The release of Rupert Sanders (White and the Huntsman) live-action adaptation of Ghost in the Shell, based on Masamune Shirow’s manga/and anime by Mamoru Oshii of the same name, is right around the corner.
The film follows the exploits a female cyborg cop who hunts a mysterious and powerful hacker called the Puppet Master.
Ghost in the Shell stars Scarlett Johansson (Lucy), Michael Pitt (Funny Games), Pilou Asbæk (A Hijacking), Sam Riley (On the Road), Takeshi Kitano (Beyond Outrage), Juliette Binoche (Chocolat), Kaori Momoi (Sukiyaki Western Django) and Rila Fukushima (The Wolverine).
Ghost in the Shell hits theaters on March 31, 2017.
009-1: The End of the Beginning | Blu-ray (Tokyo Shock)
RELEASE DATE: May 2, 2017
Tokyo Shock presents the Blu-ray for 009-1: The End of the Beginning, directed by Koichi Sakamoto (Kamen Rider Fourze the Movie: Everyone, Space Is Here!).
This 2013 film is based on Shotaro Ishinomori’s classic spy heroine manga, 009-1. Meet Mylene, a sexy, sleek cyborg spy. She’s dressed to kill, fully-loaded with an anatomically concealed arsenal of high-tech weaponry and programmed with the most lethal fighting skills.
009-1: The End of the Beginning stars Mayuko Iwasa, Minehiro Kinomoto, Nao Nagasawa, Mao Ichimichi, Shizuka Midorikawa, Naoto Takenaka and Aya Sugimoto.
Kim Seong-Hun, the filmmaker behind A Hard Day and Tunnel, is making an eight-episode Korean zombie series for Netflix from a script by Kim Eun-hee (Signal).
According to Deadline, Kingdom is set in Korea’s medieval Joseon period where a crown prince is sent on a suicide mission to investigate a mysterious outbreak that leads him to a brutal truth that threatens the kingdom.
“I wanted to write a story that reflects the fears and anxiety of modern times but explored through the lens of a romantic fascination of the historical Joseon period,” said Kim Eun-hee.
We’ll keep you updated on Kingdom as more news arrives. Until then, Kim Seong-Hun’s DVD for Tunnel (read our review) hits retail outlets on May 2, 2017
AKA: Logan: The Wolverine
Director: James Mangold Cast: Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Richard E. Grant, Stephen Merchant, Boyd Holbrook, Dafne Keen, Elizabeth Rodriguez, Eriq La Salle, Elise Nea, Daniel Bernhardt Running Time: 137 min.
By Zach Nix
James Mangold’s Logan is such an eventful film to someone as myself that I struggle to come up with an opening statement about it, as it marks the end of an unforgettable era in blockbuster and comic book superhero cinema that we should never forget, and it’s all thanks to one Hugh Jackman. Jackman has been playing the iconic X-Men character, Wolverine, for a whopping seventeen years now and across nine films. In Jackman’s lifetime as the character, we have been witness to two Batman’s, two Superman’s, two Fantastic Four teams, three Punisher’s, and three Spider-Man’s. And yet, Jackman has been that constant that we’ve all taken for granted, always appearing as the exact same character across a franchise that has recast other roles around him. Even though the X-Men franchise has seen its ups and downs, Wolverine has always been consistently great across all of them, even though the films that he occupied varied.
With Logan, Jackman finally bids his iconic character farewell and in a way that he has never been able to fully do before, through a hard R-rated and violent standalone adventure that doesn’t set up future films or sacrifice good storytelling for unnecessary universe building. It somewhat plays off the previous events of past X-Men films, but more so as if they were once told legends of a great hero, making Wolverine very much so a Clint Eastwood archetype along the lines of The Outlaw Josey Wales or Unforgiven, an aged gun blade-slinger with one last mission to complete. It also jumps far ahead into the damaged and nearly pre-apocalyptic future of 2029, very much so separating it from all preceding events of previous X-Men films. In today’s day and age of universe connecting/post-credits teasing/PG-13 comic book superhero films that all start to blend at one point or another, Logan is a unique breath of fresh air that reminds us of the old days when adult comic book adaptations like The Crow, Blade, The Punisher, and Watchmen treated audiences like adults and gave them stand alone stories that were films first and foremost, not products.
In this semi-standalone future, Wolverine/Logan (Hugh Jackman) is a wounded and beat down man who drives a limo around to make money and takes care of Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) on a secluded property on the border of Mexico. One day on the job, Logan is confronted by Donald Pierce (Boyd Holbrook), a cyborg-like mercenary working for Transgien, a heavily financed research group in search of specific mutants. Pierce warns Logan that a woman in search of him is harboring a young girl, Lara (Dafne Keen), and that she possesses something of his. When Logan eventually comes into contact with Lara, he finds himself wrapped up in Transgien’s hunt for her and is forced into a situation where he must protect her and Xavier whilst throwing his own desires to the curb.
While I personally believe that every X-Men film has done a commendable job at portraying Wolverine whilst fleshing him out more and more with each installment, Logan is the definitive Wolverine film that fans have been clamoring for. Here, Logan is portrayed as a pessimistic and harsh superhuman who has let the cruel world around him finally get to him. While Logan has always been an easily agitated guy, the anti-mutant and unrelenting world of Logan shows his patience at a particularly low level, and to a somewhat comedic effect. He’s a frustrated guy who simply wants to look out for himself, but his penchant for helping the innocent forces him to do the morally righteous thing and sacrifice his own well-being for others. While I don’t want to dive into spoilers, I’ll leave it at kudos to Mangold for giving Logan a final arc to complete his character.
Logan is also next level in that it fully unleashes Wolverine as never seen before, slashing and dashing his way through enemies and foes in gory delight. Jackman has always showcased a full sense of dedication to the character, but he’s now more unhinged than ever before thanks to the R rating. Logan easily racks up his highest kill count to date, with the entire film rounding out as the most violent and death filled X-Men venture to date. Mangold sets the tone and level of violence in the picture with an opening scene where some hard looking Mexicans try to steal from Logan, resulting in a limb dismembering tussle. Another unique scene of action includes an incident in which Xavier’s powers freeze everyone in time whilst shaking the entire world around them, with only Logan able to work his way through the powerful mind attack, stabbing frozen henchmen along the way. And finally, a finale set in the woods goes all out, with Logan running towards mercenaries and gutting them left and right. In other words, this is the Wolverine rage mode that fans have been begging for, and Mangold delivers it in spades.
Much as Mangold did in The Wolverine, Logan draws heavily upon Western iconography, as well as other memorable genre efforts, for the character and look of the film. Besides the previously mentioned Eastwood similarities, the most obvious is Shane, as Mangold even shows the Western within the film, comparing Logan to the drifter himself. The film also draws from Mad Max, but not simply for its apocalyptic imagery, but also for its reluctant hero whom gets wrapped up in other people’s business because he’s morally righteous at heart, just like Max Rockatansky. There’s also a strong Sam Peckinpah influence on the picture with it’s over the top violence and Mexican border setting. Even flourishes of Sergio Leone seep into the picture, with groups of gunmen surrounding Logan before a burst of violence sets into effect. One can’t also help but notice the similarities between the Lone Wolf and Cub series and Logan’s road trip to protect the young Laura whom he acts as a surrogate father too. Plus, the guy uses blades, miniature swords essentially, as his signature weapon. What’s truly fantastic about all of these filmic influences is that Logan never feels like a rip-off of any of them, but more so a cinematic blender that ingests their influences and subtlely homages them along the way, proving itself to be a unique neo-western for the comic book superhero genre.
Supporting performances are also to be commended, although the film is mostly the Hugh Jackman show, and deservedly so. Patrick Stewart returns as his supposed final time as Charles Xavier, and gives a truly emotional and gut wrenching performance as a weakened Xavier, who like Logan, has seen better days. Newcomer Dafne Keen is absolutely fantastic as the young Laura, a.k.a. X-23, and gives one of the best child performances I have seen in a long time. She practically steals the show like Kick-Ass’s Hit Girl character, not only because she kicks a lot of ass, but also because she showcases immense vulnerability and pathos as a young kid conditioned by her violent surroundings. Comedian Stephen Merchant also does great work as a mutant detecting mutant whom is dragged along for the adventure as well. On the villain front, Holbrook is delightfully cheesy yet menacing as the film’s main villain, whom the audience will be begging to see die by the film’s end. The biggest surprise of all, especially for martial arts and COF fans, is an appearance by none other than Daniel Bernhardt (Bloodsport II, John Wick) as one of Holbrook’s mercenaries. He’s not in the film long, but a minor appearance by Bernhardt always makes any movie better.
As much as I enjoyed Logan, the film does succumb to a few minor flaws that prevent it from outright being the masterful Wolverine film it could have been, although it is very close. Although I enjoyed the increased level of violence from previous Wolverine films, Mangold sometimes goes overboard and creates a sense of exhaustion during some of the action sequences, pushing the violence to extremes in parts that I felt were a tad inappropriate. Also, there’s a midpoint twist where a new villain is introduced, and it really took me a back and instantly hurt the entire film as a whole in my opinion. I don’t want to spoil this twist for others, but I will simply state that it was an unnecessary and silly science fiction addition to an otherwise grounded and practical film that did not need it. Also, the death of some notable characters throughout felt poorly handled and quite rushed, from both an emotional stand point regarding characters you love and a satisfying standpoint regarding characters you love to hate. Overall, Logan is great stuff, but a few minor flaws hold it back from being the perfect film it could’ve been, although readers may disagree with my opinion regarding these minor points I made, as they are very subjective.
After 2009’s disappointing X-Men Origins: Wolverine and 2013’s ‘so-close but no cigar’ The Wolverine, Mangold and Jackman have finally given us the definitive Wolverine film with Logan, the ultimate farewell to the character. This blend of neo-western and post-apocalyptic sentiments results in the ultimate genre film that action fans will be talking about for years to come. I know it’s premature to call it, but I highly doubt that any comic book superhero film for the rest of the year, let alone the next few years, will be able to match the pure visceral thrills and emotional ride of Mangold’s latest, as its cinema at its purest. While a tad overlong, the film clocks in a little over two hours, Logan is otherwise a brisk and dramatic adventure that slashes its way through the rest of the comic book superhero competition to rousing effect. Here’s to hoping that Logan reminds all of the other studios out there that not every comic book superhero film has to be connected to others or set up further sequels, as a passionate and daring standalone, especially one for adults, can prove to be infinitely more satisfying than five safe and stale efforts combined. As for Jackman, let’s all pour one out for the entertainer, as he, much like Wolverine, deserves a long rest and retirement for all of the years that he has given too us.
A brand new poster has emerged for Death Fighter (aka White Tiger), an upcoming martial arts movie starring Matt Mullins (Mortal Kombat: Legacy), Cynthia Rothrock (Yes, Madam), Don “The Dragon” Wilson (Martial Arts Kid) and the late Joe Lewis (Force: Five).
Death Fighter is directed by Toby Russell (Death by Misadventure), a name closely associated with low budget martial arts and Hong Kong film – at least to die hard enthusiasts. With this said, fans should expect off the wall, Hong Kong-style action.
For reasons unknown, Death Fighter has been completed for nearly 3+ years, but has yet to be released. Let’s hope this new poster is a sign that a release date is finally near. For now, don’t miss the film’s Trailer (when it was still called White Tiger):
Perhaps Jackie Chan (Police Story 2013) is taking a page from Liam Neeson’s playbook and realizing that, even at the ripe age of 62 years-old, there’s no reason he has to retire from a life of action. That would explain why the concept for the actor’s next, project The Foreigner, sounds so much like a movie Charles Bronson might have starred in his heyday.
In the film, Jackie Chan plays a humble restaurant owner who is pushed to violence after a band of terrorists take his daughter’s life in an attack. The movie is based on Stephen Leather’s 2008 novel The Chinaman.
Directing The Foreigner is everyone’s favorite 007 filmmaker, Martin Campbell (Casino Royale). Co-starring with Chan is former James Bond himself, Pierce Brosnan (Tomorrow Never Dies, No Escape). According to TW, Brosnan will play a former IRA member-turned-government official. The project will unite Campbell and Brosnan for the first time since 1995’s Goldeneye.
The Foreigner also stars Charlie Murphy (’71), Katie Leung (Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix), Simon Kunz (GoldenEye) and Roberta Taylor (Green Street 3: Never Back Down).
The Foreigner is expected to hit theaters on September 29, 2017.
Updates: Here’s the first PosterThe Foreigner (via AFS). Also, in case you missed it the first time, check out a “mega” trailer for Chan’s newest/upcoming films, which includes the first footage from The Foreigner:
News outlets are reporting that the Hong Kong megastar will be starring in a film adaptation of Square Enix’s hit video game Sleeping Dogs, which is being produced by Neal Moritz (Fast and Furious franchise).
According to Deadline: Sleeping Dogs follows an undercover police officer (Yen) on a mission to take down one of the most powerful and dangerous criminal organizations in the world: the notorious Triads. The movie based on an action video game is set in Hong Kong and focuses on martial arts fighting, racing, boat chases… and shooting while doing all of that.
Sleeping Dogs is a lot more synonymous with Yen’s Hong Kong-style of filming than what’s described in its plot. Asian film expert/producer Mike Leeder (Pound of Flesh, Tracer) was responsible for voice casting Sleeping Dogs when the game was known as its preliminary title True Crime: Hong Kong. Leeder also produced/coordinated the game’s live-action trailer (posted below) with late actor/martial artist Darren Shahlavi (Kickboxer: Vengeance, Ip Man 2), who choreographed the action.
We’re hoping the film doesn’t become vaporware (i.e. Noodle Man), but considering Yen’s current state of global popularity – as well as a solid video game source – Sleeping Dogs is most likely a top priority for producers. Until then, Donnie Yen’s Hong Kong latest actioner, Chasing the Dragon, will be released later this year by Well Go USA.
Check out the live-action Sleeping Dogs video game Trailer from 2012 below:
Juno Mak (Dream Home), the actor/director of 2013’s Rigor Mortis, is once again stepping behind the camera for Sons of the Neon Night, an upcoming gangster epic with an all-star cast that includes Takeshi Kaneshiro (Wu Xia), Tony Leung Ka Fai (League of Gods) and Kara Hui (The Midnight After).
Here’s a poetic description of the film from Mak himself: “A land free of drugs depicts utopia, or so they say – Yet only those who have been there would know the eternal flames that burn in that place called Hell. It was with his creation of medicine that men began deluding himself about the illusive power to ordain life and death. Be it naivety or arrogance, we glory in awe, eyes closed; deaf to the quiet humming of destruction that lingers on the edge of desire. As it goes, blood weeps more eagerly than tears in a merciless world.”
According to AFS, Sons of the Neon Night starts shooting May/June.
Well Go USA has just announced the theatrical release for Na Hyeon’s South Korean thriller Prison, starring Han Suk-Kyu (Tell Me Something) and Kim Rae-Won (Gangnam Blues).
After a fatal accident, Yu-gon, a former police inspector, is sentenced to hard time in a prison he once helped fill. Once inside, he discovers the entire penitentiary is no longer controlled by the guards, but by a vicious crime syndicate that breaks out at night, using their prison sentences as the perfect alibi to commit intricate heists. Looking for revenge against the system that placed him inside, Yu-gon joins the syndicate… but with every man out for himself, how long can the perfect crime last?
The film hits theaters on March 31, 2017. Watch the Trailer below:
The film was loosely based on a classic short story by Pu Songling, a writer of supernatural tales during the Qing Dynasty. The same story also served as the inspiration for a 1992 Painted Skin starring Sammo Hung (The Bodyguard).
Now news comes from AFS that a 2019 prequel is in the works by The Huayi Brothers (see the film’s teaser poster). Details are practically non-existent at the moment, but being a prequel, we can only wonder who’ll be back for the action? Someone from Jedha City perhaps? Stay tuned.
South Korean writer/director Lee So-Youn (The Uninvited) is back with more thrills and chills with Bluebeard, a new film that’s getting a March 17th theatrical release from Well Go USA.
When a doctor learns a murderous secret from a sedated patient, he finds himself in the middle of an unsolved serial murder case. As dismembered bodies start showing up close to home, the doctor races to solve the riddle before the killer realizes what he may know.
Director: Jo Eui-seok Writer: Jo Eui-seok, Kim Hyun-duk Cast: Lee Byung-hun, Gang Dong-won, Kim Woo-bin, Uhm Ji-won, Oh Dal-su, Jin Kyung, Monsour Del Rosario, Jung Won-jung, Yoo Yeon-soo, Jo Hyun-chul, Paek Hae-soo Running Time: 143 min.
By Paul Bramhall
The Korean film industry rounded out 2016 with yet another thriller concerning those in positions of authority abusing their power. This time based on the true story of a CEO who defrauded his sales staff in order to line his own pockets, it’s a story that plugs directly into the sentiments that many Koreans are feeling towards those in authority during recent times. While some viewers are likely starting to feel fatigued at the recurring theme that’s been present throughout the year, these productions are arguably more entertaining than the overly patriotic epics like The Admiral: Roaring Currents and Northern Limit Line from a couple of years prior.
On the surface, Master bears a striking resemblance to a production which was released just a year earlier, in the form of Woo Min-ho’s Inside Men. Both focus on a trio of male characters and their allegiances with each other, and both feature Lee Byung-hun as one of the characters in question. Byung-hun has had a busy 2016, with roles both in Hollywood productions Misconduct and The Magnificent Seven, as well as on local soil with Master, and Kim Ji-woon’s return to Korean filmmaking in Age of Shadows. Here Byung-hun plays the CEO in question, the leader of a pyramid scheme company called One Network. Replacing Jo Seung-woo and Baek Yoon-sik as his co-stars are Gang Dong-won and Kim Woo-bin.
Dong-won has had almost as busy a year as Byung-hun, with major roles in the horror movie The Priests and crime caper A Violent Prosecutor. For Master he purposefully beefed up for the role, with his broad shouldered appearance reflecting a marked difference from his usual slight frame. Playing a committed anti-corruption investigator, to draw a comparison to The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly, Dong-won is the good to Byung-hun’s the bad. That leaves the ugly, which has Woo-bin playing a young IT expert who’s been helping Byung-hun to launder the money, while also planning to skim off the top. Woo-bin has made a steady transition from predominantly starring in TV dramas, to featuring more on the big screen. Cutting his teeth as the main character in Friend 2, which was followed up with a role in the breezy crime caper The Con Artists, Master is definitely his meatiest role to date.
At the helm is director Jo Eui-seok, also responsible for the script, who was last seen directing the Korean remake of the Hong Kong movie Eye in the Sky, with 2013’s Cold Eyes. What’s perhaps most interesting about Master is that, despite Byung-hun and Dong-won clocking in the most years of experience, it’s Woo-bin’s compromised IT expert that proves to be the most interesting focal point of the movie. His expertise in staying off the radar clearly not matching that of his IT skills, he’s pulled in by Dong-won’s investigator, and strikes a deal to help them take down Byung-hun in order to avoid jail time. Forced to be a mole within Byung-hun’s organization, his constantly shifting allegiances, and willingness to do anything to save his own skin, come together to make him the most conflicted character of the trio.
This is however, also most likely due to Byung-hun and Dong-won’s characters being somewhat underwritten. Byung-hun fares the best, his natural charisma able to make roles even in misfires like Memories of the Sword at least watchable. As the CEO he portrays the role almost like that of a cult leader, addressing his thousands of employees in flashy seminar halls and shedding fake tears of gratitude, he’s blindly followed based largely on the cult of personality which he’s built around himself. Dong-won’s unwavering investigator is the dullest of the trio, given little personality beyond his desire to take down Byung-hun, and despite being dedicated to the role, the fact he has little to work with in terms of the script is at times a little too apparent.
Master essentially feels like two movies in one. The first half is set in Korea, and involves plenty of setup and plot development as proceedings build to a raid on Byung-hun’s home, with the intention of seizing a ledger containing the names of those in power who he’s been paying off. However he ultimately gets away, escaping with both the ledger and $3 billion, and sets sail for Manila in the Philippines. After a climatic car chase and fight between Dong-won and a masked assailant in a tunnel, he’s ultimately left high and dry with no more evidence than what he began with, while Woo-bin is marked as both a traitor to One Network and ends up on the receiving end of a blade.
It’s only when the pair get wind of Byung-hun’s whereabouts that they decide to team up in order to redeem themselves, and get the bad guy once and for all. This basically sees proceedings hit reset, as everyone packs up and heads to Manila for a second crack at taking down Byung-hun and his cohorts, and the remainder of the movie is set for the most part in the Filipino capital. While most other reviews for Master will skim past this point, it’s worth noting that the Filipino senator that Byung-hun’s CEO attempts to woo while in Manila, is played by none other than Monsour Del Rosario. Yes, the same Monsour Del Rosario from such 90’s action movies as Ultracop 2000, Techno Warriors, and Bloodfist 2. Since those days of appearing in action cheapies, Del Rosario has become (at the time of writing) the congressman for a district of Manila, so can kind of be viewed as playing himself.
The change in locale certainly plays a big part in keeping things from appearing too repetitive, with the slums of Manila acting as a sharp contrast to the extravagant life Byung-hun was living in Seoul. His pitch perfect Filipino accented English is also a plus, which he learnt specifically for the role, and makes his attempts to swindle Del Rosario into coughing up billions of dollars for a proposed eco-city, which he has no plans to ever build, all the more entertaining. It’s a credit to both the script, and Byung-hun’s acting, that the switch to English never glaringly stands out as it did in similar efforts such as The Berlin File, with some lines even being quote worthy. At one point Byung-hun quips “Senator, let the children play on the grass, and not in the trash.” A line which delivers the intended comedic effect.
It’s perhaps indicative of the script as a whole that we get to spend the most time with the villain, and indeed at times even feel endeared to him. However Master can’t quite escape from the fact that it’s very much a talk-heavy movie, while seeming to strive to be something more action orientated. The action quota is in fact minimal, and while the initial Seoul based climax in the tunnel is a brief but suitably tense confrontation, a final shoot out on the streets of Manila almost feels shoe horned in, and doesn’t feel natural for the characters to be partaking in. The same criticism can be applied to the final scene as a whole, as Eui-seok seems determined to allow proceedings to end with a bang, despite the majority of what’s come before not really being indicative of such a tone.
Indeed the epic runtime of 143 minutes doesn’t seem entirely justified. But thankfully Master coasts along on the stellar performances from its trio of leading men and supporting cast, which includes Jin Kyeong (who also featured in Eui-seok’s previous movie Cold Eyes) as Byung-hun’s business associate, Eom Ji-won as Dong-won’s partner, and the ever-present Oh Dal-soo. However with some additional trimming and the inclusion of a couple more action scenes, it’s easy to feel that underneath all of the talking and scenes of planning, there’s a much leaner movie that could have come to fruition. As it is, Master stands its ground as a middle-of-the-road thriller, bolstered by a high budget and A-grade actors who make it appear to be more. It’s a sleight of hand that Byung-hun’s character would be proud of.
Chinese entertainment company Huayi Brothers (Mojin: The Lost Legend, Dragon Blade) have announced The Mask of the Black Death, an upcoming film based on a script by one of the most important and influential filmmakers in the history of cinema, Akira Kurosawa (Seven Samurai, Ran).
The Mask of the Black Death (based on on Edgar Allen Poe’s short story The Masque of the Red Death) was written by Kurosawa following his 1975 film Dersu Uzala and was completed before his passing in 1998. In 2008, an Anime adaptation of The Mask of the Black Death was planned, but never materialized.
According to CB: Just like with Dersu Uzala the story was supposed to take place in Russia. At the beginning of the 20th century humanity is faced with a deadly contagion, and people’s characters, resilience and survival are being tested as the society is pushed well into the brinks of despair and possible annihilation.
The Huayi Brothers released a teaser poster (via AFS) showing a target date set for 2020. At this time, there are no directors or stars attached. As always, we’ll keep you updated on this project as we learn more.
The Handmaiden will be getting a Blu-ray release from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment on March 28, 2017 (DVD version was released in January).
The Handmaiden is a gripping and sensual tale of two women – a young Japanese Lady living on a secluded estate, and a Korean woman who is hired to serve as her new handmaiden, but is secretly plotting with a conman to defraud her of a large inheritance.
Director: The Mo Brothers Writer: Timo Tjahjanto Cast: Iko Uwais, Julie Estelle, Chelsea Islan, David Hendrawan, Epy Kusnandar, Zack Lee, Sunny Pang, Very Tri Yulisman Running Time: 118 min.
By Martin Sandison
While the world waits with bated breath for the next installment of Gareth Evans’ phenomenally popular Raid franchise, we now have a film that more than whets the appetite from Indonesia: Headshot. Starring Iko Uwais from The Raid, the movie has been labelled by some as Raid-lite. In my opinion, that is complete balls. Headshot delivers visceral, non-stop action thrills from start to finish; and while not as accomplished in ideas or direction as its predessecors, it’s a deliriously entertaining film. Showing in the Glasgow Film Festival, I was lucky enough to see it before it’s official release in the west.
Headshot begins with a wonderfully put together sequence revealing the villain of the piece, Lee (played by Sunny Pang) who breaks out of prison. Then our hero Ishamel (Uwais) washes up on a beach, and is rescued by a Doctor, Ailin (Chelsea Islan). He has amnesia, although he has some flashes of memory. Both plotlines move concurrently, and Ishmael starts to remember his past bit by bit, while Lee is trying to find him. This sets in motion a bunch of weapon, hand to hand fighting and gunplay.
So the first question most are going to ask is: What level is the choreography at? As good as The Raid? The answer, for the most part, is a resounding yes. Choreographed by the “Uwais Team” (sh*t, is he turning into Jackie Chan?), a lot of the techniques in terms of filmmaking and martial arts style are present. Yes, at times it feels like we’ve seen this before, but that doesn’t detract from the quality of action on display. This quality hardly dips at all throughout, although there is one duel that I was looking forward to that wasn’t great: the rematch between Uwais and Julie Estelle (who played Hammer Girl in The Raid 2), which takes place on a beach and has some limp exchanges. In fact at times the conviction in moves is lacking, which is a little frustrating, because the next move is on point. Also, the near constant shaking of the camera in long takes is a little off-putting.
Those looking for the brutal violence in choreography from The Raid will not be disappointed; at times this movie is even more violent, with plenty of disgraceful knife wounds, blood flying and full contact hits. There are also some welcome humurous touches amongst the mayhem, which adds depth to the originality of the action. The performers of the martial arts scenes are undoubtedly up there with Uwais and the cream of modern martial arts cinema, especially Veri Try Yulisman (Baseball Bat Man from The Raid 2) and the truly brilliant Sunny Pang. He seemed to come from nowhere, with a limited filmography that doesn’t include any action films. Pang is from Singapore, and is well-versed in kickboxing and MMA, and more than holds in own in the bone cracking final duel. Some of Uwais best handwork comes in this fight, something he is known for and is sometimes lost in modern martial arts cinema. At times the movie almost pays tribute to the already legendary first Raid, with the final battle taking place in a very similar location, to the 2-on-one final fight. Indonesian action cinema was kickstarted again due to the film, so I think it’s more than acceptable to do this.
The two directors of Headshot, dubbed The Mo Brothers (Macabre), have been making a name for themselves of late. Their last film Killers received a lot of good write ups and was again very violent. Some of the filmmaking on show in Headshot is engaging and stylish, the opening especially. Also the soundtrack is superb, with atmospheric electric guitar flourishes and interesting percussion. Unfortunately some of the sentimentality and hefty doses of cheese in the romantic subplot are complimented by very generic mushy music, which didn’t appeal to my eyes or ears.
I went into this film thinking “If this is half as good as the first Raid I’ll be happy.” I came out with a rush of adrenalin, and a knowledge that it’s close to being as good. Indonesian action films are some of the best in the world right now, and I urge fans to catch this movie in the cinema. You won’t be disappointed.
Bong Joon-ho (The Snowpiercer), the acclaimed director of the 2006 Korean monster masterpieceThe Host, will debut his latest film Okja on Netflix June 28th
Meet Mija (Seohyun An), a young girl who risks everything to prevent a powerful, multi-national company from kidnapping her best friend – a massive animal named Okja. Following her across continents, the coming-of-age comedy drama sees Mija’s horizons expand in a way one never would want for one’s children, coming up against the harsh realities of genetically modified food experimentation, globalization, eco-terrorism, and humanity’s obsession with image, brand and self-promotion.
Okja also stars Tilda Swinton (The Snowpiercer), Jake Gyllenhaal (Nightcrawler), Paul Dano (Love & Mercy), Steven Yeun (The Walking Dead), Lily Collins (Abduction), Devon Bostick (Regression), Byun Heebong (The Host), Shirley Henderson (Filth), Daniel Henshall (The Babadook), Yoon Je Moon (Fists of Legend) and Choi Wooshik (Big Match).
Director: Kim Sung-hong Writer: Yeo Hye-yeong Cast: Yoon So-jeong, Park Yong-woo, Choi Ji-woo, Mun Su-jin, Lee Seung-woo, Jeon Hong-ryeol, Koo Hey-ryoung, Youn Sung-hun, Tae Yu-rim, Kim Gye-pae, Seo Eun-sun Running Time: 100 min.
By Paul Bramhall
Director Kim Sung-hong may not be a name that’s immediately familiar to many fans of Korean cinema, however he was behind one of the first wave of Korean movies to get distributed in the west, with 2001’s mean spirited horror thriller Say Yes. His movies since then have displayed a similar streak of nastiness, from 2009’s Missing to 2012’s Doctor, the one recurring theme is that of a vulnerable female being put in jeopardy by a variety of unpleasant characters – be it psychopathic killers or deranged surgeons.
In 1997 he directed his fourth feature, The Hole, which marked his second time working with the man behind the script of Say Yes, Yeo Hye-yeong. One element that really stands out in all of Sung-hong and Hye-yeong’s collaborations, is how jealousy always plays a very prominent role. The first time they worked together was on 1994’s Deep Scratch, which dealt with a pair of female friends, one of whom becomes increasingly jealous of the others reputation and status, leading to murderous results. Then in Say Yes, Park Joong-hoon’s psychotic killer was jealous of the couples happiness.
The Hole though is arguably the best and most interesting of the productions they worked on. Proceedings open with a well-dressed 50-something woman preparing breakfast for two in the dining area of a spacious house, located in a Seoul suburb. After perfectly setting out the dishes, she chirpily makes her way upstairs, and walks into a bedroom where we see a partially dressed younger man lying in bed asleep. She lightly kisses him on the cheek, waking him up, and the two engage in a playful wrestling match, pinning each other down and rolling around on top of each other, while playfully boasting of who is going to win this time. As the fumbling around comes to an end, he tells her he’ll be down for breakfast, and much to the shock of the viewer, references her as “Mother”.
It’s the type of opening that immediately grabs your attention, the sudden revelation of him casually revealing their relationship to be that of mother and son echoing the tone of Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho. It’s over breakfast that the son reveals to his mother that he’s set up a dinner date for them later that evening, to the sound of which her face lights up with happiness, as he goes on to explain she should wear something extra nice. When she enquires as to why, he explains that he plans to introduce her future daughter-in-law, and her change in expression is one of the highlights of the movie. This opening exchange does a fantastic job at setting the scene, for what could best be described as a psychopathic horror version of Monster-in-Law.
The mother in question is played by Yoon So-jeong, an actress who amazingly, despite being in the industry since 1964, has only featured in a total of 21 productions (her most sparse period being between 1970 – 1990, during which there are only 3 credited movies to her name). The Hole marked the debut of Park Yong-woo, the actor who plays the son, who would go on to feature in the likes of Blood Rain and Battlefield Heroes. The main cast is rounded out by Choi Ji-woo, as the unsuspecting daughter-in-law. Ji-woo has been in a number of popular movies throughout the years, including parts in the likes of Nowhere to Hide and Shadowless Sword.
It’s a credit to The Hole that it wastes no time in getting down to business. In its compact 95 minute runtime, after the opening exchange over breakfast, the scene immediately cuts to Yong-woo and Ji-woo’s wedding, as So-jeong sits quietly at the back, coldly staring as her son ties the knot. From there we follow Ji-woo as she moves into Yong-woo’s residence with his mother. It’s worth noting that in Korea it used to be tradition that the bride moves in with the husbands family, an element of Korean life that, while still there, is certainly no longer considered the norm that it once was. The fact that such a scenario is still reflected in a movie as recent as 1997, is indicative of just how much both Korean cinema and society have changed since the beginning of the movement that became popularly known as the Korean Wave.
Once in, the remaining 80 minutes can be summarised as So-jeong attempting to force Ji-woo out of the house through a series of increasingly violent encounters, while playing innocent and charming whenever Yong-woo arrives home from work each evening. It’s a simple premise, almost exploitative in its nature, however Sung-hong shows a level of restraint here that’s sadly lacking in his later productions, and the result is an entertainingly straightforward psycho thriller. Much of the fun in watching The Hole comes from witnessing whatever So-jeong attempts next, be it psychotically chopping up a board of vegetables with a razor sharp kitchen knife in front of Ji-woo, or the more extreme method of attempting to drown her face first in a bathtub.
The structure of the plot unfurls in such a way that at times it recalls Rob Reiner’s 1990 adaption of Misery, as much as it does the earlier mentioned Psycho. There’s a real feeling of Ji-woo being trapped inside the house, and her initial enthusiasm to please her mother-in-law, to that of fearing for her life, is a convincing one. Indeed more so than Yong-woo, who for the longest time remains blind to what’s going on, The Hole is a surprisingly female centric story considering the usual way in which female characters are treated in Sung-hong’s movies. Both the predator and the prey are women, and when it comes to the crunch, it’s not a man that comes to rescue the damsel in distress, but Ji-woo’s female co-worker.
If there’s one criticism that viewers may level at The Hole, it’s that how the relationship between So-jeong and Yong-woo came to be is never explored. Apart from being a mother who clearly loves her a son a little too much for comfort, and Yong-woo having never known any different, there are no other details revealed. How did she come to be alone? Why does she feel the way she does about Yong-woo? It potentially could have further added additional layers of complexity to the story, and made for a more unsettling experience, but Hye-yeong’s script steers clear of giving any background context to the situation. That’s not to say that their relationship doesn’t provide any worthy moments, as in one of the more uncomfortable scenes, Ji-woo walks past the bathroom door and hears them both talking together. As she quietly opens the door, she’s greeted by the sight of the mother soaping down her sons naked body, much to her absolute horror.
Events gradually intensify and build to a satisfyingly tense and worthwhile finale, one which manages to surprise without resorting to cheap twists or other shock tactics. In many ways The Hole feels like it could be a 90’s Korean version of a Hitchcock thriller, if ever such a comparison could be made. The constant underlying tension and threat of violence never feels far away, and when it does arrive it manages to treads the line so that it never feels like we’re watching violence for violence’s sake, something which Sung-hong would become increasingly guilty of after The Hole.
The Hole is one of those many productions that was released just before Korea’s movies became widely distributed on an international scale, and like so many of the countries pre-1999 output, as a result it remains a relatively unknown title outside of Korean shores. It’s a shame, as it stands as the highpoint of director Sung-hong’s filmography, balancing elements of being both a thriller and a psychological horror perfectly, thanks in no small part due to the pitch perfect performances from So-jeong and Ji-woo. Needless to say, if you have a chance to see The Hole, don’t pass it up.
On May 2, 2017, Sony Pictures Home Entertainment is releasing the DVD for Instant Death, a new ultra-violent revenge flick starring Lou Ferrigno (Pumping Iron).
A retired Special Forces veteran (Ferrigno) who is trying to adjust to normal life leaves his home in New York and visits England in an attempt to rekindle his relationship with his estranged daughter. During his visit, John witnesses a murder, which leads to a descent of fury and violence that not even the brutality of gangland is prepared for.
Instant Death is directed by multi-talented Ara Paiaya (director, writer, producer, cinematographer, editor, action coordinator and actor), who launched his first “professional” directorial debut with Skin Traffik (not to be confused with Skin Trade).
Although Ferrigno is predominantly known for playing The Hulk in the classic TV series, the legendary ex-bodybuilder is no stranger to film. With a handful of movies under his belt – including 1983’s Hercules and 1994’s Cage II (co-starring with Shannon Lee) – Ferrigno finally returns to headlining his very own action film.
Instant Death will be released on DVD on May 2, 2017. Watch the film’s Trailer below:
Today’s Deal on Fire is the Blu-ray set for the complete Ip Man Trilogy, which contains 2008’s Ip Man, 2010’s Ip Man 2 and 2015’s Ip Man 3.
One Great Man. One Inspiring Story. And now, one quintessential collection. This biographical martial arts film based on the life of Yip Man (played by Donnie Yen), the grandmaster of the martial art Wing Chun and teacher of Bruce Lee.
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