Mark Dacascos’ ‘Showdown in Manila’ flips a January release

"Showdown in Manila" Theatrical Poster

“Showdown in Manila” Theatrical Poster

ITN Distribution has acquired the action thriller Showdown in Manila (read our review) starring martial arts star Mark Dacascos (Drive, Ultimate Justice), who also serves as the film’s director.

The upcoming Expendables-esque film marks the second directorial project for Dacascos, following his unreleased, Russian-produced debut feature, Changing Lives. Andrzej Bartkowiak (Romeo Must Die), who worked with Dacascos in 2003’s Cradle 2 the Grave, is producing.

Showdown in Manila also stars Casper Van Dien (Starship Troopers), Matthias Hues (No Retreat, No Surrender II), Cynthia Rothrock (Shanghai Express), Olivier Gruner (Nemesis), Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa (Perfect Weapon), Monsour del Rosario (Bloodfist 2), Don “The Dragon” Wilson (White Tiger), Alexander Nevsky (Black Rose), Tia Carrere (Showdown in Little Tokyo), Iza Calzado (Bliss) and Monsour del Rosario (Techno Warriors).

ITN will release the film in theaters January 19, 2018, with a Digital and On Demand release to follow on January 23, 2018. Until then, don’t miss the film’s Newest Trailer below:

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Truth Beneath, The (2015) Review

"The Truth Beneath" Korean Theatrical Poster

“The Truth Beneath” Korean Theatrical Poster

Director: Lee Kyoung-Mi
Writer: Lee Kyoung-Mi
Cast: Son Ye-Jin, Kim Ju-Hyeok, Kim So-Hee, Shin Ji-Hoon, Choi Yu-Hwa, Kim Min-Jae, Park Jin-Woo, Moon Young-Dong, Jung Do-Won, Jang Joon-Nyoung
Running Time: 102 min.

By Paul Bramhall

There’s been a refreshing surge of female talent in Korean cinema during recent years, particularly behind the camera. Movies like Shin Su-won’s Madonna, and Jeong Joo-ri’s A Girl at my Door, are arguably highpoints of the country’s output in the post-2010 era, and in 2015 the director of Crush and Blush, Lee Kyoung-mi, returned with her sophomore feature. Titled The Truth Beneath, Kyoung-mi’s second feature sees her step away from the black comedy tropes of her well received debut, and delve into what, on the surface at least, appears to be a kidnap drama.

Kyoung-mi notably worked on the script for Park Chan-wook’s penultimate chapter in his Vengeance Trilogy, with 2005’s Sympathy for Lady Vengeance. The iconic director was suitably impressed enough that he stepped into the producers chair for the first time to finance her debut, Crush and Blush, and also contributed to the script. In a continued reversal of their original roles, Chan-wook also contributes to the script for The Truth Beneath, as does his regular collaborator Jeong Seo-kyeong, who also worked on Sympathy for Lady Vengeance, as well as the auteurs latest The Handmaiden.

The Truth Beneath is anchored by a performance from popular actress Son Ye-jin, star of The Pirates, and most recently an unfortunate turn in the abysmal China and Korea co-production Bad Guys Always Die. Thankfully here any previous mishaps are more than made up for, and much like Kyoung-mi did for Gong Hyo-jin in Crush and Blush, here the she also coaxes out what could well be considered a career best performance from Ye-jin. Playing the wife of a political candidate campaigning for an upcoming election, her world is turned upside down when their teenage daughter goes missing with just over 2 weeks to election day.

The husband, played by Kim Joo-hyuk (Confidential Assignment), is understandably thrown into a panic. However it’s not the first time for the daughter to play truant, and when his campaign advisors suggest that they keep the disappearance under wraps for at least a couple of days, much to Ye-jin’s dismay he decides to follow their advice. So the stage is set for a dark drama about a family dealing with a missing daughter, set against the political climate of the campaign trail. The Truth Beneath looks to deliver a solid outing for the genre it sets the expectation of falling under, however once Ye-jin decides to start looking into her daughters disappearance herself, it soon becomes clear that we’re going to be getting something much more.

If any comparisons could be made, Kyoung-mi’s latest feels like a less sweat drenched variant of Tetsuya Nakashima’s The World of Kanako. Just like Nakashima framed events from the perspective of the missing Kanako’s father, played with an unhinged intensity by Koji Yakusho, here the perspective is switched to the viewpoint of the mother. While a parent looking for their missing child is a well-worn genre trope, the real comparison point is the unexpected truths which begin to bubble to the surface, which soon see their lead characters freefalling down a rabbit hole of madness and violence.

The Truth Beneath is really about Ye-jin’s transformation from a well-to-do wife of a politician, to a vengeance filled force of nature who emits a palpable sense of danger. The tone that Kyoung-mi establishes occasionally echoes Sympathy for Lady Vengeance, as we get brief moments that bring to mind Chan-wook’s earlier work, indicating a flair for storytelling that’s evidently always been there. As an audience, watching the past slowly being unwrapped through the eyes of Ye-jin constantly keeps us guessing as to her mental state. There are times when the narrative appears to veer into delirium, which peaks with Ye-jin visiting a shaman, in the hopes that supernatural forces can point her in the right direction.

Credit should also go to Shin Ji-hoon, who plays the missing daughter. A multi-talented performer, Ji-hoon is both a K-pop singer and a figure skater, and here makes her acting debut. Despite her lack of experience in the acting field, she delivers a stand-out performance. As the missing daughter her character initially seems to be a minor one, however as Ye-jin looks to uncover more about her daughter’s life outside the walls of their family home, she gets several extended flashback scenes which are crucial to the narrative. The nature of these flashback scenes effectively portray everything that Ye-jin had, intentionally or not, being living in ignorance of, and the truth found in them is what triggers her subtly powerful transformation.

The editing compliments the trauma of Ye-jin’s mental state through a number of different techniques, from shots played in reverse to fast paced intercuts, the sense of confusion and panic is truly felt, and is offset by the quietly static shots of Ye-jin staring at herself in the mirror. Indeed one of the biggest strengths of The Truth Beneath is the way it looks, from the way shots are framed to the set design, it’s a sumptuous affair and one that’s always reflective of what’s taking place in the narrative. Even small details, such as Ye-jin’s choice to wear a colourful dress to a funeral, carry with them a strong visual impact. It’s rare to see a movie that has an aesthetic so closely tied to the story its telling.

If any criticism could be made, it’s that the tonal shifts occasionally take some unexpectedly wide swings. Specifically relating to a couple of instances were comedy is injected into such serious subject matter, it’s not that the attempts at humour miss the mark, but more a question of if they really belong in such a scenario. However, these random opportunities could well be argued to add to the slightly off-kilter feel that’s increasingly evoked as proceedings progress, and again bring to mind the dark humor of Park Chan-wook’s Sympathy for Lady Vengeance. The only difference here is that the subtlety is dropped for a more in-your-face approach, but I have a feeling it could be exactly what Kyoung-mi intended.

By the time events barrel towards a suitably surprising conclusion, the narrative throws the past and the present on the path of a head on collision, leaving all of the truth that had been hidden for so long laid bare on the table. How each of the main characters react to it is what makes the closing scenes so tense, as violence, regret, and ambition collide in a way that ensures we’re never certain of what’s going to happen from one second to the next. The Truth Beneath doesn’t bale out during its conclusion, forcing everyone accountable for the events which have been uncovered to face the consequences of their actions, and it’s the better movie for it.

It’s been a while since a Korean movie has delivered that real punch-in-the-gut feel which leaves you reeling once the credits roll. In 2003 OldBoy did it, in 2009 No Mercy did it, and in 2015 I can say The Truth Beneath did it. Whatever genre Kyoung-mi decides to delve into next, her talent for being able to juggle so many of them within a single narrative ensures that it’ll be one to watch. From a political drama, to a kidnap thriller, to a mysterious whodunit, to a psychological suspense, Kyoung-mi navigates Ye-jin through all of them, with the audience never far behind. There were a lot of highs in Korean cinema during 2015, and The Truth Beneath is right up there with them, maybe even at the top.

Paul Bramhall’s Rating: 8.5/10

Posted in All, Korean, News, Reviews | 1 Comment

Eason Chan does Jackie in ‘Keep Calm and Be a Superstar’

"Keep Calm and Be a Superstar" Chinese Theatrical Poster

“Keep Calm and Be a Superstar” Chinese Theatrical Poster

On January 18th, Hong Kong star/recording artist Eason Chan (Office, Dream Home) is delivering kung fu slapstick with Keep Calm and Be a Superstar, a fun-filled comedy from director Vincent Kok (Gorgeous). With its obvious references to Jackie Chan’s Drunken Master and Police Storyexpect what the film promises: The laugh of your life.

Keep Calm and Be a Superstar also stars Danny Chan (Ip Man 3, Kung Fu Hustle), Wilfred Lau (Full Strike), Benz Hui (From Vegas to Macau), Edward Ma (Special Female Force), Hui Siu Hung (Expect the Unexpected), as well as stuntman/martial artist, Andrew Dasz (Sky on fire).

Don’t miss the Trailer for Keep Calm and Be a Superstar below:

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Bruce Willis dies hard in the New Trailer for ‘Death Wish’

"Death Wish" Theatrical Poster

“Death Wish” Theatrical Poster

Prepare yourself to witness a good dose of violent revenge with Eli Roth’s (Cabin Fever) upcoming Death Wish remake, which hits theaters on March 2, 2018.

This new version of Michael Winner’s 1973 classic stars Bruce Willis (Die Hard) as Dr. Paul Kersey, a surgeon who only sees the aftermath of Chicago violence when it is rushed into his ER – until his wife (Elisabeth Shue) and daughter (Camila Morrone) are viciously attacked in their suburban home. With the police overloaded with crimes, Paul, burning for revenge, hunts his family’s assailants to deliver justice.

The original Death Wish – based on the 1972 novel by Brian Garfield – involved a New York City architect (Charles Bronson) who becomes a one-man vigilante squad after his wife is murdered by street punks.

Roth came on board to helm the remake after a number of filmmakers dropped out over creative differences with Paramount-MGM. Previous directors included Joe Carnahan (Smokin’ Aces), Gerardo Naranjo (Miss Bala), and finally Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado, the duo responsible for the 2013 cult favorite, Big Bad Wolves.

Back in 2006, Sylvester Stallone expressed interest in his own remake: “Instead of the Bronson character being an architect; my version would have him as a very good cop who had incredible success without ever using his gun. So when the attack on his family happens, he’s really thrown into a moral dilemma in proceeding to carry out his revenge.”

Without further ado, here’s the Newest Trailer for Roth’s take:

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Exclusive: Interview with Hong Kong filmmaker Herman Yau

herman

With dozens of credits as a cinematographer and director, Herman Yau is one of the most prolific filmmakers ever to have worked in Hong Kong cinema. His most notorious films have come in the horror genre, especially the extreme classics Bunman: The Untold Story and Ebola Syndrome. A return to this shocking cinema comes in the guise of The Sleep Curse, and a reunion with the legendary Anthony Wong. We had the chance to sit down with him, and pick the brain of a director who has come up with some of the most shocking images ever on screen.

The following interview with Herman (and his collaborator, Erica Li) was conducted at last year’s Udine Far East Film Festival by myself, Tim Youngs, Fred Ambroisine, Andrew Daley and an unidentified journalist. For presentation purposes, I have streamlined all of our questions so it reads easily in “interview” form. Enjoy!


Herman Yau and Martin Sandison.

Herman Yau and Martin Sandison.

Q: I’d like to start by introducing my guests today. Next to me is Erica Li. Erica is a novelist, as well as a screenwriter. Her filmography covers a wide range of genres, in recent years she has been most well known for her collaborations with Herman Yau. This year she is a guest for The Sleep Curse and Shockwave. Also present is Herman Yau. Herman’s huge filmography as a filmaker goes back in to the 1980’s. He has directed prolifically across many genres, perhaps best known internationally for horror films. His filmography really covers a broad spectrum of Hong Kong cinema. He’s also been active as a writer, producer and cinematographer. He’s here today with The Sleep Curse and Shockwave.

Perhaps we can start with the film we showed last night, The Sleep Curse. It’s a return to the more shocking, extreme cinema that you have worked in before. Can you discuss how the project came about?

Herman Yau and Erica Li.

Herman Yau and Erica Li from Asian in New York.

Herman Yau: At first something happened in Hong Kong two years ago, to do with a company run by Chapman To. He wanted to make some Hong Kong movies. The idea for The Sleep Curse came from a ghost story, and Chapman initiated a collaboration between Anthony Wong and I. We intentionally tried to make The Sleep Curse tie in with The Untold Story and Ebola Syndrome, to echo with them.

Later, Erica joined and developed the script and some other elements were integrated in to the story. It became a film with a ghost story element, but also with some magical, black magic elements. We tried to inject some meaning in to it, to do with Karma, and the evil qualities in humans.

"Ebola Syndrome" Chinese DVD Cover

Ebola Syndrome Chinese DVD Cover

Erica Li: When director Yau approached me about the script I felt some pressure, because since The Untold Story there was an expectation of the violent and gory aspects of the film. But according to my observation audiences nowadays are kind of immune to violence. Like I read an article about a 10-year-old boy from the U.S., he has seen 8,000 murders on television already. So it’s difficult for me to do something as extreme as The Untold Story or Ebola.

Also something else I wanted to do was speak for women, especially for those who cannot speak for themselves, victims of wars. I wanted to communicate that there is still some justice to be done. I think that the mental violence of kidnapping girls, this is shocking to the audience.

Q: And of course these days it seems quite difficult to make genre pictures in Hong Kong. Do you find it difficult to make this kind of project?

"The Sleep Curse" Chinese Theatrical Poster

The Sleep Curse Chinese Theatrical Poster

Herman Yau: I don’t consider it to be a type of comeback. I’ve made some horror films in the past year. The fact that Anthony Wong came back is a big thing. As a filmmaker I would say that I am sometimes quite opportunistic. For instance, some years ago we tried to develop a script about a period in Hong Kong history, concentrating on a young girl. It is concerned with the Japanese occupation in the 1940’s. So with the girl growing up we could show the changes in Hong Kong society, the cultural change, the way of life, how Hong Kong became more and more capitalistic. Most girls at the time were uneducated. A very important thing about the Japanese occupation is the so called ‘comfort women’. These elements were deeply implanted in our brains.

So when we developed the script of The Sleep Curse we started with something that has been proved to a hoax, to do with the Russians in World War 2. And then inspired by that story Erica integrated another element, the important element of the ‘comfort women’, and of course the history of the Japanese occupation of Hong Kong. Then you can see we have the two parallel storylines in The Sleep Curse, one set in 1992 up until 1993.

Shock Wave | Blu-ray & DVD (Cinedigm)

Shock Wave | Blu-ray & DVD (Cinedigm)

Erica Li: And there is one point I want to add: When people want to deny history. So I thought it would be a good idea to make a movie to refresh the memory of people. Then there is the song ‘How Do You Sleep at Night’.

Q: We should talk about tonight’s closing film, Shockwave. How did this project come about? Obviously it’s a huge action film.

Herman Yau: I came up with the idea of the occupation of the Cross-Harbour tunnel many years ago. At that time I didn’t have any story, just the idea. Other than protest, the way to go would be a gangster or cop film. To make it easy to realise this project, we set it in the frame of a gangster film. And then in about 2003 I wrote the script, and set it around the Armed Force Unit in the Hong Kong police. And then I met some experts, and learned about this force, whose numbers are less than 20. With those two experts, one who is an Explosives Expert, one is a Bomb Disposal Expert, we discussed the occupation of the Cross-Harbour tunnel. With this idea I developed a script with Erica, about 4 or 5 years ago.

"Shock Wave" Teaser Poster

Shock Wave Teaser Poster

We finished a draft that was up to our standard that can appeal to the audience, and secured the investors and cast. The first cast member that came to our minds was Andy Lau. We had worked before many years ago, starting in the 1980’s. We had a friendship even though we didn’t see each other frequently. We approached him and had a meeting for 2 hours and he said yes to the project. We had to negotiate a lot because Andy has his own company and is a big star. And also because of the censorship of the script by Mainland China, we had to wait. In that time I made 5 or 6 films! (laughter, clapping) Last year the project began to be filmed.

Erica Li: For Shockwave the pregnancy was about 3 or 4 years. The idea of bombing the Cross-Harbour I found very exciting! And then when I finished the script I found that I had the potential to be a terrorist! (laughter) For me the most challenging part is how to put all the action in to a sensible story. Some action movies have no action at all. I wanted to make all the characters more rounded. It tried very hard to put some romance in the story.

Q: What was the significance of the Cross-Harbour tunnel?

Herman Yau: For the Hong Kong people of my age and generation, this is a very important landmark. This landmark also tells a story of Hong Kong history of the past decades. When I was a child the opening of the Cross-Harbour tunnel made a big mark on me. During the 1970’s Hong Kong society went through a huge change, mainly because of the establishment of the Independent Commission Against Corruption. It really changed the society a lot. The Hong Kong Police Force is supposed to protect against physical violence. Before 1972, they were so corrupt. After the ICAC was established, when compared to the 1950’s or 60’s, when we tried to talk about the value of Hong Kong it flourished in the 1970’s and 80’s. In terms of social health, and also for the Economic conditions, and the life of Hong Kong people, all these factors the Cross-Harbour tunnel symbolises. I tried to make Shockwave a very exciting film, a very Hong Kong style.

Erica Li: I tried to remind the audience about altruism. To sacrifice yourself for other people.

Q: In Hong Kong cinema there are a new generation of interesting Hong Kong directors, what do you think about the new generation of Hong Kong actors?

Erica Li: Eric Tsang is looking to direct! (Laughter)

Q: I was wondering, is it possible for Hong Kong films to have more female actors? For them to have a more active role in genres like horror?

Eric Tsang and Martin Sandison get cozy.

Eric Tsang and Martin Sandison get cozy. Read our interview with Eric here.

Herman Yau: I have made some horror films with female protagonists, but unfortunately those films got bad box office, so they were ignored by the audience. To go back to the point about newcomers, I recall an episode of Hong Kong cinema during the 1970’s up to the early 1980’s. During this time Eric Tsang became a movie star. And we can all remember the cinema city bosses like Karl Maka. He told me that at that time since the industry has no female stars it was difficult. They just wanted the female actors to play roles in the films they were going to make. So it’s difficult for newcomers. Perhaps the Hong Kong film industry now is not big enough.

Q: I want to know something about The Sleep Curse. The movie hasn’t been released in Hong Kong yet. What is the plan for that? Also will the people in Hong Kong watch a different version, as we watched the uncut version here.

"The Untold Story" Japanese Theatrical Poster

The Untold Story Japanese Theatrical Poster

Herman Yau: The Sleep Curse will be released in Hong Kong on the 18th of May. I think that most of you know that in Hong Kong the film censorship system is different, especially for a Cat 3 movie. Even though the film is Cat 3, it will be cut by the censors. The version released in Hong Kong will be cut. The one we saw last night was the completely uncut version. Less than ten seconds has been cut. So compared with The Untold Story, about four minutes of that movie was cut. And for Ebola Syndrome, 4 minutes were cut too. So the explicit images etc. in The Sleep Curse was cut less than The Untold Story and Ebola Syndrome.

Q: A few weeks ago I had an interview with Anthony Wong, and he was saying that when he made the movie The Untold Story he was surprised that the movie recieved awards. And on the contrary he was surprised that your other movies together like Ip Man: The Final Fight didn’t get success. So how did you convince Anthony Wong to go back to Category 3 movies?

Herman Yau: So Anthony is a friend of mine, and the people surrounding you always wear mysterious masks that you can never understand. And also if we consider film as a form of art, or a medium, I think we should not narrow down our eyesight. And just like Ebola Syndrome it was released in 1996, the box office was really bad. After 20 years it is regarded as a remarkable work of mine and Anthony’s. So I think we should not care about these things, and have good thoughts about what we have done. Sometimes I make a joke with Anthony Wong, and I use an old saying that in 50 or 100 years what films will people watch? I think it’s more important, and these films will have a longer life than us. We can earn our living, and do what we like to do.

"Ip Man: The Final Battle" Theatrical Poster

Ip Man: The Final Battle Theatrical Poster

Q: A question about Shockwave. Did you collaborate with real Bomb Disposal Experts for the film?

Herman Yau: 2000 and something I wrote a script for a TV drama with the support of the Hong Kong Police Force. At that time I had a chance to meet Bomb Disposal Officers, and discuss their unit with them, which is very small, less than 20 people. I think it’s the smallest unit in the Hong Kong Police Force. They are so professional. The job is so special to Hong Kong citizens. During the research process I learned quite a lot about explosives and the job the Bomb Disposal Officers do. After writing that script the idea of making a movie to portray the job they do was like a seed in my mind, and I always wanted to make it in to a movie.

Q: So, the movie Bunman: The Untold Story is very famous in the West, and all around the world. Could you talk about shooting the film and the legacy of the film?

Herman Yau: Actually the response, how the film was received was out of my expectation. At the time I treasured the chance to make the film. When Danny Lee approached me and asked me if I would like to make the film, after 3 seconds I said yes, even though I didn’t know my salary! So I worked on the project. I think you know it is based on the real life story, and in this way I think The Untold Story is the portrait of a murderer.

"Taxi Hunter" International Theatrical Poster

Taxi Hunter International Theatrical Poster

Q: I wanted to ask you about working with Andy Lau and Anthony Wong in you recent projects, could you discuss more about working with them? It has been a while since you worked with Anthony Wong. Could you talk about working with these big Hong Kong stars?

Herman Yau: Working with Anthony Wong is quite easy, although I heard some Hong Kong film makers say that he is difficult. I think because we developed our friendship more than 30 years ago, when we were nobodies in the film industry. I think that kind of mutual respect, mutual understanding, is quite different from my relationship with other actors, even superstars in the film industry. When I first entered in to the industry, Andy Lau was known, because he had just left the TV station for 3 years. And so at that time he was already a star. Since he was so new to the film industry, he realised that the TV crew and the film crew are entirely different people. When I first met him I was a cinematographer, and our working relationship began then. In the 1980’s I worked on a few films with Andy Lau as the the star. So we knew each other from those days. From the 1990’s until now we had some chances to work together. But before Shockwave we had not been working together for 13 years.

Q: In the film The Sleep Curse did you intentionally make a link between the horrors of the film and the horrors of the Japanese army during the 2nd World War?

"The Sleep Curse" Chinese Theatrical Poster

The Sleep Curse Chinese Theatrical Poster

Herman Yau: The Sleep Curse started as a ghost story. I always say “ what is a ghost story?” A story about ghosts. I don’t care too much about the genre of the film. I understand very well that every film I make can be categorised. So when we have a project and there is an element I have to put in to the film, what are the other contents? And then we try to get the materials together, and what elements we will inject in to the film to enhance the content.

Before The Sleep Curse I worked with Erica Li on a project about the past history of Hong Kong. Part of that story is about the Japanese occupation of Hong Kong during the 2nd World War. And the “comfort woman” was an issue. Unfortunately we could not realise that project. We tried to take some elements of this script. Then we saw a Russian sleep experiment on youtube in World War 2, which was later proved to be a hoax. It was just created by some very inventive people on the internet. So we took these two elements in to a film. So you can see the narrative structure of The Sleep Curse; one part is in the 90’s and the other plotline is in 1943.

"Masked Avengers" Chinese Theatrical Poster

Masked Avengers Chinese Theatrical Poster

Q: In the horror genre which movies are you influenced by? And do you like the horror movies from Shaw Brothers made in the early 1980’s?

Herman Yau: I enjoy watching movies from no less than ten years ago. When you mentioned Shaw Brothers movies, of course I have watched them. But in fact I don’t have a very good memory of all those films. I can’t remember anything about some of them. If you asked me if I was influenced by all those Shaws films, in terms of horror, I would say no. Unless there is some Freudian theory about the subconscious. Other than that, I would say no. For some Wuxia genre of films, I remember quite a lot of them. Not the full stories, but some moments. Like Chang Cheh’s movies, I remember quite a number of moments.

Q: I asked Eric Tsang yesterday about the future of Hong Kong cinema. We’ve seen a lot of Hong Kong/Mainland co-productions, such as Jackie Chan and Eric’s Kung Fu Yoga, which is a Mainaland/Indian co-production. Where do you see the future going for Hong Kong and yourselves as Fimmakers?

"Human Lanterns" Chinese Theatrical Poster

Human Lanterns Chinese Theatrical Poster

Herman Yau: It’s nothing new. When you go back to the 1950’s, that kind of production existed. We are concentrating on Hong Kong Chinese cinema is the centre of our discussion. During the 1950’s and 60’s Hong Kong production companies like Shaw Brothers and Cathay, which no longer exist, they had joint productions with Japan, France, the US. So they want to secure the market and distribution. So it’s a kind of cultural exchange. Starting from the 1980’s this kind of globalisation happened, and I think it’s logical for this business. So this kind of working relationship it developed, and is developing again, for Hong Kong cinema.

In the 80’s it went really fast for this cinema, not for Chinese cinema, because it was still a closed door country. Now it has developed in to an open door country. And then the economic reform during the late 70’s, meant that the cinema underwent a process to develop bigger productions. Of course because of the political background of the People’s Republic of China they did not open so quickly. So they opened that kind of joint venture later. This mind of production developed around 1992. Because Hong Kong is so close to China, they took it as kind of experiment, so they chose a place closer to Hong Kong, with a long historical and political linkage. On one hand, it’s still business, on the other it’s kind of example to show the world China has opened its door.

final

Eric Tsang and Anthony Wong in Ip Man: The Final Fight.

Q: Eric Tsang made a comment that productions in China and Hong Kong are a lot more international focussed. So you could have actors from mainland China, your DP could be from France. Do you see yourselves working on productions outside of Asia?

Herman Yau: It’s also nothing new. When Eric Tsang was a stuntman, we had Japanese cinematographers in Hong Kong. We had cinematographers from South Africa. We are undergoing a big change for Hong Kong cinema, but in terms of those changes it’s nothing new. The change now and then share a number of similarities.

Q: You have worked a lot as a cinematographer as well as a director, you have maybe as many credits for both. Could you talk about working in Hong Kong as a cinematographer and especially the film Seven Swords with the late Lau Kar Leung and Donnie Yen?

Herman Yau hard at work.

Herman Yau hard-at-work.

Herman Yau: In general if you are talking about the films of Tsui Hark, he will try his best to source all of the resources. With goodwill, he wants to make a great movie. When all of the resources are used by him, the film cannot be finished. He will try and secure more people to help him. So for the later process I worked with Tsui Hark, all the films I joined his crew, was always the most difficult time. They had to finish the film as fast as possible, because the weather in Xinjiang was getting colder and colder.

When I was shooting Seven Swords sometimes it was -20 at night. It’s really horrible. When it was about November, when December came it was impossible to shoot, it was too cold. So Tsui Hark added another unit to make the production go faster. At that time Tsui Hark had good relations with (I don’t want to mention the name) an actor. He wanted me to shoot that part with the actor. But when I went to Xinjiang I found that every scene involving that actor had been shot. So it’s very difficult for me to do it. Not all over again, but maybe it was better that way. So it’s very difficult for me to fill those holes. So I told Tsui Hark that I could not do that, I lacked the ability. So that’s the last time I served as cinematographer on the C unit.

Andy Lau gets down 'n dirty in Shock Wave.

Andy Lau gets down ‘n dirty in Shock Wave.

Q: I’d like to ask both of you your thoughts on Sleep Curse being compared to your earlier films like The Untold Story and Ebola Syndrome. What are your opinions about this?

Erica Li: Actually, I just realised that there is some relationship between Sleep Curse and Shockwave. It is the both ends of humanity. Sleep Curse is about a man in avery desperate situation, and he chooses to be selfish. While Shockwave, Andy Lau’s character and the rest of the unit, they choose altruism. This is to sacrifice themselves for the wellness of all. But for the trilogy, the difference between Untold Story

Herman Yau: I have to say it is not a trilogy, that is not my intention. On the internet I have found some fans who mention Taxi Hunter, that is the trilogy. I admit that The Sleep Curse echoes some elements or moments of Ebola Syndrome and The Untold Story, but I don’t have any intention. Of course I worked with Anthony Wong again on a Cat 3 movie.

Anthony Wong in The Sleep Curse.

Anthony Wong in The Sleep Curse.

Q: You have made a lot of different types of films from Action to comedy to Horror. Which genre do you most like working in?

Herman Yau: I like many genres. I wouldn’t like to make just one genre of films. That would be very boring (laughter)

Q: Erica, writing the script for The Sleep Curse, where did the idea come from?

Erica Li: It was 24 years since Untold Story, and we would like to have another collaboration with Anthony Wong. For me, I studied the past. I knew that people would have expectations because of Untold Story and Ebola Syndrome, that was my first concern. I think the part of history when The Sleep Curse is set is horrific enough to make a film in this genre. And I wanted to speak on behalf of the victims.

Q: The part of Untold Story that everyone remembers is the scene when the kids are killed. Could you talk about the filming of that scene, was it very difficult?

Herman Yau: Not really difficult. The most difficult part was not letting the kids know what we are filming. So we had to lie to them. Anthony Wong was very playful with the kids, offscreen. He always made them laugh! Another difficulty was I would have to try and finish the part of the kids early, before midnight. And they could go and we would continue with shooting, because some of them had to go to school. Maybe two years ago, a friend told me that he knew a girl that played on of the kids, and she was allowed to watch the film. She said it was “interesting!” (laughter) And she really didn’t know what we were filming.

"The Woman Knight of Mirror Lake" Chinese Theatrical Poster

The Woman Knight of Mirror Lake Chinese Theatrical Poster

Q: Two years ago I asked you about your PHD and how your work has changed since you became a Doctor. So between the both of you has anything changed at all? It might be wrong to say that people respect you more because you’re still a legendary director in Hong Kong. But getting a PHD is not a small thing either. So how has it affected your work as a director?

Herman Yau: I don’t think there’s much change, talking about how people see me when we are working together. When we are not working together, I think people would say that “Oh there’s a film maker working in Hong Kong that can be considered to be kind of intellectual”. Yes, that’s how they see me, people without a working relationship with me. But when we work together, still, they would try and do what they think is good with their knowledge. They won’t agree with you more because you have a PHD. So, I don’t think there’s an obvious change. There’s some obscure change.

"The Legend Is Born: Ip Man" Blu-ray Cover

The Legend Is Born: Ip Man Blu-ray Cover

Q: I wanted to ask you about the Ip Man films you made, The Final Fight and Legend Is Born. They were big budget movies. How was it working on them compared with something like the Untold Story?

Herman Yau: Not a very large difference. For instance, in Ip Man: The Final Fight the set itself cost a lot. So the movie looks big budget. Also it involved a lot of fight scenes, that I needed more time. Still less time than other filmmakers. For Untold Story and Ebola Syndrome, I didn’t need much budget. For the Ip Man movies, they are period films so every department cost a lot. When we are talking about how we spend those resources, it doesn’t make a lot of difference.

But in terms of time, these so-called larger budget productions take more to shoot. When I try to tell a story, actually it’s not so difficult. But how to enhance your narrative, it takes time. And how you make the image more fascinating, it takes more time. With three shots you can tell a story. With thirteen shots you can tell a story in more detail.

Thanks again to Martin Sandison, Herman Yau and Erica Li for taking the time to do this interview. 

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Find out what to expect from Neeson’s The Commuter

"The Commuter" Korean Theatrical Poster

“The Commuter” Korean Theatrical Poster

Review for Liam Neeson’s The Commuter

Nobody is going to get upset about a new Liam Neeson action flick. The actor growls about being 60-years old a number of times in The Commuter, and although this is apparently to protest the indignities his character is forced to undergo, it is actually to invite viewers’ admiration about what Neeson is able to pull off. This man can handle himself in a fight with men half his age, and thinks nothing of rolling out from under a moving train and then jumping right back onto that train -but he doesn’t make it look effortless. Perhaps the entire appeal of the rebirth Mr Neeson’s career is undergoing is based on the simple fact that it looks difficult as hell, and film reviewers love it.

The Commuter Over Promises and Under Delivers, Unfortunately

The film was directed by the eminent Neeson auteur Jaume Collet-Serra, who gave us Unknown, Non-Stop, and Run All Night, and initially looks like it is going to deliver more than the usual fisfight, chase, and grimace medley. This, unfortunately, is not the case, and I would advise you to possibly skip it altogether -why not spend some time at one of the top Australian betting sites so widely available right now instead? You may well come away from that exercise richer -something which The Commuter will not be able to deliver by any means.

An Excellent Opening Title Sequence

The opening title sequence for The Commuter is a montage of Michael McCauley’s mornings as he awakens in his beautiful home in Tarrytown, New York, to ride to his Manhattan job on the Metro-North Railroad train.

Initially the McCauley Obstacles Seem Interesting

Of course McCauley’s happiness is soon to be shattered, and the signs of this, at least initially, actually seem pretty interesting.

The back story is that the McCauleys underwent a financial crisis in 2008, and have been struggling to rebuild their lives since then. McCauley is suddenly severed from his job as insurance salesman, and has an ominous encounter with colleagues from his previous job at the New York Police Department.

After this, on his way home, McCauley makes contact with a mystery woman named Joanna, played by Vera Farmiga, who offers him $75 000 to identify another passenger on the train, another stranger.

And Then the Wheels Come Off Completely

Until the scheme by Joanna unravels, or until the first fight scene, there is a clammy, almost hallucinatory aspect to the movie. McCauley is very obviously nothing but a hapless patsy, but his ethical moorings have been knocked off thanks to the financial ruin he is facing. He is in a trap with no escape, and suddenly everything takes on a different cast. The once familiar faces of his fellow commuters, some of whom he has been travelling alongside for years, become slightly sinister, and panic and paranoia are just below the surface.

And then the mood is gone, and The Commuter start hopping from genre to genre like a wild thing. For a short while it is a locked-room mystery, and then it becomes a runaway-train thriller, but the conspiracy at the heart of the film’s storyline is so vast and all-encompassing that it’s just preposterous, and even Liam Neeson can’t save The Commuter from becoming a plain grab-bag of plot twists.

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Happy New Year from Cityonfire.com!

COF-New-Year

Wishing you a New Year of peace and happiness!

– From your friends at Cityonfire.com

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Find out if McGregor delivered the goods with Notorious

"Notorious" Theatrical Poster

“Notorious” Theatrical Poster

Review for Conor McGregor’s Notorious

Conor McGregor, the fighter from Ireland, is credited as an executive producer on Notorious, the documentary which tells the story of McGregor’s rise from being an unemployed plumber working in Dublin to an internationally acclaimed martial arts superstar who recently took part in the much- hyped Money Fight. In it, McGregor comes across as an incredibly charismatic man, almost an outsized presence, and, if a biopic is ever going to get made about his life, Tom Hardy would be number one on our casting list.

The Subject is Depicted as an Underdog

In a clever move, Gavin Fitzgerald, the director of the documentary, frames his subject as an underdog of the sporting world by showing us footage of McGregor from before he made it big. With the fighter lamenting his financial situation, he was living with his mother for a time, and this fact goes quite a way to making his excessive spending on private jets and mansions and such these days a lot less obnoxious.

Something of a peacock in his bespoke outfitted suits, with his beard oiled to perfection, Conor McGregor’s physical prowess is matched only by his exorbitant talent for self-promotion -the man has his own name tattooed across his chest! He is incredibly watchable, but the film is very much a one-sided story.

Nonetheless, it is highly recommended. Take a break from surfing the net for the best AFL betting odds, Olympic Game prices, and the like, and give it a chance!

The Other Side of Conor McGregor

McGregor is an incredibly engaging character, and something of a contradiction as well, and this warts-and-all documentary explores this aspect more deeply.

McGregor is also a very hard worker, and while he may have undeniable talent, this is surpassed by his discipline, his determination, and his refusal to forget his roots. This stands as his motivation, and may also explain the chip on his shoulder to a degree. He has also been known to cross the line when it comes to his eagerness to feature in the headlines, whether this is a press conference, or when he’s hurling gay slurs and fighters, the latter incident involving Andre Fili, and something for which McGregor later apologised.

Notorious looks at the man behind the bling and bravado, but it remains an embedded fight documentary, albeit an above-average one.

A Movie Very Much in McGregor’s Corner

Notorious provides some insight into the fighter’s training, and gives us behind-the-scenes reactions to some of his fights as well, including his first title match against Chad Mendes. It ensures that the viewer understands McGregor’s version of events, and tells the story from his perspective 100% of the time.

The most intimate aspect that Notorious reveals is just how heavily McGregor relies on Dee Devlin, his long-term partner. She couldn’t be any more different than the public persona McGregor provides us with would hint at, and is a constant in his life, supporting him while they were down and out as he was chasing his dreams.

MMA or Conor McGregor fans who are interested in a very easy-to-digest portrait of this superstar will be well-served, and even some of those who could take him or leave him may walk away moved.

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Deal on Fire! John Wick | Blu-ray | Only $9.96 – Expires soon!

John Wick | Blu-ray & DVD (Lionsgate)

John Wick | Blu-ray & DVD (Lionsgate)

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.

John Wick also stars Michael Nyqvist, Alfie Allen, Willem Dafoe, Dean Winters, Omer Barnea, Adrianne Palicki, Toby Leonard Moore, Daniel Bernhardt and John Leguizamo.

Order John Wick from Amazon.com today!

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The Best Action Movies from the 1980s

"Die Hard" Japanese Theatrical Poster

“Die Hard” Japanese Theatrical Poster

If you are a fan of films with scenes were a seemingly indestructible hero cop clings to the roof a speeding car, then it was almost definitely a movie made in the 80s. Most of these movies have the driver not even attempting to swerve or brake, either. He just holds his hands up in front of his face before going through the obligatory plate glass window.

This article outlines the very best of this great genre, and most have either initiated or contributed to a long-running franchise, and are being imitated to this day. If any of the following films are missing from your collection, as an action movie fan you are going to have to correct that at once.

If you are looking for something to do other than spend some time perusing the horse racing betting sites you enjoy, take a look at one of these.

A Great Director and a Super Script: Lethal Weapon

Lethal Weapon is the unsurpassed movie about two mismatched policeman, one a family man who likes to play by the rules, the other a suicidal psychopath, whose attempts at apprehending a drug ring lead to gun battles, kidnapping, and epic one-on-one smackdowns.

While this formula is not a new one, it has never really been done as well as it was in Lethal Weapon. This is thanks to the director, Richard Donner, who gave us The Omen and Superman, and the scriptwriter, Shane Black, the whizzkid also responsible for co-writing The Monster Squad.

Keeping the Tension Right: Predator

Unlike Bruce Willis, Sylvester Stallone, and the rest of the top action film actors, Arnold Schwarzenegger is comfortable with science-fiction/action hybrids, and has never forced us to endure mistakes like Surrogates or Demolition Man. This makes him the ideal choice to play a character battling an extra-terrestrial who is hunting human beings for fun. John McTiernan, of the Die Hards, is the director, which means that the film is more action than it is sci-fi, and McTiernan knows how to generate the proper amounts of tension so that the film never turns into a cheesy monster movie.

Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior Defines an Era

George Miller, the director, stated that he didn’t have the money to do the first film the way he wanted to, and he wanted to try and get it right with the second one. Miller did not just get it right – he made a movie that defined the times, and stands to this day as the gold-standard of action movies that hypothesize what will become of us after the apocalypse. It’s reminiscent of the best Xbox games, and it’s an action packed extravaganza thats visually stunning too.

The Terminators

Sheer brilliance in all respects, and, if you ever wondered why the movie has an acknowledgement to Harlan Ellison included, check out Soldier, an episode of Outer Limits that Ellison wrote the script for. It deals with two soldiers who come back from the future to battle it out in contemporary Los Angeles.

Raiders of the Lost Ark

Most directors who release blockbusters in the summer compare their films to roller coasters, but Raiders of the Lost Ark is this exactly. It is a near perfect fusion of humour and action, and set the standard for adventure action movies for many years. The dialogue, cast, action scenes and pacing are all first rate.

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Trailer for Gina Carano’s post-apocalyptic ‘Scorched Earth’

"Scorched Earth" Blu-ray Cover

“Scorched Earth” Blu-ray Cover

Former MMA champ-turned-star Gina Carano (Haywire, Kickboxer: Vengeance) is back in action with Scorched Earth, an upcoming thriller that will potentially give Italian western and post-apocalyptic film buffs something to drool over.

The film is directed by Peter Howitt (Johnny English) and co-stars John Hannah (The Mummy Returns), Ryan Robbins (The Confirmation), Stephanie Bennett (Travelers), Dean S. Jagger (Game of Thrones), Alisha Newton (The Hollow) and Nathan Mitchell (iZombie).

The planet has suffered an environmental collapse; the air became dangerous to breathe, the water became toxic, and billions of people died. Generations later, mankind has finally re-established a rudimentary society, in an attempt to pick up the pieces that continue to blister in the sun. Attica Gage (Carano) is a bounty hunter with a chance at the bounty of a lifetime: to bring down the ruthless outlaw, Elijah Jackson. Gage infiltrates Jackson’s gang, and everything is going to plan until she meets a slave girl who reminds her of her dead sister.

Scorched Earth hits Theaters on iTunes on February 2, 2018, followed by a Blu-ray & DVD release on March 6, 2018. Don’t miss the film’s Trailer below:

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R100 (2013) Review

"R100" Theatrical Poster

“R100” Theatrical Poster

Director: Hitoshi Matsumoto
Producer: Keisuke Konishi, Natsue Takemoto
Cast: Nao Omori, Shinobu Terajima, Hitoshi Matsumoto, Ai Tominaga, Eriko Sato, Naomi Watanabe, You, Suzuki Matsuo, Atsuro Watabe, Gin Maeda, Katagiri Hairi, Lindsay Kay Hayward, Mao Daichi
Running Time: 94 min.

By Paul Bramhall

Any discussion on director Hitoshi Matsumoto inevitably brings up a comparison with Takeshi ‘Beat’ Kitano. Much like Kitano, Matsumoto is also a famous Japanese TV personality that started off as (and still is) a comedian in the 80’s, before making the transition to film. However aside from their similar trajectories into the world of movie making, it’s clear that the pair are two distinctly different creative forces, with little in common to keep the conversation going once any given title in their respective filmographies has been viewed. While Kitano’s cinematic universe has largely stayed away from his slapstick comedic beginnings, Matsumoto has used the broad cinematic canvas to create worlds that embrace the odd and the quirky, often wrapped up in such a way that laughs are simply a natural bi-product.

His 2007 directorial debut, Big Man Japan, centred on an unremarkable middle aged man, who just so happened to periodically transform into a 100 foot tall reluctant kaiju superhero, armed with a stick. The movie was a hit on the festival circuit, and the ridiculous concept of watching a 100 foot tall frizzy haired man go about his duty of defending Japan from invading monsters, with all the enthusiasm of a trip to the dentist, was pure comedy gold. Matsumoto would go on to direct Symbol and Saya-zamurai in 2009 and 2010 respectively, both of which inexplicably have yet to receive a release on western shores, however it was 2013’s R100 that would once again catch the attention of an international audience.

R100 is a cheeky reference to Japan’s movie rating system, which hits a ceiling at R18, meaning the movie in question is only suitable to be viewed by those who are 18 and over. So unless you’re expecting a letter from the Queen anytime soon, R100 should theoretically be viewed with caution. Just like his previous directorial efforts, it quickly becomes apparent that Matsumoto hasn’t lost his knack for creating unexpected stories out of unremarkable circumstances. For his latest, just like in Big Man Japan we follow the exploits of a nondescript middle aged man, played by Nao Ohmori (the titular Ichi, of Miike Takashi’s Ichi the Killer), a furniture salesman raising his young son while his wife lays in hospital in a vegetative state due to an accident.

Bored with the repetitive blandness of his day to day life, one evening Ohmori decides to visit a secretive BDSM club. However this is no ordinary club. Rather than a night of cheap thrills, here the deal is you sign up to a 1 year contract, and the various dominatrixes will show up at any given time day or night, with the only condition being that as the contract holder you have to submit. There’s a few other minor rules – no touching of the dominatrix is allowed, and above all, the contract must be seen through to completion. At first Ohmori finds a new lease of life through the random appearances of the dominatrixes, whether it be being suddenly kicked in the face while having a quiet cup of coffee, or almost drowned in a fountain. However when the dominatrixes begin to show up at his workplace and home, his decision to back out of the contract before the year is up soon leads to a series of escalating consequences.

It’s fair to say that I’m unlikely to be writing a plot description such as this one again anytime soon, and that’s part of the unique charm of Matsumoto’s work. Despite the above description though, R100 is far from being just a crude bondage comedy played for laughs, and like in his previous work the narrative often goes off on meta tangents. In fact the title R100 doesn’t even appear onscreen until the 40 minute mark, bringing to mind a similar trick that was used in 2006’s Diary, where the Pang Brothers directorial credit was suddenly dropped at 1 hour in. It’s fair to say that Matsumoto’s stamp is heavily imprinted on R100, and not everyone will be up for the ride. However unlike other black comedies, such as Visitor Q (one of the movies I really enjoyed, but could never in good conscience recommend to anyone), the auteurs latest is comparatively safe viewing.

Despite the title and subject matter, there is no nudity on display in the entire 100 minute runtime, and the more it progresses the more it becomes apparent that what we’re watching is in fact an incredibly witty study on human behaviour. When Ohmori first visits the BDSM club, the curator explains that once we pass a certain pain threshold, we’ll be overcome with a feeling of joyfulness, and this is precisely what he begins to experience. After the initial shock of his various encounters with the dominatrixes, and the humiliation that comes with it, Ohmori begins to enjoy the experience, which is visualised by him growing puffy cheeks and blackened eyes. Imagine a cross between Jo Shishido and Alex Krycek from the X-Files, and you’ll get the picture.

Each dominatrix is introduced as a Queen of whatever they specialise in, with each encounter becoming gradually more intense. Needless to say, by the time it gets around to the Queen of Saliva (played with gusto by Naomi Watanabe), you’ll either have succumbed to hysterical laughter, or be wondering what the hell it is you’re watching. It’s only when an accident leads to a fateful misunderstanding between Ohmori and the club, that R100 takes an unexpected tonal shift, and adopts the documentary style of Big Man Japan to transform into a full-fledged revenge flick. Events transpire to resemble what could best be described as a Russ Meyer movie on steroids, as the clubs CEO, played with an intimidating physicality by former WWE wrestler Lindsay Hayward, flies in to Tokyo in order to track Ohmori down and dish out some (presumably not so pleasurable) pain.

There’s a whole heap of other random plot threads that weave in and out of R100, from a government secret agent whose job is to make sure Japan stays morally clean, to the relationship between Ohmori and his father-in-law. It’s not even worth getting into the earthquakes and the Queen of Gobbling. Matsumoto films everything with a washed out palette, providing a visual reinforcement to the monotony that Ohmori feels in his life, and it complements the overall tone well. Like in Big Man Japan, R100 unexpectedly steers off into meta-territory at various points during the last half of the runtime.

Shortly after the title appears onscreen, the movie grinds to a halt all together, as in, we see the reel stop and what’s onscreen comes to an end. It then cuts to 4 film executives sitting in silence outside of a screening room, before one of them exclaims what on earth it is they’re watching, and proceeds to point out everything that doesn’t make sense. This variation on breaking the fourth wall only occurs a few times, but rather than intruding as might be expected, it serves to add an additional layer of food for thought, as the executives ponder the same questions we as the audience are thinking, and speculate on the answers. It’s unconventional, but then there’s not much of R100 which isn’t.

Quite how a movie starts off as a low key tale of a bored salary man seeking some excitement via S&M, and ends up as a homage to Night of the Living Dead, as he finds himself holed up in an isolated countryside house surrounded by a legion of latex ninjas, I don’t know. However it’s this talent for genre bending which makes Matsumoto such a treasure. I can’t think of another director out there who could go so seamlessly from quiet scenes of domestic melancholy, to having a suitcase full of grenades being thrown at an approaching army of ninja assassins, all in the short space of 100 minutes. However R100 achieves this, and does so via a whole lot of whipping, sushi stomping, and hot wax dripping. What the message is I confess to still being a question I haven’t figured out, however for a movie to make me think as much as it made me laugh is a rare phenomenon, and for that reason alone, R100 comes strongly recommended.

Paul Bramhall’s Rating: 8.5/10

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