such a deft hand. Expertly balancing the action with character development, he makes a supremely intricate narrative understandable. The first half of the film shifts time frames constantly – if you don’t pay attention, you’re lost. I find this annoying in films, but the construction is so lovingly put together that I made an effort to follow everything and most of the time, I did.
Byun directs in such a way that the roving camera and editing style create a technique that draws attention to itself, but in a gloriously entertaining and powerful way. One long take during one of the expertly choreographed Korean-style brawls has the camera turn almost upside down, before turning all the way back round. I adore this kind of visual ingenuity, and the Koreans are the masters of it. The important fight in a prison cell between the two leads is a superb example of this; the action is impactful and gritty, but also lends itself to representation of character. We discover Han is the better fighter, and has the cooler head than his younger, hot-headed friend.
The performances from the two leads are truly mesmerising. Sol as Han demonstrates the complete control he has over his parts, and is no stranger to the genre, having appeared in movies such as Public Enemy and Public Enemy 3. Im is a relative newcomer to the genre, and is a very young man. His boyish good looks and easy charisma reminded me of a young Leslie Cheung, and the relationship of the two harks back to John Woo classics such as A Better Tomorrow. Their respect and loyalty to each other, as the narrative builds and builds, is tested to breaking point. This being Korean noir, the outlook on male relationships is much more ambiguous than Woo’s, with true friendship and loyalty replaced by layers of deception.
The Merciless score points for twisting the trope of the femme fatale. Usually a gangsters moll who leads the protagonist into the tangled web of the narrative, here Jeon Hye-jin’s policewoman is the most in control character, despite her having limited screen time. Peripheral characters are also memorable, not least a henchman who aswell as providing laughs is responsible for a pivotal plot point.
Han’s repeated phrase ‘Don’t trust people. Trust the circumstances.’, while being a little spoon fed as the movie progresses, is the movies mantra, and is borne out with the outrageous twists and turns of the plot. The movie moves at such a breakneck place that it is difficult to follow at times. Also a slightly predictable ending aside, The Merciless is unmissable.
Alan Yuen, the writer/director of the 2013 Andy Lau thriller Firestorm, is currently hard-at-work shooting The Rookies, which will feature Milla Jovovich (Resident Evil series, Ultraviolet, The Fifth Element).
According to Jovovich herself, her role is nothing more than a cameo: “So tired and totally jetlagged from our long flight, but really excited about shooting a cameo in my first Chinese movie called The Rookies in Budapest, Hungary!”
Updates: Has Jovovich’s “cameo” been upgraded to a co-starring role? That may be the deal, according to the film’s New Poster. The Rookies is getting a domestic release on December 21st, 2018. For now, here’s a look at the director’s previous film, Firestorm:
The team behind the film has decided to transform their $200 million sets into a theme park once they’ve finished shooting. After all, “an entire [Tang Dynasty] city with lakes, rivers, palaces, caves, glamorous buildings, and parks” were constructed (via TMS).
According to Variety, Legend of the Demon Cat sees a Chinese poet and a Japanese monk join forces to investigate the influence of a demonic cat, which has possessed a general’s wife, wreaked havoc on the royal court and killed legendary courtesan Yang Guifei. The film, originally presented under the title Kukai, is adapted from a bestselling four-volume novel about love, death and revenge by Yumemakura Baku.
Stunt coordinator-turned-director, James Mark (filmmaker behind 2017’s Kill Order aka Meza), is back in action with On the Ropes, an upcoming thriller that’s finding its way to DVD from Screen Media Entertainment.
While Japanese cinema in the 1990’s was already a far cry from its golden age, one of the best genres to come out of this era was that which would become known as V-Cinema. Kicked off by Toei’s 1989 feature Crime Hunter, this DTV brand of filmmaking catered to the fact that the vast majority of VHS rental store memberships were male. Even then Japan’s mainstream cinema was becoming more housewife orientated (still the largest demographic of Japanese cinema goers today), so the studios saw the DTV arena as the perfect platform to give guys what they wanted. This was of course – action movies, gangster flicks, and raunchy erotica. Made on small budgets and with lesser known stars than their big screen counterparts, you could say in some ways that V-Cinema was the Japanese equivalent of Cannon Films when they were in their prime.
Before long the other studios got in on the act with their own labels – Nikkatsu came up with the V-Feature line, while Japan Home Video branded their output the V-Movie range – but none stuck quite the way V-Cinema did, and over time Toei’s label came to encompass the entire DTV genre. Much like Philip Ko spent most of the 90’s directing action cheapies in the Philippines, so did many of the V-Cinema directors. No doubt discovering how much stuff could be blown up, cars crashed, and stuntmen thrown through windows for a fraction of the price in Japan, Manila soon found itself standing in (usually unconvincingly) for a number of locales.
Score is one such production, a 1995 entry into the V-Cinema cannon that hilariously wants us to believe that the streets of Manila are Las Vegas. It would be more convincing to pass off New York as the surface of the moon, but attention to detail is not what V-Cinema was about – as long as there’s gun fights, explosions, and manly posturing, those are the elements that count. Directed by V-Cinema specialist Atsushi Muroga, this is the guy that directed such entertaining slices of no frills action as the Okinawa set zombie flick Junk, and the Gun Crazy series cranked out in the early 00’s.
Let’s be clear, Score is completely derivative of almost every gangster and action movie which was popular at the time, but it barrels along with such a devil may care sense of energy, that it’s impossible not to enjoy. Framing itself as a kind of Reservoir Dogs if John Woo was at the helm, the plot focuses on a career thief serving a prison term in Nevada, who’s bailed out by his former employees in order to pull off one final heist. Backed into a corner, he agrees to do it along with three cohorts (all decked out in black suits and white shirts, naturally), after which they head to an abandoned factory to wait for the pickup and their payout. Matters get complicated though when a pair of loved up hitchhikers, who’ve been funding their adventures by murdering whoever gives them a ride (Natural Born Killers reference – check), show up to steal the loot for themselves.
The plot is pretty much rendered superfluous though, when it becomes clear the real goal here is an exercise in how many blood squibs can be used in 85 minutes. Muroga would use an identical setup for Junk (the only other of his movies I’ve seen) 5 years later, when after the initial heist of a jewellery store is completed, the rest plays out in the abandoned factory, which here serves as the backdrop for various double crosses and bloody shootouts. I mean our thieves white shirts remain that way for just a few minutes, quickly becoming soaked in blood that’s either their own, or someone they’ve pumped full of lead. The blood squibs in use here seem to impressively pack a few gallons of the stuff in, with guns shots sending buckets of the red stuff trailing through the air in slow motion. Muroga certainly likes his heroic bloodshed.
The John Woo influence isn’t only present in the gratuitous bullet riddled bodily harm though. Proceedings open with the protagonist of the piece, played by a stone faced Hitoshi Ozawa (Takashi Miike’s Dead or Alive and Agitator), being chased through the streets by a crossbow wielding assassin. Cue Hard Target inspired side-on shots of steel arrow heads gliding through the air, oh, and his character’s name is Chance, an obvious nod to Jean Claude Van Damme’s Chance Boudreaux (he even sports a matching mullet). Throw in one of Ozawa’s cohorts being called Tequila and the frequent freeze frames of characters in action, you’re left with a better homage to the John Woo aesthetic than many directors were attempting around the same time (Antoine Fuqua I’m looking at you).
Interestingly, the initial scenes with the serial killer hitchhikers, played by Kazuyoshi Ozawa (another Takashi Miike regular, with small roles in both Gozu and the more recent Shield of Straw) and Miyuki Takano (whose only film credit is Score), were actually filmed on location in Nevada. Outside of shooting a few shots on the road though, it appears that everything else (any by that I mean, anything resembling an action scene) was filmed in the Philippines. Ozawa’s character is an entertaining one, as he has an obsession with old westerns, referring to himself as Doc Holliday and Takano as his Clementine. He goes so far to even amusingly refer to the stolen jewellery as the Clantons.
While limiting so much of the runtime to the abandoned factory may sound dull, Muroga paces the tension with a skilled hand, with the ticking clock of (Hitoshi) Ozawa’s employee’s imminent arrival serving as a countdown to eliminate the threat of the loved up outlaws. As the lead, Ozawa feels like an equally important factor in Score’s success as Muroga. Not only is he the producer, but also the fight choreographer, and would himself step into the director’s chair for Score 2: The Big Fight, which would come 4 years later with many returning cast members (albeit in different roles). He may not be Japan’s answer to Chow Yun Fat, but the guy has a strong screen presence, and energetically throws himself around when it comes to the action. The final freeze frame, of Ozawa leaping into action with a handgun, pretty much feels like it sums up Score in a single frame.
Special mention also has to go to the bad guys of the piece, played by Takashi Ukaji (Zatoichi: The Last) and Hiroshi Miyasaka (Shall We Dance? – the original, not the Hollywood remake). Ukaji looks like an Anthony Wong clone of the same era (particularly the Full Contact look), and spends most of the time either laughing manically, or swatting away blonde floozies as if they’re an irritating fly. Miyasaka’s character is called Cobra, and when you see him you’ll immediately know why – he’s decked out like a Japanese version of Sylvester Stallone’s character in the 1986 movie of the same name (ok, minus the green nail varnish part). They make a formidable pair, and when Miyasaka turns up in the finale with a grenade launcher, you know good times are going to be had.
While V-Cinema would increasingly become a shadow of its former self as the years progressed towards the new millennium, with the tantalizing sleeves promising sex and violence rarely being a reflection of the movies contained within, when it was good, it was really good. These movies were never intended to be masterpieces, and while they were also arguably never intended to be as derivative as Score is, it can’t be denied that it’s a movie which ticks all the boxes of what V-Cinema was supposed to be. Bullets, explosions, and lines like “A bitch like you looks better with bullets in”, all combine to make a slice of entertaining B-movie goodness, that which only has the aspiration to keep you entertained for its duration. To that end, Score may not be your date night movie, but if you’re looking for a slice of Japanese machismo from a bygone era, you’re in the right place.
On July 17, 2018, Arrow Academy will be releasing the Blu-ray for Two Films By Hong Sangsoo, which includes Woman is the Future of Man and Tale of Cinema. Check out the official details below:
This collection brings together Women is the Future of Man and Tale of Cinema, the fifth and sixth films by Hong Sangsoo, the masterful South Korean filmmaker who has been favorably compared to that great French observer of human foibles, Eric Rohmer.
Women is the Future of Man tells of two long-time friends, a filmmaker (Kim Taewoo) and a teacher (Yoo Jitae), who have had an affair with the same woman (Sung Hyunah). The friends decide to meet the girl one more time and see what happens…
Tale of Cinema uses the trope of a film within a film to tell two stories, that of a depressive young man (Lee Kiwoo) who forms a suicide pact with a friend (Uhm Jiwon); and the tale of a filmmaker (Kim Sangkyung) who sees see a film that he believes was based on his life, and who meets the actress from the film with view to turning their onscreen relationship into reality.
With these critically-acclaimed films, presented here in High Definition for the first time with a wealth of extras, Hong Sangsoo employs his idiosyncratic, measured style to create two compelling and truthful tapestries of human emotion and behaviour.
High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation
Original 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
Newly translated optional English subtitles
Newly filmed introductions to both films by Asian cinema expert Tony Rayns
Interviews with Kim Sangkyung, Lee Kiwoo and Uhm Jiwon, the stars of Tale of Cinema
Introduction to Woman is the Future of Man by director Martin Scorsese
The Making 0f Woman is the Future of Man, a featurette on the film s production
Interviews with the actors of Woman is the Future of Man
Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Scott Saslow
First Pressing Only: Illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the films by Michael Sicinski
We’ll soon see Steven Seagal (Above the Law) kicking some ass in Attrition, a Kurosawa-esque project that Seagal wrote years ago. At once point, Seagal was attached to helm the project (it would have been his first directing gig since 1994’s On Deadly Ground, 22 years ago), but directorial duties were switched over to Mathieu Weschler, the filmmaker behind Covert Operation (aka The Borderland).
Attrition is said to be about Axe (Seagal), a warrior who’s in search of a missing Thai girl who possesses mythical powers. “I’ve written something called Attrition, which kind of reminds me of a [Akira] Kurosawa movie. I’m hoping to make that soon, maybe in China, maybe in Hong Kong, maybe in Thailand. We’ve got a lot of great offers out there. We’re going to be getting real busy this year,” Seagal told JoBlo in 2015.
Today’s Deal on fire is the Blu-ray for the Jean-Claude Van Damme-less sequel to 1993’s Hard Target.
Martial arts star Scott Adkins (Accident Man) fills Van Damme’s shoes for the sequel; and filmmaker Roel Reiné (Death Race 2-3) takes over directing duties for renowned Hong Kong filmmaker, John Woo.
Hard Target 2 (read our review) also stars Robert Knepper (Prison Break), Rhona Mitra (Shooter), Ann Truong (Sonnigsburg), Temuera Morrison (Green Lantern), Adam Saunders (A Heartbeat Away), Jamie Timony (The Hunter), Peter Hardy (Chopper), Sean Keenan (Lockie Leonard), Sahajak Boonthanakit (Zero Tolerance), Patrick Kazu Tang (Dragonwolf), Anteo Quintavalle (D is for Detroit) and Yanin Vismitananda (Chocolate).
According to THR, Boss Level centers on a retired U.S. Army Special Forces veteran (Grillo) trapped in a never-ending loop, resulting in his death every day. In order to stop his endless suffering, he must figure out who is responsible and stop them. The film also stars Naomi Watts (The Ring), Ken Jeong (The Hangover), Annabelle Wallis (Sword of Vengeance) and Meadow Williams (The Mask).
Boss Level is currently in production. Stay tuned for more updates!
After two years away on business, Mr. Ueki returns home on a ship from Hong Kong to meet his family at the Yokohama pier. None of his business partners are there to meet him and the family thinks this suspicious. After a day of catching up with his loved ones, Mr. Ueki receives a phone call to meet his business partners about the next job and takes off for a night of drinking. Then he doesn’t come home. Curious, after two years apart to now have her father disappear in the night, the man’s daughter Keiko (Kazuko Yoshiyuki) goes off in search for him the next day only to find a mystery awaiting her.
The Sleeping Beast Within is straight up Hitchcockian. There’s a missing man, a murder mystery, a drug trade, a scarred villain, and a religious cult that operates in the shadows. It’s a lot of movie for 87 minutes and it is one much more interested in plot than character development. Joining Keiko on her search for Papa Ueki is her boyfriend, the investigative journalist Shotaro (Hiroyuki Nagato). At first I found the reporter rather dull, because he essentially acts as the audience’s eye, peering into shadows, looking for clues. But things get more interesting the more he learns, as he begins to question whether he must draw a line between helping Keiko and writing a truthful story even if it wounds her.
What makes The Sleeping Beast Within a fun mystery movie is that it solves is central question fairly early and that only deepens the mystery at the film’s core. Papa Ueki, who had dropped clues for his family on the night of his disappearance, suddenly just shows up one day like there was nothing wrong. He laughs at his family for ever thinking something sinister was afoot and assures them that he only disappeared on a drunken whim. But Shotaro, invited into this by the girl he loves, senses there’s more to the story and keeps digging, ultimately shining a spotlight on Papa Ueki that doesn’t make the man look very good, and in turn draws conflicted emotions out of Keiko.
Director Seijun Suzuki (Eight Hours of Terror) and writer Ichiro Ikeda (Red Pier) make their mystery all the more interesting by having these dark discoveries play out with normal, suburbanite people. The plot plays like Hitchcock, but the themes of darkness visited upon the ordinary remind one of David Lynch. It’s unpredictable, yet never feels overly contrived (a religious cult in the plot is kind of goofy but even this has a satisfying conclusion).
I enjoyed time with the daughter Keiko far more than the reporter Shotaro. Kazuko Yoshiyuki (Departures) is very good at selling her conflicted emotions about her father. This is one of her earliest roles. She would go onto become one of Japan’s most popular veteran actresses. Hiroyuki Nagato (Shinjuku Incident) is good as Shotaro but he has less to work with in the more passive hero role. Shinsuke Ashida (Red Angel) as Papa Ueki may remind modern viewers of a certain father from a certain AMC series about a man in the drug trade.
Shot in beautiful noirish black and white and scripted without a dull moment, The Sleeping Beast Within is a perfectly entertaining mystery movie about the people we think we know and the dangerous webs we didn’t know we were caught in just by knowing them. Fans of Suzuki’s action movies may not find what they’re looking for here but those in the mood for a classic thriller won’t be disappointed.
Today’s Deal on Fire is the Blu-ray set for the Chuck Norris Total Attack Pack. This 3 disc collection includes three of Chuck Norris’ (Yellow Faced Tiger) most acclaimed films, including an early one by filmmaker Andrew Davis (The Fugitive, Under Siege):
1983’s Lone Wolf McQuade, starring David Carradine; 1985’s Code of Silence (read our review), starring Henry Silva; and 1986’s The Delta Force, starring Lee Marvin (The Dirty Dozen), Robert Forster (Jackie Brown) and Steve James (American Ninja).
Buffalo Boys will reunite Wiluan with Headshot cohorts Sunny Pang (The Night Comes for Us) and Zack Lee (The Raid 2). The film stars Ario Bayu (Macabre), Tio Pakusadewo (The Raid 2), Pevita Eileen Pearce (Single), Happy Salma (Capres), Donny Damara (2014), Mikha Tambayong (Fallin’ in Love) and El Manik (Carok), with action choreography by Kazu Patrick Tang (Hard Target 2).
Updates: Look out for Buffalo Boys later this year. For now, here’s the film’s Trailer:
On July 17, 2018, Shout! Factory will be releasing the Blu-ray & DVD for The Housemaid, an acclaimed Vietnamese horror movie from director Derek Nguyen.
Vietnam, 1953: Linh (Nhung Kate), a poor, orphaned young woman, finds employment as a housemaid in a crumbling rubber plantation presided over by the emotionally fragile French officer Sebastien Laurent (Jean-Michel Richaud). Soon, a torrid love affair develops between the two — a taboo romance that rouses the ghost of Laurent’s dead wife, who won’t rest until blood flows.
Submerged in moody Gothic atmosphere, this stylish supernatural saga confronts the dark shadows of Vietnam’s colonial past while delivering heart-stopping scares.
When director Ryuhei Kitamura hit the scene in 2000 with his low budget zombie kung fu hybrid, Versus, critics were quick to announce the arrival of a new talent on the Japanese movie scene, and it was easy to see why. Versus had a certain energy about it that belied its humble budget, and it was great to see Japan once again returning to the fight movies that guys like Sonny Chiba and Yasuaki Kurata had made famous during the 70’s.
However, given access to bigger budgets and brought into the fold of the Japanese studio system, Kitamura seemed to lose his creative voice in the movies that came out after, whether it be mis-fires like Alive, or trying to put his own spin on one of Japan’s most recognizable icons with Godzilla: Final Wars. In the late 2000’s he decided to leave Japanese shores and head to the US, during which time he made Midnight Meat Train and No One Lives, both serviceable horror thrillers, before finally returning once again to Japan with the 2014 release of Lupin the Third.
But now Kitamura is back in full-on Midnight Meat Train/No One Lives mode with an upcoming, English-language horror flick titled Downrange, which is being described as “a minimalist thriller with maximum tension.”
Downrange stars Kelly Connaire, Stephanie Pearson, Rod Hernandez-Farella, Anthony Kirlew, Alexa Yeames and Jason Tobias. It’s penned by Joey O’Bryan, who is known for writing Fulltime Killer and co-writing the upcoming martial arts extravaganza Triple Threat.
According to AITH, here’s what you can expect from the film’s plot: Six college students who are carpooling cross-country when one of their tires blows out on a desolate stretch of country road. Getting out to fix the flat, they quickly discover that this was no accident. The tire was shot out. With their vehicle incapacitated, the group is pinned down and mercilessly attacked by an unseen assailant as they desperately attempt to find a way to escape.
Downrange will be premiering exclusively on Shudder April 26th. As always, we’ll keep you updated as we hear more. Be sure to also read about Doorman, Kitamura’s upcoming actioner starring Katie Holmes (Disturbing Behavior) and Jean Reno (The Adventurers).
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