On March 6, 2018, North American entertainment company Cinedigm will be releasing the Asian Extreme Blu-ray set, which will include the following films:
R100 (read our review): A mild-mannered family man with a secret taste for S&M finds himself pursued by a gang of ruthless dominatrices each with a unique talent in this hilarious and bizarre take on the sex comedy from Japanese comedy giant Hitoshi Matsumoto (Big Man Japan).
The World of Kanako (read our review): A nonstop visual and emotional assault to the senses as it follows troubled ex-detective Akikazu on the hunt for his missing teenage daughter, Kanako. What he discovers in his search is an unsettling and harrowing web of depravity surrounding both Kanako and himself.
Why Don’t You Play in Hell? (read our review): Based on a screenplay he wrote nearly fifteen years ago, this movie is Sion Sono’s (Love Exposure) very best work. There’s a war going on, but that won’t stop the inexperienced but eager wannabe film crew The F Bombers from following their dreams of making the ultimate action epic. And The F Bombers are standing by with the chance of a lifetime: to film a real, live yakuza battle to the death… on 35mm!
David Sandberg – star, writer and director of the viral short, Kung Fury – is bringing his titular character to the big screen. For the feature film version, he’s recruiting Michael Fassbender (Alien: Covenant) and Arnold Schwarzenegger (Aftermath) to star, along with David Hasselhoff, who’ll be back as “Hoff 9000”.
According to Variety, the feature film will be set in 1985 in Miami, which is kept safe under the watchful eye of the police officer Kung Fury through his Thundercops police force. After the tragic death of a Thundercop causes the group to disband, a mysterious villain emerges from the shadows to aid in the Fuhrer’s quest to attain the ultimate weapon.
The 2010 original short is an over-the-top action comedy that featured arcade-robots, dinosaurs, nazis, vikings, norse gods, mutants and a super kung fu-cop called Kung Fury (Sandberg), all wrapped up in an 80s style action packed adventure.
We’ll keep you updated on the film’s progress as we learn more. If you haven’t seen the short, here you go…
Director: Lee An-Gyu Producer: Kim Mi-Hwa Cast: Kim Hye-Soo, Lee Sun-Kyun, Lee Hee-Joon, Choi Moo-Sung, Kim Min-Suk, Oh Ha-Nee, Ahn So-Young, Kwon Yool, Cha Soon-Bae, Sun Wook-Hyun Running Time: 90 min.
By Z Ravas
Any way you slice it, 2017 was a great year for women in action cinema. Guided by one-half of John Wick’sdirecting duo, Atomic Blondesaw Charlize Theron once again in full-contact combat mode; even if the film’s poe-faced attitude and unnecessarily confusing espionage plot kept it from reaching the heights it could have, it was still a pleasure to watch every time Theron let out a guttural yell and beat a musclebound henchman to death with her high heels. On the other side of the globe, last summer’s The Villainessbrought outrageous first-person action sequences to the Korean revenge thriller, and minted Kim Ok-bin as a La Femme Nikita-style icon in the process. The victory lap for this year of lethal women should have easily been A Special Lady, a film whose stylish trailer grabbed the Internet’s attention as soon as it dropped, and which arrived in Korean theaters just five months after The Villainess. Sadly, that’s not the case.
In theory, A Special Lady is headlined by Kim Hye-soo (Coin Locker Girl), a talented actress who first caught my eye as the femme fatale in 2006’s Tazza: The High Rollers – something about the actress’ smoldering looks and elegant demeanor feels born for the noir genre, and some 11 years later I was excited to see her step in front of the camera for her very first action role. I say Hye-soo headlines A Special Lady “in theory,” however, because most of the film’s runtime is spent following Lee Sun-kyun’s character. Sun-kyun is a talented actor in his own right, as evidenced by A Hard Day(easily one of the best films I saw in 2015), but I still couldn’t help but feel that A Special Lady had pulled something of a bait and switch: promising its leading lady Kim Hye-soo in action but seldom delivering it.
The movieopens with a jaw-droppingly salacious sequence as Mr. Kim’s (played by Choi Moo-sung of I Saw the Devil) criminal organization lures several high-profile CEOs, doctors, and even the local District Attorney to a love motel for the sole purpose of filming their sexual proclivities and using said footage as blackmail. Watching from the monitor room is Kim Hye-soo as Mr. Kim’s right hand woman, always cool and collected but nevertheless searching for a way to retire from this underhanded business. Meanwhile, Mr. Kim’s top henchman Lee Sun-kyun pines for Kim Hye-soo’s unreturned affection while doing Mr. Kim’s dirty work; he’s the one who must resort to violence when anyone rebuffs Mr. Kim’s attempts at blackmail, and – as an early flashback shows – he’s the first to take a steak knife in the gut any time a gang war erupts in a parking lot a la New World. After a decade in the business, he’s tired of serving as a glorified lap dog; and when the vengeful District Attorney plants visions of usurping Mr. Kim in Lee Sun-kyun’s head, the stage is set for a bloody confrontation – so just as Kim Hye-soo hopes to walk away from a life of crime, she instead finds herself caught between her boss and the co-worker she’s known since their days together in the orphanage.
The stage is set for a bloody confrontation, sure, but it does take a long time to get there; A Special Lady is one of the more plot-driven revenge thrillers out there, and it feels like a solid hour of scheming and dealing goes by before we see much in the way of action. The increased emphasis on characters and storytelling isn’t exactly a problem, except that the star of the film – Kim Hye-soo – proves conspicuously absent for much of the runtime, as we follow Lee Sun-kyun’s eventual psychological breakdown. A veteran actor of both commercial fare (R Point) and arthouse fodder (Night and Day), Lee Sun-kyun knows how to command the screen, but his character isn’t particularly likable and his arc from faithful henchman to spited employee feels more than a little familiar for the genre.
When the action does finally erupt, we get a scene of Kim Hye-soo wielding off her captors with a hacksaw in a scene that seems to deliberately recall Lee Byung-Hun’s similarly desperate escape in 2005’s A Bittersweet Life. Unfortunately, channeling that modern classic does no help for A Special Lady, as we are only reminded of a far superior film. It must also be said that Kim Hye-soo’s lack of traditional martial arts training certainly shows, so it’s wise that the filmmakers armed her with a massive shotgun and an array of knives for the conclusion. Her ending battle against a room full of guards is easily the highlight of the movie, and possesses the kind of kinetic thrills one wishes had been present throughout the entire production; this climactic bout is less of an intricately choreographed dance than it is a desperate fight for survival, and fans of Korean cinema will likely find themselves satisfied by the blood-letting as Kim Hye-soo stabs back (and stabs again) at her attackers.
In the hands of a more skilled filmmaker, A Special Lady could have had a satisfying character-driven drama peppered with action, along the lines of 2014’s excellent Man in High Heels or the needs-no-introduction The Man From Nowhere; but A Special Lady serves as Lee An-gyu’s directorial debut after assistant director duties on widely seen movies such as The Good, The Bad, the Weird and Blades of Blood. While Lee An-gyu’s future as a filmmaker is not without potential, A Special Lady needed to make a stronger impression to stand out in a genre populated by so many stunners. As such, it’s difficult to recommend that Asian film buffs make their way here before they’ve watched those other, more essential titles. Here’s hoping that Kim Hye-soo’s most ass-kicking role is still ahead of her.
According to FBA: Yuen says that aside from sharing the title of the film, the remake will tell an entirely new story. He said that if the original film was meant to present an alternative form of wuxia film, the new film intends to redefine it.
A large slice of every video shop was once dedicated to shirtless, blood-dripping men, striking clenched poses and displaying great fighting skills. Taking their key from Hong Kong cinema, the films of Jean-Claude Van Damme (perhaps the man who personifies video more than anyone) and the various sub-Van Dammes was a vibrant and varied industry of fighting tournaments programmers, bar room brawls and cops who knew chop-socky. They were born in a pre-CGI age, when audiences could trust the images as being true. At their best, these films were among America’s most cinematic, visually exciting and occasionally sublime.
Not since Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch was violence glorified so operatically. The “action movie” became part of film language, where time would stand still and a physical action, such as an aerial kick romanticised in slow-motion. But some of these films also represented the most authentic film noir of their time, B-movies about underground kick-boxing, gangsters and gamblers in seedy, neon-lit nightclubs. And like film noir, this genre was a meat and potatoes “people’s cinema”, dropping the hyferlutened for universal myths everyday people could relate to.
The time is right for retrospective, it was after all the American B-grindhouse pictures of the 30s, 40s and 50s that inspired the French New Wave. These films, with their strong style and aesthetics can be inspirational to a new generation…
“No Retreat No Surrender” VHS Cover
No Retreat No Surrender (1986)
Perhaps the most successful invasion of another country’s film form/style into the American market since German expressionism’s distillation into film noir, this Hong Kong-produced American grindhouse picture brought Chinese cinema sensibilities to American soil for the first time.
Produced by legendary Hong Kong figure Ng See Yuen, directed by Corey Yuen (The Transporter) and inspired by the commercial success of The Karate Kid, Seasonal Pictures went overboard trying to make an “American” film; filled with breakdancing, parties, cold war jingoism and an all-American kid taking revenge on a criminal karate syndicate and Russian-hulk who crippled his father.
The fantastic villain of the picture was an unknown and over-zealous Jean Claude Van Damme, credited as playing “Ivan The Russian”, who actually injured many of the actors by not pulling his kicks and punches. But the broken noses and bones he inflicted resulted in a B-masterpiece, a strange mix of 80’s nostalgia at surface level with its routes found in Chinese Peking opera. How does the teenage all-American take on the muscles from Brussels? – by meeting the ghost of Bruce Lee in an abandoned house for training! Known in Germany with the equally cool title of Karate Tiger.
“Bloodsport” VHS Cover
Would you like to better understand the leader of the free world? President Trump has sighted this Cannon classic as one of his favourite films. Shot on location in Hong Kong in the dangerous, lawless “walled city”, Bloodsport stars Jean Claude Van Damme, who enters the infamous underground “Kumite” martial art tournament to avenge the death of his Master’s son.
High-ish production values and a rare perfectionist streak in the genre made this picture reach transcendent heights of poetic violence through the use of Van Damme’s physical performance in slow-motion.
Bloodsport is supported by an international cast of martial arts performers, each with their own distinct styles, such as sumo and monkey kung fu. Partly inspired by the international tournament within Enter the Dragon and even sharing one of its villains: the humongous and frightening Bolo Yung. Legend has it that the fight scenes were not working until Van Damme stepped into the editing suite and helped craft what we see so operatically today.
Bloodsport was a global smash hit that gave JCVD instant stardom and provided cinemas and video shops with a new viable take on the martial arts genre.
“No Retreat No Surrender 3: Blood Brothers” VHS Cover
No Retreat No Surrender 3: Blood Brothers (1990)
The most insane martial arts film shot in America incorporates an albino terrorist leader’s plot to kill president George H. W. Bush. In classical Hong Kong-style, Blood Brothers bares no connection to previous NRNS-series instalments, apart from sheer wackiness, creative dance-like use of violence and a tacked-on cold-war nationalism verging on parody.
One of the great screen fighters, Loren Avedon, was brought into the series to replace Kurt McKiney, who broke his contract to return in the sequels. But these mishaps didn’t stop the strange phenomena of this movie series getting better with every sequel.
Seasonal film’s Hong Kong-style production on American soil brought truly daring and dangerous fight sequences to VHS. The other “blood brother” and truly joyous cinematic presence Keith Vitali, had a plaster-cast on his arm for the first few scenes because he genuinely broke it during filming.
Scenery is chewed and successfully digested by bleached blond and English-accented Rion Hunter as the leader of a strange gang of kung fu fighting communist terrorists. This all leads to the assassination plot of George Bush senior, incorporating real footage of the president, which along with strange moments of text used on a blank screen, constitutes the most unlikely tribute to Jean-Luc Godard in cinema.
Cheesy quotable dialogue and severe bone-crunching where it counts, NRNS 3: Blood Brothers is among the very cream of B-cinema and wildly enjoyable.
“Deadly Bet” VHS Cover
Deadly Bet (1992)
Deadly Bet came out of a wonderful straight-to-video company called PM entertainment, whose philosophy was to put all the money on the screen. Later on they would master the use of multiple flipping cars and pyrotechnic explosions to rival Hollywood, but in their early era, they would focus on smaller kickboxing noir pictures.
Within the world of sub-Van Dammes, Jeff Wincott has always been considered the greatest dramatic actor. This allowed the film more dramatic flexibility as Wincott’s gambling in Vegas gets out of control. The pivotal dramatic moment is when he uses his actual Wife as collateral but loses the bet, something that could only be done in straight to video B-movies. His wife is then forced to stay with Jeff’s nemesis(!) while money owed is somehow recouped.
The rest of the film is spent with Jeff working with gangsters, fighting in underground tournaments and trying to redeem himself . As ridiculous as the film sounds, it’s executed in a sincere way; the standard training montage given a really melancholic twist of moral and not just physical improvement. PM used real Vegas locations and casino interiors, giving this B-picture effective atmosphere. This is a rare treatment of the subject matter, which although still cracking various jaw-breaking punches and kicks, has superior lead actor and genre bit-players to have a noir film’s dramatic impact.
“Drive” VHS Cover
Drive is the last truly great American martial arts film, perhaps constituting its very high point before decline. With a medium budget big enough to allow tremendous visual scope and sci-fi themes, but small enough to prevent them from using CGI, Steve Wang’s passion project is the most balletic martial arts picture shot in America.
Hawaiian gymnastic B-Movie star Mark Dacascos stars as a Billion dollar man with a futuristic “power cell” embedded in his chest that makes him super-human. Problem is, that gives him a billion dollar price on his head. It’s a sci-fi road movie with comic relief from co-stars Kadeem Hardison and Brittany Murphy.
Wang’s ambition with this project was to create the most authentic tribute to the great Hong Kong martial arts films, specifically those of Jackie Chan and Dacascos’s amazing screen fighting abilities made him the perfect accomplice. Rather than the intended gun-play and explosions in the original script, Wang rewrote the action scenes to feature wall to wall physical martial arts combat. He warned Dacascos “I want my actors really hitting each other, you will be bruised from head to toe!”. The choreography is thus frenetic, often involving 3 or 4 people kicking and punching a back-flipping and swerving Dacascos at one time.
It’s an action film made with tremendous visual integrity. A confused studio butchered the film by 16min on release, but presented in the DVD is the full directors cut in all its actioned-packed glory.
Today’s Deal on Fire is the Blu-ray for 2014’s The Monkey King. This fantasy action – based on Wu Cheng’en’s classical novel Journey to the West – is about a heavenly monkey that acquires supernatural powers and must battle the armies of both gods and demons to find his place in the heavens.
On June 12th, the MVD Rewind label will release a 2-Disc Blu-ray/DVD Collector’s Edition of Lionheart, a 1990 martial arts actioner starring Jean-Claude Van Damme (Kill ’em All, Until Death).
The film – also known as Wrong Bet as A.W.O.L. – is directed by Sheldon Lettich (Double Impact) and stars Harrison Page (Bad Ass), Deborah Rennard (Gang Related), Lisa Pelikan (Circle), Ashley Johnson (Last of Us video game), Brian Thompson (Cobra), Michel Qissi (Kickboxer) and Jeff Speakman (The Perfect Weapon).
Lionheart (which also may have a sequel, as well as a remake, in-the-works) is just one of the many films in The MVD Rewind Collection lineup that also includes Black Eagle (also starring Van Damme with 9 Death of the Ninja’s Sho Kosugi). Of course, we can only hope for more titles in the martial arts genre!
Special features for the Lionheart Collector’s Edition:
NEW –The Story of Lionheart (appx 60:00, HD) (Featuring Director Sheldon Lettich, Producer Eric Karson and stars Jean-Claude Van Damme, Harrison Page, Deborah Rennard and Brian Thompson)
NEW – Inside Lionheart with the Filmmakers and Cast” (appx 25:00, HD) (Featuring Director Sheldon Lettich, Producer Eric Karson and stars Jean-Claude Van Damme, Harrison Page, Deborah Rennard and Brian Thompson)
NEW –Lionheart: Behind the Fights (appx 15:00, HD) (Featuring Director Sheldon Lettich, Producer Eric Karson and stars Jean-Claude Van Damme, Harrison Page and Brian Thompson)
Audio commentary by Sheldon Lettich & Harrison Page
Making of featurette (8:53) (SD)
Interview with Sheldon Lettich (25:52) (SD)
Interview with Harrison Page (13:05) (SD)
Behind the Scenes of the Audio Commentary featurette (5:40) (SD)
Original Theatrical Trailer
Audio: Original 2.0 Stereo Audio (Uncompressed PCM on the Blu-ray) and Dolby Digital 5.1.
This summer, Mark Wahlberg (The Corruptor), Iko Uwais (The Raid 2), Ronda Rousey (The Expendables 3) and John Malkovich (Deep Water Horizon) are going the distance in Mile 22, an upcoming action-thriller directed by Peter Berg (Lone Surviver), which is currently wrapping principal photography.
According to Deadline, Mile 22 tells the story of an elite American intelligence officer who, aided by a top-secret tactical command unit, tries to smuggle a mysterious police officer with sensitive information out of a foreign country.
And the race doesn’t stop at Mile 22. The film will be followed up with a sequel, a scripted TV series and a VR component – all currently in development.
Mile 22 hits theaters on July 20, 2018. See you there!
Director: Isaac Florentine Writer: Frank Dietz Cast: Gary Daniels, Bryan Genesse, Barbara Crampton, David Sherwood, Isaac Mavimbela, Chris Buchanan, Greg Melvill-Smith, Rohan Coll, Ian Roussouw Running Time: 89 min.
By Paul Bramhall
Reviewing movies retrospectively is always an interesting exercise. Depending on how much time has passed, what was once considered cool may now be terribly dated, and what was once considered a train wreck may have aged like a fine wine. Just check out the opinions on some Lo Wei directed Jackie Chan movies now compared to 20 years ago. Which brings me to Cold Harvest, a movie I wasn’t aware existed, until I stumbled across it while researching a review for director Isaac Florentine’s (at the time of writing) latest, Acts of Vengeance.
Perhaps like many others, Florentine first appeared on my radar with the 2003 DTV action flick Special Forces, which showcased the talents of a certain fledging British martial arts star by the name of Scott Adkins. While the talent on display led me to seek out Florentine’s previous effort, the 2001 Michael Worth starring U.S. Seals II: The Ultimate Force, I never bothered to venture into his pre-2000 filmography. As it turned out, if I had decided to check out more of his earlier work, I would no doubt have seen Cold Harvest much sooner, as it acts as an action vehicle for another British martial arts star, Gary Daniels.
Daniels was already a solid B-movie star by the time he worked with Florentine, and Cold Harvest would mark his last movie of the 90’s (Florentine on the other hand still had one left in him, with the Dolph Lundgren starring Bridge of Dragons). I confess that my lack of enthusiasm towards 90’s American martial arts movies means that my exposure to Daniels has been limited to his work with Hong Kong studios. He puts in a commendable performance fighting against Jackie Chan in 1993’s City Hunter (despite Chan’s own contempt for the movie itself), and would headline the Seasonal Films U.S. set Blood Moon in 1997, which pitted him against Darren Shahlavi.
While his HK collaborations provided the opportunity to work with the likes of Jackie Chan and Tony Leung Siu-Hung, Cold Harvest comes with a similar draw. Both Florentine and the Alpha Stunts team, a group of martial artists and stuntmen known for their high impact choreography, spent most of the 90’s honing their skills on the Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers TV series and its various spin-offs. While the founder of Alpha Stunts, Koichi Sakamoto, had worked wonders with Mark Dacascos in Drive, just a couple of years prior, Cold Harvest brought in its co-founder, Akihiro Noguchi, to handle the martial arts sequences. Providing Noguchi with his first credit as Martial Arts Choreographer, in the preceding years he’d notch up several more as either a stunt, action, or martial arts chorographer on the likes of Black Belt, Ninja, and Everly, to name but a few.
So the million dollar question you’re likely thinking is – is Cold Harvest to Gary Daniels what Drive is to Mark Dacascos? Well, not quite. Arguably the biggest advantage Drive has is that it had most of the Alpha Stunts crew on-board (including Noguchi), however that’s not to say that Cold Harvest is a slouch in any way. Taking place in the not-too-distant future of 2010 (well, if we look at it from the time of production), the world has been hit by a comet plunging it into perpetual darkness, and if that wasn’t bad enough, a plague is wiping out large swatches of the population as well. Rising up from this post-apocalyptic world is a no-nonsense bounty hunter, played by Daniels, who makes his living hunting down wanted criminals and delivering them to law enforcement for a tidy reward.
Florentine shows his first affinity here for employing the twins plot device, one which he’d also use in U.S. Seals II with the late Karen Kim, with Daniels taking on a double role. Far from being a tough guy though, the twin role sees Daniels playing a normal civilian (he has glasses!) en route to the ‘Safe Zone’ with his pregnant wife. His wife is one of only 6 people carrying a gene which could cure the plague, and together they exchange loving glances while talking about their dream of opening a mushroom farm (mushrooms don’t require much light see). Daniels acting in the role of the average Joe twin is laughably horrendous, with every line spoken in a tone that implies he’s yet to hit puberty, and sporting an accent that’s all over the place. Thankfully, as in any action movie that employs such a setup (see also Maximum Risk), it isn’t long before a bullet lands between his eyes.
This leads to the crux of the plot, which has Daniels the bounty hunter team up with his brothers widow (played by Barbara Crampton), and go on the run from a group of mercenaries who plan to ransom her (well, her genes anyway) to the government. A post-apocalyptic world. A widow on the run. A bounty hunter looking to avenge his brother. It’s solid B-movie stuff. It’s also worth noting Florentine appears to have believed that, by 2010, wild-west fashion would have made a massive come-back. It may be a post-apocalyptic world, but if you didn’t know any better you’d think the comet struck in the late 1800’s. Florentine’s fondness for the western genre, despite it not being given any explanation whatsoever, does give Cold Harvest a distinct look, with six shooters (capable of unloading much more than 6) and Stetsons featured liberally.
Of course being a post-apocalyptic tale, amidst the wild west themes we still get the prerequisite dune buggies, motorbikes, and dwarves, showing that Florentine was clearly paying attention to all of those Cirio H. Santiago 80’s post-apocalyptic flicks with Richard Norton. Despite most of Cold Harvest playing out on what are obviously the same small number of streets (re: sets – there’s a reason why its permanently dark), being re-arranged a little for each change in location, there’s a charm present that’s sadly lacking in many of the same calibre productions today. No doubt this is due to the zero reliance on CGI that today’s action B-movies come with, instead relying on actual explosions (impressive ones at that), blood squibs, and set design. Going back to my first paragraph, I miss real in-camera effects, which today have been replaced by cheap CGI created in post.
The action occurs frequently, a mix of vehicular (mostly motorbike) stunt work that we have Stunt Coordinator Tyrone Stevenson (Mad Max: Fury Road) to thank for, and the aforementioned fights choreographed by Noguchi. The fights have the Alpha Stunts stamp all over them – a mix of hard hitting blows usually finished off by a kung fu power pose, Daniels is more than up for performing the choreography, and does so with aplomb. Just as much as Daniels though, the stuntmen on the receiving end also deserve equal credit, as Cold Harvest delivers some truly painful looking falls. Bodies go crashing through tables, thrown into walls, and are knocked off elevated platforms while crashing into inanimate objects on the way down. As a showcase of how to perform a wince inducing fall, Cold Harvest is a masterclass, usually captured in sparingly used slow motion.
The head mercenary is played by Bryan Genesse, another action B-movie stalwart best known for his kung fu fighting role in the Street Justice TV series, which ran from 1991 to 1993. Here he keeps his martial arts chops hidden, saving them for a final confrontation with Daniels that has them busting out the ‘shoot at each other from opposite sides of a wall’ move, lifted wholesale from John Woo’s Hard Target and Face/Off, before agreeing to go at it “man to man”. It’s a satisfying fight with plenty of high impact blows and falls, and one which makes you wish they’d had the opportunity to go at it a couple more times throughout the movie. As it is though, their throwdown provides a worthy exclamation mark to proceedings.
While Cold Harvest is a lot of fun, it’s also far from perfect. Florentine knows how to film action, but he’s never been a strong director, and in his earlier efforts those weaknesses especially show through. There are moments of unintentional comedy which could have been avoided, such as a scene which has Daniels suggestively cleaning the barrel of his shotgun while watching Crampton bathe topless (non-gratuitous, for those wondering). I also realized that any name which needs to be yelled in slow motion should only be 1 syllable, otherwise it sounds ridiculous, like when Crampton has to yell the name Oliver (“Ohhhhh…..leeeee……verrrrrrr!”). But these gripes are overall forgivable, and for those that want to see Daniels unleashing some high impact choreography, this is definitely the right place. Now I just need to know exactly what Cold Harvest is referring to.
Cleopatra Entertainment, a semi-new film division of long time L.A.-based indie label Cleopatra Records, will give Tan Bing’s China Salesman a limited theatrical release on April 20th and on VOD platforms on May 1st, followed by a Blu-ray & DVD release on June 26th, 2018.
China Salesman is set in Africa where a Chinese engineer/salesman comes face-to-face with a corrupt competitor over the contract for the first African mobile telecom technology (via Variety). The film stars Ethan Li (Brotherhood of Blades) and Li Ai (Unexpectedness).
China Salesman is getting heavy notoriety because it co-stars former heavyweight champ, Mike Tyson (Ip Man 3) and Aikido sensation Steven Seagal (Exit Wounds) – two Hollywood figures that are heavily featured in the film’s posters and trailers.
Blade of the Immortal | Blu-ray & DVD (Magnet Releasing)
Director: Takashi Miike Writer: Hiroaki Samura, Tetsuya Oishi Cast: Takuya Kimura, Hana Sugisaki, Sota Fukushi, Hayato Ichihara, Erika Toda, Kazuki Kitamura, Chiaki Kuriyama, Shinnosuke Mitsushima, Ken Kaneko, Yoko Yamamoto, Ebizo Ichikawa, Min Tanaka Running Time: 140 min.
By Kyle Warner
Takashi Miike, one of today’s most prolific filmmakers, celebrated his 100th film as a director with Blade of the Immortal. And it’s tough to imagine a more perfect film for Miike by which to hit that amazing 100. Because the definition of ‘what is a Miike film’ has changed somewhat as he’s journeyed into mainstream filmmaking, Blade of the Immortal is a bit of a sampler platter of Takashi Miike. While we used to think of Ichi the Killer sort of extremes when we thought of Takashi Miike, now we must recognize that historical epics like 13 Assassins, manga or game adaptations like Ace Attorney, and bizarre family-friendly stuff like TheGreat Yokai War are just as common a Miike film today as any other. In Blade of the Immortal, there’s extreme violence, there’s epic costume drama, there are over-the-top manga influences, and there’s a pretty badass child actor all in one package. It’s a film made by a man who wears many hats. And for most of its 140-minute running time, the movie is a total blast.
Blade of the Immortal begins with guttural screams and sprays of blood. We open with a black and white prologue as a lone samurai named Manji (Takuya Kimura) fights to avenge the death of his sister, Machi. In a scene that calls to mind Sword of Doom, Manji slaughters dozens of men all by himself. Only when he begins to tire do they get in mortal wounds; he loses an eye, a hand, and is sliced across the face. When finally every enemy is dead, Manji is ready to join his sister in death. But a mystical old woman (Yoko Yamamoto) visits Manji in his final moments, judges that allowing him to die would be too merciful, and instead fills his cuts with holy bloodworms (?!) in order to heal his wounds and stop the bleeding. He will now be forced to live forever as an immortal (but not invincible) monster.
Fast-forward fifty years and Japan is now enjoying a time of relative peace, with martial arts dojos carrying on the tradition of the warrior but rarely testing their abilities in mortal combat. This void gives rise to the Itto-ryu clan of samurai, upstarts, madmen, and outlaws. The Itto-ryu travels around the country converting dojos to their line of thinking (mainly that tradition is worthless and that martial arts superiority is the only thing that matters) and killing those who resist. After the little girl Rin (Hana Sugisaki) is left as the only survivor of one obliterated dojo, Rin seeks out the mythical samurai who cannot die to be her avenger. And though Manji is initially reluctant to assist Rin, he sees in her the likeness of his dead sister (it helps that they’re played by the same actress) and sees this as a way to potentially redeem himself. Failing that, it may just be a good way to die.
And so Manji and Rin set out to kill the Itto-ryu swordsmen responsible for the death of Rin’s family and clan. Each Itto-ryu clan member is strange in his or her own way, making each encounter memorable. Kazuki Kitamura (Killers) plays a sadistic burn victim who wears the heads of his victims as ornamentation, Shinnosuke Mitsushima (The Third Murder) plays a masked assassin, Erika Toda (Death Note) plays a musician with special skills, and Ebizo Ichikawa (Harakiri: Death of a Samurai) stars as a killer monk with strange abilities of his own. With every bloody battle, Manji and Rin work their way closer to the Itto-ryu master played by Sota Fukushi (As the Gods Will).
Most of the movie is bloody mayhem. But there’s a decent amount of strong drama here, too. What I didn’t expect from Blade of the Immortal was such a nuanced take on what vengeance means. Rin, really quite wonderfully played by Sugisaki, is a character we’re automatically behind after she is witness to her father’s murder. But her quest results in so much bloodshed that she (and the audience) begins to question its cost. Sota Fukushi’s villain begins as irreprehensible, but the film also goes to unexpected depths to find what makes his character tick. It’s good stuff.
Japanese superstar Takuya Kimura (Space Battleship Yamato) may have found his best action hero lead in Manji, the horrifically scarred samurai who cannot die. What I liked is that Manji is not depicted as some sort of god figure but rather as something horrific and monstrous. He feels every cut just the same as any mortal man, but his trick is that he can stay in the fight longer with his horror show regenerative abilities (oh yeah, and this movie has a subplot about his weakening sacred bloodworms that splatter beneath the skin. It’s gross and I loved it). Kimura makes a strong impression in both the action and dramatic scenes.
You don’t have to be told going in that it’s based on a manga or anime, and therein lies my only major beef with the film. The story’s original format hasn’t been changed enough for film. Blade of the Immortal is very episodic. Manji dispatches one colorful villain and then is onto the next one. You can sense where the manga issue/anime episode ended and the next one began. In addition to the structure, one wishes that perhaps Miike had toned down the look of the film just a bit. When you take away the fantastical elements of Manji’s healing abilities, the samurai world and the violence are actually pretty realistic for a swordplay action movie. As such, the characters with crazy hairstyles and wacky costumes stand out in an odd way. There is also a subplot involving a Manji imposter that doesn’t resonate as well as the rest of the film, but at least that subplot results in a few good moments with Hayato Ichihara (Yakuza Apocalypse) and Chiaki Kuriyama (Battle Royale).
Overall this movie is just a whole lot of fun. There is a moment in the big finale action sequence where people are slipping in blood as they battle beneath a bridge, meanwhile bodies are falling into view because more people are fighting atop the bridge. It’s very cool. In Miike’s filmography, the film it most resembles is 13 Assassins, but with Blade of the Immortal I sense that Miike felt freer to follow his instincts; which is to say, this can be a pretty weird and nasty movie. Bloody corpses and severed limbs are the most common props for stage backgrounds. It’s like a crazy combo of Lone Wolf & Cub and Logan – but with bloodworms! Blade of the Immortal is one of the best action films of 2017.
Hara-Kiri tells the story of a samurai who arrives at the doorstep of his feudal lord, requesting an honorable death by ritual suicide. The lord threatens him with the brutal tale of Motome, a young ronin who made a similar request, only to meet a grisly end. Undaunted, the samurai begins to tell a story of his own, with an ending no one could see coming.
Director: Kim Yong-Hwa Writer: Joo Ho-Min, Kim Yong-Hwa Cast: Cha Tae-hyun, Ha Jung-Woo, Ju Ji-Hoon, Kim Hyang-Gi, Kim Dong-Wook, Do Kyung-Soo, Lee Joon-Hyuk, Lee Jung-Jae, Ma Dong-Seok, Jang Gwang, Jung Hae-Kyun, Oh Dal-Su, Lim Won-Hee, Kim Soo-Ahn Running Time: 139 min.
By Paul Bramhall
It’s been a while since Korea delivered a full-blown fantasy spectacle, with perhaps the last time being Jo Dong-oh’s The Restless, way back in 2006. However with the current trend of webtoon (online comic) adaptations that are dominating both Korean dramas and movies, it’s perhaps not surprising that the time is rife for the genre to make a return to the countries cinema screens. Along with the Gods: The Two Worlds has taken the same approach Japan opted for with manga adaptations like Assassination Classroom and Parasyte, filming two instalments back-to-back, a first for Korea. It’s a gamble for sure, with no production before (or I’d daresay after) relying so much on visual effects as its selling point, to the tune of roughly $36 million.
However the Korean peninsula has come a long way in its CGI capabilities in a short period of time. As recently as Bong Joon-ho’s The Host, the creation of the titular monster was offshored to San Francisco based visual effects outfit The Orphanage, rather than done locally. However director Kim Yong-hwa had lofty ambitions, and for his 2012 feature Mr. Go, a Korea-China co-production about a baseball playing gorilla (don’t ask) that failed to set the box office alight, he founded the visual effects company Dexter. While Mr. Go may have been a misfire, Dexter has become the go-to effects house in Asia, with the likes of Tsui Hark (for The Taking of Tiger Mountain) and Soi Cheang (for The Monkey King 2) becoming regular clients, both of which heralded award winning results.
Without doubt AWTG:TTW (as I’ll refer to it from here on in) wouldn’t exist without Dexter, and while Yong-hwa has sat in the directors chair before for the likes of Take Off and 200 Pounds Beauty, this can be considered his sophomore effort with the title of Dexter Founder on his resume. The original webtoon by Joo Ho-min ran from 2010 – 2012, and in many ways its cinematic incarnation represents somewhat of a family friendly version of Chang Cheh’s Heaven and Hell, although thankfully Yong-hwa’s version didn’t take 5 years to complete. The story focuses on a firefighter that dies in the line of duty, played by My Sassy Girllead Cha Tae-hyun, who is promptly met by a trio of guardians whose job it is to guide him through seven trials, presided over by various Gods, which he has to pass in order to be reincarnated.
Fail any one of them, and he’s damned to an eternity in hell, custom made to whichever trial is being judged. Thankfully the trio of guardians is played by the ever cool Ha Jung-woo (last seen on the big screen in Tunnel), ably assisted by Joo Ji-hoon (Asura: City of Madness) and new guardian on the block Kim Hyang-gi (A Werewolf Boy). When viewing a production like AWTG:TTW, it’s important to remember that this is Korean filmmaking at its most commercial (re: crowd pleasing), designed as a bring the whole family along blockbuster in the same vein as Ode to My Father. Its intention is to make us laugh, gasp, and in true Korean style, ensure we have a box of tissues close to hand. While such productions aim to appeal to as wider an audience as possible, there’s a distinct feeling with Yong-hwa’s latest that the biggest demographic they’re going for is teenagers.
The afterlife is given plenty of quirky design traits that sometimes fall just the wrong side of juvenile. The entrance is presented as a turnstile, which you have to put a valid ticket through to enter, and perhaps most bizarrely, one of the shortcuts between trials takes the form of a theme park styled log flume. I was half expecting a staff member to be selling them a photo at the end of it. Pop culture references are also thrown about liberally, regardless of if they really fit the scenario, with mentions of The Avengers and Saving Private Ryan drawing more of a grimace than the desired laugh. However even those pale in comparison to the more blatantly preachy elements of the script, such as a line Ji-hoon is lumbered with when discussing examples of ‘indirect murder’, which has him declare “So don’t post mean comments online hastily.” Ok, we won’t!
While some elements of AWTG:TTW are decidedly Korean, such as the whole finale revolving around the trail of filial piety, a notion deep rooted in the countries Confucian society, the message it delivers is a universal one. Similarly the frequent onscreen text, telling us which realm is currently being trudged through, provide plenty of cultural pointers. The text can also never be accused of being dull, with references to the likes of Murder Hell and the Mirror of Karma ensuring a suitably dramatic tone. While neither the text nor visuals are able to completely immerse the viewer in the world being portrayed, it’s also worth noting that there are no glaring moments of poorly rendered green screen. The issue is more rooted in the fact it’s never clearly established how the quartet are travelling from realm to realm, they just kind of arrive there once the previous trial is done with.
Despite these less than subtle elements of AWTG:TTW, at almost 140 minutes long, at some point the unabashed heart on its sleeve nature of it all gets under your skin. Amongst the colourful visuals and elaborate costume design, there’s a story which keeps a few surprisingly dark revelations up its sleeve. With an opening scene which has Tae-hyun’s fireman smashing through a high level window of an ablaze building, sheltering a child in his arms, the time he spends plummeting through the air is literally all we see of him alive. His honourable death grants him plenty of goodwill with the guardians, who feel assured his journey through the trials should be a painless one, and considering we’re 2 trials down before the half hour mark, initially it seems they may be right. But as the plot progresses, so details of his life slowly begin to reveal a more tragic fate.
The appearance of a vengeful spirit from the world of the living puts a significant spanner in the works for Tae-hyun having a smooth journey, and it’s this revelation which comes to play a crucial part in keeping AWTG:TTW an engaging experience, rather than the trials themselves. Similar to the world skewering of Inception, whatever havoc the spirit wreaks in the land of the living has a ripple effect in the afterlife, resulting in our quartet being forced to outrun avalanches, or fend off legions of hell ghouls. The latter allows for some eye catching fantasy action sequences, as Jung-woo gets to unleash with a glowing sword, and Ji-hoon wields two oversized blades, which have the ability to connect and form a double bladed staff. My favorite action sequences though belonged to Jung-woo’s perusal of the spirit in the real world, which have him flying through the Seoul cityscape, sword in hand, as the spirit utilises power lines to travel at incredible speeds.
Another element that works in AWTG:TTW’s favour is its all-star cast. For fans of Korean cinema, the sheer amount of talent in front of the camera makes for enjoyable viewing. From Oh Dal-soo (Tunnel) and Im Won-hee (The Advocate: A Missing Body), who play a pair of judges in the afterlife, to the likes of Kim Su-an (Coin Locker Girl), Kim Hae-sook (The Handmaiden), Lee Kyung-yung (The Prison), Kim Ha-neul (Misbehavior), and Lee Jung-jae (Assassination), all of whom play various Gods. It could be argued that there’s never been a more fitting production for Jung-jae to showcase his booming voice than this one, in which he plays the King of the Underworld. Even actors like Yoo Joon-sang (The Target) and Ma Dong-seok (Train to Busan) show up as cameo appearances, the latter of whom promises to have a significantly larger role in the second instalment.
AWTG:TTW wraps proceedings up surprisingly neatly considering we know another round is on the way. Far from ending on a dramatic cliff-hanger, Tae-hyun’s journey appears to come to its conclusion, implying that whatever is coming next will turn its focus to a different character. While Yong-hwa is painting with incredibly broad brushstrokes in AWTG:TTW, both literally onscreen and with its tonal shifts, the ‘something for everyone’ appeal it’s clearly aiming for is largely achieved. While the more serious filmgoer will rightfully turn their nose up at such an approach to filmmaking, as a commercial blockbuster credit can be given for striking that precarious balance of knowing when to dial it up, and when to reign it in. As for the question of if I had to reach for that box of tissues, well, as the expression goes – some questions are best left unanswered.
The Monkey King (Aaron Kwok) is at it for a 3rd time in The Monkey King 3: Kingdom of Women (aka The Monkey King 3: Land of Beauty), once again directed by Soi Cheang Pou Soi’s (SPL 2, The Monkey King, The Monkey King 2).
After years making Hollywood films and big budget Chinese epics like Red Cliff and the recent The Crossing, John Woo, the man behind action classics such as A Better Tomorrow, The Killerand Hard Boiled, has finally made a return to the genre that made him an internationally acclaimed director with Manhunt(read our review).
Manhunt is a remake of the 1976 Japanese classic action thriller (starring the late Ken Takakura), which tells story of a man who is accused of multiple crimes and trying desperately to clear his name.
The remake, which obviously follows the same theme, is about a prosecutor, played by award-winning Chinese actor Zhang Hanyu (The Taking of Tiger Mountain), who is framed for robbery, rape and multiple murders and sets out on a difficult solo mission to clear his name. Japanese heartthrob actor and singer Masaharu Fukuyama (Suspect X) plays the detective chasing Zhang’s character (via Variety). Ha Ji-Won (Sector 7) and newcomer Qi Wei also star.
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