After decades of muscle-bound mayhem, Arnold Schwarzenegger (Maggie) still continues to pump out the goods in a consistent manner. In addition to a couple of upcoming films – Aftermath, an airline disaster flick based on a true story, as well as Why We’re Killing Gunther, an action-comedy where Arnie plays the title character – the legendary star just wrapped up scenes with Jackie Chan for Viy 2: A Journey to China, a Sino-Russian co-production that he (and Jackie) are making a cameo appearance in. But wait, there’s more…
According to CFI, the ex-governor of California recently announced that he will star in The Guest of Sanxingdui, a USD 200 million period project that’s being described as a “Chinese historical epic.” The title refers to the ancient ruins in China’s southwest Sichuan province where the film will be partially shot.
Production for Guest of Sanxingdui is set to begin in March 2017 for an expected 2019 release. Further details on The Guest of Sanxingdui are scarce (there are rumors suggesting that Jackie Chan may star as well), but as soon we learn more, we’ll fill you in.
Hopefully The Guest of Sanxingdui will put Schwarzenegger in the mood to finally proceed with the long-awaited, 3rd Conan movie, which is currently stuck in development. Stay tuned!
It’s long been my opinion that every great filmmaker should try their hand at horror at least once over the course of their career. Horror directors sometimes repeat some of the same themes, the same scares, the same monsters, and it takes an outsider to bring something fresh to the genre every once in a while. Examples: Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later, Kathryn Bigelow’s Near Dark, Richard Donner’s The Omen, Jonathan Demme’s The Silence of the Lambs, and so on and so forth. Taking a break from his politically charged sagas that addressed some of Japan’s sins, director Masaki Kobayashi decided to adapt a collection of ghost stories for the anthology film Kwaidan, and in the process ended up making one of the most artistic and beautiful films of all time.
Adapted from stories written by Greek expat Lafcadio Hearn, Kwaidan is four different, totally unconnected ghost stories set in Japan’s past. Though none of them are scary in the typical sense, they’re all spooky stories about the spirit world coming into contact with the world of man. “Kwaidan” means “ghost story,” and not necessarily “horror story.” I think this might make it a difficult film to pin down for some Western viewers who may feel that it is not frightening or violent enough for the horror shelf.
The first story, The Black Hair, stars Rentaro Mikuni (The Burmese Harp) as a samurai who can no longer stand his fall into poverty, and abandons his loving wife (Michiyo Aratama) in favor of a life of status and wealth. Once he secures a life of nobility, the samurai finds himself thinking constantly of the wife he left behind. He is haunted by her. And when he finally works up the nerve to visit her, he finds things forever changed. The Black Hair has various similarities to a subplot in Kenji Mizoguchi’s masterpiece Ugetsu, which was also a supernatural tale about the penalties for the ambitions of heartless men. The Black Hair is not my favorite of the Kwaidan anthology – the best are the two stories in the middle – but it does a good job of setting the tone about what to expect for the rest of the film.
The second story, and the most visually vibrant, is The Woman of the Snow. Tatsuya Nakadai (Ran) is a woodcutter caught in a blizzard. He and his master hole up in a hut for the night, where they are visited by a snow spirit played by Keiko Kishi (The Yakuza). The woman kills the woodcutter’s master with her cold breath, and is about to freeze the young man, too, when she begins to pity him. She makes him a deal: she will let him live as long as he never speaks a word of their encounter. The Woman of the Snow is the emotional heart of the movie (and interestingly the one section totally cut from the film for its showing at Cannes). Though the visuals are bitter cold, the story is sad and human.
The third and longest story, Hoichi the Earless, could’ve easily been a standalone release. Katsuo Nakamura (20th Century Boys) is the blind monk Hoichi, who lives at a temple that was built to appease the long-dead samurai who perished in a naval battle offshore. Being blind, Hoichi is unaware that the man who comes to visit him in the night is a samurai ghost, and that he’s been playing his biwa to an audience of the dead. When the temple’s priest (Takashi Shimura) learns of this, he does what he can to save Hoichi. This is my favorite of the four shorts in the anthology and is (coincidentally?) the most traditional in a cinematic sense. It’s a ghost story through-and-through, but one that’s told in a way completely unlike those you’ll see on American screens.
The final and shortest story is also the lightest. In a Cup of Tea is the story of a samurai who sees a ghost’s reflection in his cup of tea. The more he tries to understand, the more madness beckons to him. It’s a fine coda to the anthology, and also pays tribute to the storytellers who kept ghost stories alive all these years.
Kwaidan makes no attempt at realism. It’s ultra-cinematic, super artsy, with set walls painted as the sky within reach, and sets that never try to hide their artificiality. I thought it an interesting approach to making the film. The sets are beautiful, sometimes frightening, and go a long way to describe why I appreciate the movie so. Colors are vibrant, even in the chilly white Woman of the Snow section of the film, and the movie looks wonderful on the 2016 Criterion Blu-ray.
In addition to the amazing visual aspects of the film, Kwaidan features unorthodox sound design and an experimental score by Toru Takemitsu. Many scenes are almost muted, with no sound to the win, or bustle in the streets, or clash of swords. And then, seemingly out of nowhere, there will be cracks of wood or ice. The effect is eerie and wholly original.
Kwaidan may not appeal to horror hounds who demand a fast-pace, gore, or bunches of scares, but as an arthouse anthology it’s tough to beat. Beautiful to look at and with lots to think about, I consider Kwaidan one of the best examples of classic Japanese cinema, and highly recommend it to those in the mood for something stylish and creepy. Though not belonging to Masaki Kobayashi’s typical genre, Kwaidan deserves to be mentioned in conversation with the director’s best, right alongside The Human Condition, Harakiri, and Samurai Rebellion.
(The new Criterion DVD & Blu-ray includes the director’s 183 minute director’s cut for the first time in the US. The previous Criterion DVD featured a cut of the film that ran 20 minutes shorter. Most of the changes are small and are unlikely to be noticed by those who’ve only seen the film once or twice, but considering the improved picture quality and the nice assortment of extras (Stephen Prince commentary is the highlight of the special features) it’s easy for me to recommend the upgrade for fans of the film.)
If Jackie Chan’s recent Skiptrace wasn’t your cup of tea, then maybe Railroad Tigers is something that will better suit you. The film will be released in the U.S. by Well Go USA Entertainment, so expect a release date soon.
This period actioner reunites the legend with director Ding Sheng (Little Big Soldier, Police Story 2013) for a 3rd time. The film also stars Xu Fan (A World Without Thieves), Edison Huang (Gentle Bullet) and Koji (Color War).
According to THR, Railroad Tigers is set in wartime China in 1941 and features Chan as a railroad worker who leads a team of freedom fighters who use their knowledge of the train network to disrupt Japan’s wartime engine and steal food for the starving Chinese population. Railroad Tigers will be hitting Chinese theaters in December 2016. | 1st teaser.
Updates: Watch the 2nd teaser for Railroad Tigers:
Director: John Little
Writer: John Little
Cast: John Little, Bruce Lee, Malisa Longo, Jon T. Benn, Anders Nelsson, Riccardo Billi, Chaplin Chang
Running Time: 100 minutes
By Jeff Bona
Back in 2013, I reviewed a documentary titled In Pursuit of the Dragon, by noted Bruce Lee historian, John Little (A Warrior’s Journey). Unlike the most of the endless, oversaturated list of Bruce Lee documentaries – many of which featured the same tired footage, usual interview clips and other useless “talking heads” – I found Little’s In Pursuit of the Dragon to be refreshing because of its one-of-a-kind premise, which focused on the actual filming locations of Bruce Lee’s four completed films. To quote my review: Using footage from the actual movies to coincide with the ‘what the locations look like today’ is simply magical. Basically, I loved every minute of it.
When it was announced that MVD Visual was releasing Tracking the Dragon, another Bruce Lee-related project by John Little, I jumped at the opportunity to obtain an advanced copy. But when I finally got my hands on the DVD, I found its official description curiously familiar:
“Bruce Lee expert John Little tracks down the actual locations of some of Bruce Lee’s most iconic action scenes. Many of these sites remain largely unchanged nearly half a century later. At monasteries, ice factories, and on urban streets, Little explores the real life settings of Lee’s legendary career.”
After reading the above, I thought to myself: “This must be a repacked, retitled, double-dipped version of In Pursuit of the Dragonthat’s being marketed as a “new” film to suck every last drop of profit from a product that’s over 3 years old.” And boy was I right…
Tracking the Dragon IS a repacked, retitled and double-dipped version of In Pursuit of the Dragon. However, I can honestly say that it has been repacked, retitled and double-dipped in the most positive way possible.
Here’s a list of the key differences between In Pursuit of the Dragonand Tracking the Dragon. Keep in mind that I didn’t watch them both simultaneously, but I did skim through In Pursuit of the Dragonmoments after watching Tracking the Dragon, so think of the following as the most noticeable distinctions between the two:
Tracking the Dragon has optimized audio and visual. Video footage has been remastered and now appears to have more of an High Definition look (even for DVD it pops on a 1080p TV). In comparison, In Pursuit of the Dragonlooks fuzzy with lower audio quality.
Tracking the Dragon is 10 minutes longer than In Pursuit of the Dragon. That’s not say it’s only 10 minutes longer. In other words, Tracking the Dragon is edited in a tighter, smarter fashion; with more overlaps and picture-in-picture effects, which essentially means more content per frame.
Post-production work on Tracking the Dragon is a lot more professional-looking. Then and now-location footage gels together more cohesively. If In Pursuit of the Dragon appears to have taken 3 weeks to edit together, Tracking the Dragon most likely took 3 months.
Tracking the Dragon features new/alternative shots, resulting in a different experience. It’s also injected with extra clips and photos, which give it much more depth than In Pursuit of the Dragon.
New segments: Unlike In Pursuit of the Dragon, Tracking the Dragon doesn’t end with Enter the Dragon. Instead, we’re treated with extra footage of Bruce Lee’s Hong Kong house, Betty Ting Pei’s apartment (where Bruce passed away) and locations such as rooftops where a teenage Bruce used to street fight, Bruce’s famous parking lot photo shoot, and much more (won’t spoil it for you).
The bottom line: A better title for Tracking the Dragon would be In Pursuit of the Dragon 2.0. Sure, I can understand if some people will dismiss it as a double-dipper, but it all depends on how much you value newly added footage, as well as upgrades all across the board.
Considering Little and his team traveled all around the world to capture all this footage, a new and improved, longer, remastered version of an already-awesome project is worth $20 bucks to me.
Besides, it’s probably time for you to re-watch In Pursuit of the Dragon anyways – and if you do, you’ll want to watch it in the form of Tracking the Dragon to get the most out of your re-watching pleasure. If you haven’t seen either, then picking up Tracking the Dragon is a no-brainer.
The search for Lo Lieh’s 1976 cult classic, The Big Boss Part II – an unofficial sequel to the 1971 Bruce Lee classic, The Big Boss – may finally be over. Back in 2014, the film had a one-night-only showing at Quentin Tarantino’s New Beverly Cinema in Los Angeles, but unless you lived in the area, news of this limited engagement was nothing but a lost opportunity for the rest of world.
But now, The Big Boss Part II, one of the most sought after kung fu titles ever, will be getting an official DVD release next year, at least according to a solid source at the SC36 forum.
In addition to Lo Lieh (Five Fingers of Death), this “lost classic” also stars Bruce Le (Clones of Bruce Lee), Michael Chan Wai Man (The Handcuff), Krung Srivilai (H-Bomb) and Wong Ping (Vengeance!). Interestingly enough, The Big Boss Part II was directed by Chan Chue, who played the surviving manager in the original (the guy who says “No profit in ice, but dope, plenty”).
The Big Boss Part II practically picks up on location in Thailand where original The Big Boss left off. Le takes over the role of Cheng Chiu On (Bruce Lee), who is now in jail for the events portrayed in the first film. Lieh, who plays his brother, is the center character who gets heavily involved involved with another breed of local baddies.
Of course, The Big Boss Part II shouldn’t be confused with Dragon Lee’s similarly-titled The Big Boss 2, which wasa re-title of Dragon Lee Fights Again, a movie that has no connection with the original. If anything, it was more of a Fist of Fury copycat.
We’ll keep you updated as we hear more. For now, we leave you with the trailer for The Big Boss Part II, as well as the film’s first 10 minutes, which has been lingering on youtube since 2013. We’ll be the first to admit that it looks god awful, which is the very reason we want to see it so bad!
For the sequel (not to be confused with the other West films that are currently in development), Hark will take over directing duties, while Chow will produce. Shu Qi, Wen Zhang, and Huang Bo will return for the sequel. Joining them this time around is Vicky Zhao (14 Blades), Kris W (The Mermaid)and Kenny Lin (The Taking of Tiger Mountain).
The original, which was directed by Chow (read Paul Bramhall’s review), centered on Tang Sanzang, a Buddhist trying to protect a village from three demons, his emerging feelings for Miss Duan, the demon hunter who helps him repeatedly, and Sanzang’s transformative encounter with the Monkey King.
Updates: Thanks to AFS, we have an all-new ‘teaser’ (kinda, sorta) for the film:
On January 3, 2017, Lionsgate is releasing the DVD for Song Xi-Yin’s Amnesia (its full marketing title is Jackie Chan Presents Amnesia, since Chan serves as producer). It’s also known as Who Am I: 2015, which is a more fitting title, considering it’s a loose remake of Chan’s 1998 classic, Who Am I?
Finding himself at a murder scene, bike courier Li Ziwei tries to escape, but the culprits force him off a bridge. The amnesia from his head injuries means he can’t recognize the faces of his enemies, who have framed him for the crime. Now, carrying the parcel that’s his only clue, and with the help of sassy hitchhiker Tong Xin, Li Ziwei must outrun killers and cops while racing to clear his name of the mysterious murder.
The original Who Am I?, which was directed by Benny Chan (Shaolin), had Chan playing a secret agent who loses his memory after falling from a crashing helicopter. He is then chased by a number of other agency operatives, but he has no idea why.
AKA: Jack Reacher 2 Director: Edward Zwick Producer: Christopher McQuarrie, Tom Cruise Cast: Tom Cruise, Cobie Smulders, Aldis Hodge, Danika Yarosh, Patrick Heusinger, Holt McCallany, Austin Hebert, Robert Catrini, Robert Knepper Running Time: 118 min.
By Paul Bramhall
The announcement that Tom Cruise was going to be playing Jack Reacher, the character of author Lee Child’s ongoing series of novels about an ex-military drifter that has an uncanny ability for finding trouble, was greeted (as expected) with almost universal disdain from fan of the books. However the 2012 thriller, simply titled Jack Reacher, helmed by frequent Cruise collaborator Christopher McQuarrie, was both a commercial and a critical success. Cruise brought the needed physicality to the role with gusto, portraying Reacher as a more grounded version of his Ethan Hunt character from the Mission: Impossible series – a comparison which was especially apt with the release of the bombastic Ghost Protocol just a year prior.
The success of Jack Reacher inevitably saw a sequel on the cards, and with twenty published novels to choose from, the second instalment of Jack Reacher on the big screen comes in the form of 2016’s Jack Reacher: Never Go Back, an adaption of the eighteenth book in the series. Much like the original came a year after Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, so Never Go Back comes a year after Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation. Both the original Jack Reacher and Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation were helmed by Christopher McQuarrie, which sees this instalment being handed over to Edward Zwick, the director behind the likes of Blood Diamond and Legends of the Fall. Cruise and Zwick have worked together before, on 2003’s The Last Samurai, so the sequel can be considered as a reunion of sorts for the director and actor.
Cruise has become one of the few actors in Hollywood who has the ability to make straight faced action pictures, ones that don’t rely on either irony or CGI, nor suffer from a modest budget or straight-to-DVD release. In many ways he’s one of the last legitimate bankable stars, in an era were Hollywood has become almost solely reliant on reboots, remakes, and superhero movies. When people talk about Jason Bourne, they don’t say they want to go and see the latest Matt Damon movie, and similarly for James Bond, no one would say they want to go and see the latest Daniel Craig movie. But Cruise it’s the opposite, people don’t say they want to go and see the latest Ethan Hunt or Jack Reacher flick, they say let’s go and check out the latest Tom Cruise film. He’s a guy who consistently delivers the goods, with Never Go Back being only the second time he’s returned to play a character for a sequel, outside of the Mission: Impossible series.
Never Go Back continues the gritty down to earth feel that the original instalment established, with proceedings opening on a pair of cops arriving on the scene of a diner parking lot, were four men lay sprawled on the floor, each looking considerably battered and bruised. A witness points to a single customer sitting at the bar inside, his back to them calmly drinking a cup of coffee, and goes onto explain that it was the customer who singled handedly put the beat down on all four of them. The customer is of course Cruise, establishing himself as a man not to be messed with within the first 60 seconds, and he hasn’t even lifted a finger. The scene sets the tone both for the character and the rest of the run time, portraying Reacher as someone who treads just the right side of the line between confidence and arrogance, and isn’t afraid of getting his knuckles dirty.
Fans of the book may not have been happy with the casting of Cruise, but there’s no doubt that he owns the role, and looks to be using both his Mission: Impossible productions and the Jack Reacher series as vehicles to show off his action chops. At 54, he appears more determined than ever to throw as much physical action onscreen as possible, with people getting punched in the face through windscreens, arms (and various other limbs) being broken, and bodies being thrown into a variety of breakable surroundings. While Never Go Back, much like Jack Reacher, doesn’t rely on huge set pieces or death defying stunts, instead it succeeds by having its altercations take place in more real world trappings. Fights take place in dark abandoned warehouses, and in one particular scene, which shows a clear nod to the showdown between Iko Uwais and Cecep Arif Rahman in The Raid 2, in a restaurant kitchen (which includes a hammer wielding Cobie Smulders!).
For Never Go Back the inclusion of actresses Cobie Smulders and Danika Yarosh provide Cruise with a sort of adopted nuclear family. Smulders plays a former military colleague of Cruise, who’s been falsely imprisoned for espionage, while Yarosh finds herself in the cross hairs of those looking to take out both Cruise and Smulders, thanks to the possibility of her being his daughter. Cruise of course takes it on himself to break Smulders out of prison, convinced of her innocence, and the three end up on the run from a group of shadowy military contractors, who may be behind the murders of two soldiers in Afghanistan who were under Smulders command. It’s a straightforward plot, which doesn’t spend any time getting bogged down in sub-plots or romance, instead choosing to have one, two, or all three of them have to run as if their life depended on it at regular intervals.
In many ways it’s the simplicity of Never Go Back which makes it so appealing. It’s a trio of good guys (well, one guy and two women) trying to uncover the truth behind an injustice, while being relentlessly pursued by those who want to kill them. In an era which has Hollywood defining its action by how many CGI buildings it can destroy, it’s refreshing to watch a movie that gets the adrenaline pumping through intense foot chases, fist fights, explosions (real ones!), and painful looking falls. I’d take the action in Never Go Back any day of the week over watching a bunch of pixels be decimated onscreen. Of course, no hero is worth their salt without a worthy villain to go up against, and the villain here comes in the form of Patrick Heusinger, playing an ex-military man who’s now become an assassin for hire, and comes with a skillset that matches those of Cruise.
Heusinger is almost Terminator-like in his pursuit of Cruise, spurred on by being determined to prove that he’s the better of the two at combat. The pair get into two suitably violent confrontations during the runtime, the first being the previously mentioned kitchen brawl, and the last belonging to the finale. While it’s only speculation, I’m sure stunt coordinator Robert Alonzo, who was also the fight coordinator for the original Jack Reacher and Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, must be a fan of Asian action cinema. I say this not only based on the kitchen fight which has echoes of The Raid 2, but in the finale there’s a part in which both Cruise and Heusinger throw each other off the top of a building while grappling, before dusting themselves off and continuing to fight on the ground. It’s a scene that’s reminiscent of a similar fall that happens between Donnie Yen and Colin Chou in the finale of Flash Point, and delivers just as much impact.
While it can easily be argued that Never Go Back would be a pretty run-of-the-mill thriller without the presence of Cruise, and many critics have, the same comparison could be made by saying Police Story would be a pretty average cops and robbers movie without Jackie Chan. The fact is that it’s Cruise that makes the movie what is it, and that is a lean, mean, action thriller. There’s little doubt that based on the success of the sequel, we can probably expect to see more of Jack Reacher over the coming years, and as long as Cruise is still up to delivering the type of physical performance that he’s clocked in here, then that’s definitely a good thing. My only wish would be that before everyone gets too old, we get a movie that gives us Jack Reacher, John Wick, and Arthur Bishop, all sharing the screen together. We can dream right?
There was some early discussion that Jackie Chan (Dragon Blade) and Steven Seagal (Above the Law) would be teaming up with Jason Statham (Blitz) for a period project titled Viy 2: A Journey to China, a sequel to 2014’s Viy, the highest grossing Russian film of all-time. It would have marked the first time the three action icons would share the screen together.
We now have word from SCB that Chan may not be appearing in Viy 2: “Sadly it seems that the production had to be happy with working with JC Stunt Team and never managed to finalize an agreement for Jackie to be in the movie as well.” According to the same source, Chan visited the set on the last day of shooting. But hold on…
According to some recent information from the industry-connected Mike Leeder (Pound of Flesh), Viy 2 hasn’t finished shooting in China: “There’s a big sequence set to be shot for the next month or so, that’s set in a prison and Chan is still attached to the project; supposedly Chan will be back and fourth between this and Bleeding Steel. Statham was attached, but schedule delays lead to clash with Meg, the giant shark movie. Seagal was briefly attached and then Stallone’s name was discussed, but supposedly now it will be the former governator himself, Arnie, playing the prison warden,” says Leeder.
To give you a little background information about Viy 2, here’s some news that was originally reported by AAG (during a time when Seagal was still attached): The original Viy, directed by Oleg Stepchenko, is a dark fantasy/adventure film set in the early 18th century starring Jason Flemyng. Despite mixed reviews and a troubled production, the film was a major commercial success. The film caught the eye of Chinese producers who wanted a wuxia inspired sequel. Steven Seagal will also star in the film which is big news for action fans as this will mark the first time Jackie Chan and Steven Seagal are involved in the same movie. Actress Yao Xingtong who previously co-starred with Chan in the 2012 reboot of CZ12 is said to have a major leading role in the movie.
Information on this movie is still very dodgy, but we’ll see what happens…
Updates: A photo (see below) has emerged online (via Paul Bramhall) of Jackie Chan and arnold Schwarzenegger on the set, which confirms that the two make an appearance.
Today’s Deal on Fire is the Blu-ray for David Leitch and Chad Stahelski’s John Wick (read our review), starring Keanu Reeves.
Reeves plays John Wick, a retired assassin who now leads a peaceful lifestyle. But when a series of unfortunate events distort his daily routine, Wick has no choice but to revisit his sinister past and go on one hell of a kill crazy rampage.
If you don’t own the Blu-ray, now’s your chance to own it for this special price. Besides, it’s the perfect way to get prepared for John Wick: Chapter Two, which hits theaters early next year.
Jang Jae-hyeon’s “Korean version of The Exorcist,” The Priests(read our review), will be arriving to DVD on January 10, 2017, courtesy of CJ Entertainment. If you can’t wait to face the evil spirits on DVD – or just need something to watch in the days leading up to Halloween – The Priests is currently available through Amazon’s streaming service.
The film, which has been retitled for its U.S. release as The Priests: Exorcism, stars Kim Yoon-seok (The Thieves) and Kang Dong-won (Kundo). The two play a pair of priests who hope to exorcise what they believe to be an evil spirit possessing the body of a young girl in a coma. Also in the cast are Park So-Dam (Veteran) and Lee Hyo-Je (Hidden Time).
COF’s Paul Bramhall calls The Priests“a refreshingly straight forward horror movie, which is successful in being both suspenseful and delivering a few jump in your seat moments.”
Fate and Makeshift Squad start production in October and February, respectively.
Updates: Tony Jaa has posted a photo with Sammo, stating: “Getting ready to shoot with the amazing Sammo Hung” (via FB). More details on this project to follow, until then, here’s the trailer to Sammo’s all-star classic, Twinkle, Twinkle Lucky Stars.
The public will soon see Donnie Yen (Ip Man 3) play real-life gangster Ng Sek-ho (aka Crippled Ho) in Chasing the Dragon (aka King of Drug Dealers), a remake of the 1991 Hong Kong gangster movie To Be Number One.
According to a reliable source (via Toby Wong from Hong Kong), Chasing the Dragon is currently shooting. A 10-day production in Thailand wrapped and filming has recently commenced in Hong Kong. The same source adds: “Chasing the Dragon is a purely dramatic role for the cast, so don’t expect Donnie Yen to do the martial arts he’s known for. Instead, expect hack and slash action. Donnie is rough housing it. Remember, it’s a triad drama, not Ip Man 3. Don’t worry, action fans will still be happy!”
One of the first set photos to show Andy Lau and Donnie Yen in 70s fashion has emerged, courtesy of Mike Leeder, who is now officially part of the production.
Updates: A pack of new photos have hit the net. Also, we have learned from Mike Leeder that the Kowloon Walled City, which was completely demolished in 1994, is being rebuilt for the film.
We’ll keep you updated on this film as we learn more. Stay tuned!
AKA: Camp 731 Director: T. F. Mou Producer: Fu Chi, Hung Chu Cast: Gang Wang, Hsu Gou, Tie Long Jin, Zhao Hua Mei, Zhe Quan, Run Sheng Wang, Dai Wao Yu, Andrew Yu Running Time: 105 min.
By Paul Bramhall
Men Behind the Sun comes with the reputation of being one of the most controversial movies ever made, often mentioned in the same sentence as the likes of Ruggero Deodato’s Cannibal Holocaust, and Japan’s Guinea Pig series. The facts certainly indicate the same – it holds the distinction of being the first movie to be rated Category III in Hong Kong, has been released in very few territories uncut, was originally banned in Australia, and caused such an outcry in Japan that the director received death threats.
The man in the director’s chair is T.F. Mou, and while Men Behind the Sun is the title he’s most well-known for, prior to making it he directed such Shaw Brothers productions as the gritty crime thriller Lost Souls, and the dark kung fu flick A Deadly Secret. It was while directing the 1983 Mainland kung fu movie Young Heroes, that he learnt about the horrors of Japan’s wartime experimentation on Chinese and Russian human subjects, and became determined to make a movie to document the atrocities. It wasn’t an easy task though, at the time China wanted Japan as an economic ally, so the idea of such a production wasn’t met with much enthusiasm. On top of that, almost all research and evidence of the experiments had either been destroyed, or handed over to the Americans prior to the beginning of the Korean War.
As Mou’s wife was an American citizen, she helped to negotiate for Mou to have access to the rarely seen documentation, kept to this day under lock and key. U.S. Forces had come into possession of the data because General Ishii, the man behind Unit 731 where the experiments took place, was offered immunity from being trialled for war crimes if he did so. Agreeing to work with General McArthur (most recently played by Liam Neeson in the Korean movie Operation Chromite) and the American government, Ishii escaped trial up to the time of his death. Perhaps knowing that justice was never done, the Chinese government eventually gave Mou permission to make the movie, and production went ahead with a small budget of $200,000. Based on his struggles to convince the Chinese government to let him make Men Behind the Sun, the movie opens with the ironic onscreen text – ‘Friendship is friendship, history is history’.
One of Mou’s main goals was to achieve historical accuracy with his production, going to the extent of casting Chinese locals in many of the roles (a view of the cast list will reveal that for many, Men Behind the Sun is the only credit to their name), chosen based on Mou’s belief that they resembled Japanese people during the war. Most of the kids in the movie (the plot is framed from the viewpoint of newly recruited Youth Corp members) are actually Koreans that were living in China, again chosen as Mou felt that they looked more Japanese than the local Chinese kids did. Perhaps most interesting of all though is that the location used for the headquarters of Unit 731, was actually the real site, located in Harbin, Manchuria. At the time of filming it was being used as a school, and in an interview Mou remembered that the erecting of a Japanese flag outside the building didn’t sit well with many of the elderly locals, who were alive during the war.
The real controversy around Men Behind the Sun comes from Mou wanting to show the various horrific experiments, conducted on both humans and animals, which make up the bulk of the movies mid-section. I’ll cover these in more detail later, but I think it’s important to point out that, unlike so many other reviews on the internet, Men Behind the Sun is much more than just exploitation, an accusation frequently levelled at it. It’s not difficult to see why the exploitation label gets thrown at Men Behind the Sun, however it’s more a bi-product of Mou’s ambition to document everything he’d read in his research, rather than an intentional exercise in disgust.
The plot itself concerns a group of newly recruited Youth Corp members, who are assigned to the secretive Unit 731, and their gradual dehumanisation to everything they witness. Set during the final years of World War II, General Ishii, a formerly discharged military surgeon with a keen interest in bio-warfare, is assigned to run the Unit. Ishii, again the actual General who run the Unit in reality, is insistent that bio-chemicals are the way to win the war, and believes that the only way to achieve success is through using live subjects, in order to speed up the process. The newly recruited Youth Corp members are initially disgusted at what they witness, and in one particularly powerful scene, they are presented with a naked male subject dragged up in front of them. When the General asks what they’re looking at, one says “a man”, and is badly beaten, two more boys proceed to answer with “a Chinese man”, and “a bad Chinese man”, and receive the same treatment. Finally, the General explains that they’re looking at “a log for a fire, material for experiments.”
What stands Men Behind the Sun apart from many Chinese and Hong Kong productions, is that through the members of the Youth Corp, and also a disillusioned soldier, the Japanese and never stereotyped to all be completely evil. At the heart of the experiments is Ishii and his scientists, who’s only desire is to figure out a way to effectively use bio-warfare for mass killings. How they do that really makes up the movies most shocking scenes. Mou was a resourceful director if nothing else, and with China having no special effects industry as such, there are several instances were real corpses or body parts are used, acquired by Mou through various means.
In one scene a woman is tied outside with her arms outstretched in the sub-zero temperatures, to test the effects of frostbite on the body. With her arms outstretched, a soldier douses them with water at regular intervals, causing more and more ice to form over the flesh. It’s a disturbing scene, made more disturbing by the fact that the actress playing the part, who was in fact Mou’s niece, is holding out a pair of real severed arms. In a case of art reflecting life, it was revealed that she almost contracted frostbite for real, due to the amount of time spent filming outside. In another scene, a child is chloroformed and then given an autopsy while unconscious. Mou had made an agreement with the local police to use a real body for the autopsy scene, and when a child was killed in an accident, with the parents agreement the autopsy was conducted with the coroners dressed in Japanese army clothing, the procedure filmed for the movie.
The two scenes that caused the most outrage though ironically don’t involve any corpses at all. One see’s a cat being thrown into a room infested with hundreds of frenzied rats, which proceed to eat it alive. There are varying stories of what actually took place during this scene, in a 2010 interview with Mou, he explained that the cat was soaked with water then covered with red dyed honey, and it’s this that the rats are eating, explaining that the cat was rewarded with a couple of fish once it wrapped. However in a 2008 blog post written by a behind the scenes crew member, it’s explained that the cat was killed in order to get the final shot of the unmoving body being swarmed by rats. The truth will likely never be known. In a latter scene, the same rats are burnt alive, and filmed running throughout the building while on fire. Equally cruel, however it was said that Mou found favour with many of the local farmers for performing such an act.
It would be a spoiler to detail the rest of the experiments, however despite the episodic nature in which they’re presented, the scenes in-between never feel as if they’re filler, which is what stops me from calling Men Behind the Sun a piece of pure exploitation. A group of the Youth Corp members relationship with a mute Chinese boy, who watches them from behind the barbed wire fences, is particularly well handled, reflecting their humanity when not forced to view all Chinese as nothing but material for experiments. Likewise, the solid acting performances from the cast, despite their lack of experience, adds an authentic feel to proceedings, making it a harrowing experience to watch even today almost 30 years later.
The reputation of Men Behind the Sun would further find it vilified by its cheap cash-in sequels, the Godfrey Ho directed Laboratory of the Devil in 1992, and Narrow Escape in 1994, although notably Mou would return to the same subject matter for 1995’s Black Sun: The Nanking Massacre. While other productions such as Russia’s 4-hour epic Philosophy of a Knife, from 2008, have looked to also tackle the atrocities of Unit 731, none have been able to match Men Behind the Sun in terms of pure visceral impact and shock factor. While today the term ‘torture porn’ is used to describe movies which present gruesome scenes of people being tortured, for little else than viewing pleasure, Mou has, as was his intention, made a movie that stands as a powerful document of what happened in Unit 731. While some of his filmmaking methods are arguably disagreeable, they shouldn’t take away from a movie which is, at its heart, a look at man’s cruelty against man.
With their ornate costumes, eclectic masks and sinister weaponry – not to mention some of the most blood-drenching flicks ever put on celluloid – we consider The Venoms (aka Philip Kwok, Lu Feng, Chiang Sheng, Lo Meng, Sun Chien and Wei Pai) to be the ultimate link between kung fu and Halloween. For this reason, City on Fire proudly presents the Top 5 Bloodiest Venoms Films:
If you’ve ever watched a Shaw Brothers kung fu film and found yourself thinking: “This flick is good and all, but what it REALLY needs is a bunch of blood-drinking, Satan-worshiping, mask-wearing villains and a whole lot more violence,” then Masked Avengers is the movie for you.
This is a dark, dark flick, and those who require comedic antics with their kung fu need not apply. It has hardcore violence equal to Five Element Ninja. Some disturbing imagery, from masked cultists drinking human blood to intestines dangling from tridents. Then there are the traps in the cultists’ lair, which gouge, crush, and eviscerate. It’s almost as if this flick was made for Halloween.
With its intricate choreography, colorful villains, fantastic sets, and of course, excessive violence – Flag of Iron is one of the better Venoms movies. It’s similar to Masked Avengers, in that both are heavy on plot, both lack main Venoms Lo Meng and Sun Chien, and both are impressively brutal.
In its uncut state, Flag of Iron is not only more fleshed out, but also more violent. In addition to blood sprays, hackings, and unusual deaths, there’s also a flag thrown all the way through a victim (it flies through the dude and embeds itself in a wooden beam, drenched in blood).
Don’t let the film’s non-threatening title fool you. There’s a reason it’s titled The Spearmen of Death in other territories.
Not much carnage via weaponry. Instead, most of the violence in House of Traps comes from the traps themselves. The bottom level has spikes that come out of the floor, and a steel staircase that will clamp shut (in other words, feet get cut in half and men are impaled and torn asunder). Spear-tipped nets ensnare those who make it high enough, trapping them while guys on the bottom floor come out and shoot up at them with arrows.
The ending of House of Traps is especially bizarre, with one of the heroes hacking open a corpse, to root out the contents of its stomach. PETA beware: A live chicken buys it in a moment of pure exploitation!
“Two Champions of Shaolin” Chinese Theatrical Poster
In Two Champions of Shaolin, Lo Meng llsically vomits blood in the best display of “spitting out blood when injured” since Fu Sheng in Heroes Two. In addition, Chiang Sheng rips some guy’s balls off, and later bashes someone’s brains out. Look close, you’ll see them.
Two Champions of Shaolin is drenched with acrobatic displays of martial fortitude and blood-drenched violence. The best part of the movie arrives with a tournament between the top Wu-Tang fighters and Chiang Sheng and Lo Meng. Squaring off in one-on-one combat, this segment puts Mortal Kombat to shame.
I’ve done the math: Two Champions of Shaolin = total carnage.
“The Kid with the Golden Arm” Chinese Theatrical Poster
The Kid with the Golden Arm opens bloodily with an escort service member crawling into their headquarters, “Chi Sah gang” etched onto his bare back by a sword. There’s a memorable scene in which someone off-screen is stabbed, and his blood literally jets across the set.
The violence level is pleasantly high – we’re talking Lone Wolf and Cub-level bloodshed, with multiple hackings, slicings, and cleavings. Blood erupts from sword gashes, people get hacked apart, and those beaten by fists bleed profusely from the mouth
Despite its comic book-like title, Kid with the Golden Arm is certainly one of the more violent Venoms movies.
Sony Entertainment presents the Blu-ray & DVD for The Perfect Weapon. Despite its title, this upcoming movie has no connection with 1991’s The Perfect Weapon, which starred Jeff Speakman.
The Perfect Weapon hints an influence from both Universal Soldier and Hitman: Agent 47. Even though the words “Steven Seagal” headline the film’s marketing materials, the Above the Law star appears to have more of a co-starring role – as the film’s villain – second to Johnny Messner (Kill ‘Em All).
Perfect Weapon is directed by Titus Paar (The Refugees) and produced by Andre Relis (War Pigs) and Rafael Primorac (Wesley Snipes’ Game of Death). The film also stars Sasha Jackson (Jarhead 3), Richard Tyson (Simon Says), Vernon Wells (Commando), Kimberly Battista (Hot Summer Nights) and Lance E. Nichols (13 Sins).
Official Plot: In a not too distant future, a totalitarian state run by ‘The Director” (Seagal) controls all aspects of life. All enemies of the state are dealt in the harshest way. Most of them are executed by the secret government’s assassins. The best operative is code-named “Condor” (Messner) – an elite agent and hit man for the government. However, in his latest assignment, “Condor” fails to kill an opposition leader, and finds himself on the run from the very same government agency that he works for. This sets in motion a chain of events with unforseen consequences for all involved. But “Condor” just might survive the hunt because he is… The Perfect Weapon.
If there’s one filmmaker who knows how to gel with Steven Seagal (Above the Law), it’s Keoni Waxman (End of a Gun). The writer/director/producer – responsible for having done several movies with Seagal – has recently stated that he’s getting ready to shoot a “different” kind of action film with Seagal, opposite Russell Wong (Romeo Must Die).
“It’s set in Mexico and Istanbul and at the moment it’s called Contract to Kill. Getting excited about it – Steven’s co-star is Russell Wong and we are working with Ron Balicki again, so look for some cool knife fights. We’ve also made a few changes in our approach to the films, so I think it’ll look very different than End of a Gun (as well as Killing Salazar). All a good thing,” said Waxman (via ss.net).
In this international action-thriller, Seagal stars as Harmon, a CIA/DEA enforcer investigating Arab terrorists captured in Mexico. With his team—seductive FBI agent Zara and spy-drone pilot Sharp—he flies to Istanbul and uncovers a brutal plot: Islamic extremists plan to use Sonora drug-smuggling routes to bring deadly weapons, and leaders, into the U.S. To prevent an attack on America, Harmon must turn these two savage forces against one another before his time—and his luck—run out.
I consider myself a massive fan of Italian horror and, specifically, director Dario Argento. That said, I’ve never felt that Deep Red (released as Suspiria 2 in Japan) was the masterpiece that many claim it is. So maybe that makes me less of an Argento fanatic than those folks. On a repeat viewing, Deep Red left me strangely cold. I love Argento’s fluid camera work, David Hemmings (The Heroin Busters) in the lead role, and who doesn’t love the infamous scene with the creepy mechanical doll. But so much of the movie feels like a giallo going through the motions: the protagonist trying to piece together the clues to the mystery, piece by plodding piece, so that the filmmakers can pad out screentime. Or maybe I just prefer my Dario Argento films with a tingle of the supernatural. 1977’s Suspiria is my favorite of his, after all.
Some viewers tend to overlook the fact that Argento made a whole string of giallos before this, mostly with animals in the titles (The Bird With the Crystal Plumage, etc.), but Deep Red has always been considered Argento’s first truly great film. The story follows David Hemmings as a jazz pianist and instructor staying in Italy. Late one night while wandering the streets after a gig, he witnesses the aftermath of a brutal murder. Obsessed with learning the identity of the killer, he joins with an attractive young reporter, played by Argento’s then-wife Daria Nicolodi, as more dead bodies pile up. The two of them begin a stand offish romance since Hemmings’ character is a sexist pit. There’s even a scene devoted to them armwrestling to prove the superiority of their respective genders.
The mystery is slow to unravel as Hemmings keeps risking his neck and supporting characters keep getting bumped off in increasingly violent ways. Expect more than a few red herrings in the cast. Towards the climax of the film, Hemmings has to investigate a spooky old house. This whole sequence is frequently lit by flashlight and goes by without a single word of dialogue, all set to Goblin’s Italo-disco rock soundtrack; it almost feels like something out of a horror-based video game.
Speaking of the music, Goblin’s score is excellent. It’s got a aggressive rock feel with loud drums but it’s also suitably creepy and menacing for the action that unfolds on screen. It’s the kind of soundtrack that can easily stand apart from its source material and be enjoyable to listen to on its own. Put the soundtrack on during a party and you’re guaranteed to turn a few heads too.
I watched Deep Red streaming in HD on Netflix. I believe its arrival on Netflix is timed to coincide with Blue Underground’s Blu-ray release. To my eyes, the print almost looked too bright and lacked fine detail except on the frequent close-ups of objects, like children’s toys and piano keys, that Argento favors. This might be the result of the way the movie was lit – Argento was going for “deep reds,” after all. In addition, the streaming version’s audio levels were completely uneven, with Goblin’s score overpowering the dialogue at every turn.
To add insult to injury, Netflix’s cut is only 104 minutes long, with several crucial scenes missing. The romantic subplot in particular just falls apart in the 104 cut since Daria Nicolodi’s character disappears for lengthy periods of time. If you want the full 126 minute cut, you’ve got to get this movie on disc. Considering that Blue Underground never fails to put out a quality release, this is one film that I would recommend horror fans shell out the bucks for the blu-ray in order to truly enjoy it.
“No Retreat, No Surrender” American Theatrical Poster
Old school martial arts fans, rejoice! We’ve just gotten word that Kino Lorber will be releasing No Retreat, No Surrender on Blu-ray in 2017. The upcoming Blu-ray will include the International cut (with extra scenes and alternate music) and the rarely seen “New World” U.S. cut (alternate opening sequence and soundtrack), as well an interview with the film’s lead, Kurt McKenney.
This 1986 cult martial arts classic is noted for being one of the first U.S. productions by Hong Kong action director, Corey Yuen (Yes, Madam), who would later find bigger fame in America choreographing Lethal Weapon 4 (1998) and Kiss of the Dragon (2001).
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