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.
Arrow Video presents the Blu-ray & DVD for Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s Pulse (aka Kairo, read our review).
Award-winning filmmaker Kiyoshi Kurosawa (not related to Akira) delivered one of the finest entries in the “J-Horror” cycle of films with this moody and spiritually terrifying film that delivers existential dread along with its frights. Setting his story in the burgeoning internet and social media scene in Japan, Kurosawa’s dark and apocalyptic film foretells how technology will only serve to isolate us as it grows more important to our lives.
A group of young people in Tokyo begin to experience strange phenomena involving missing co-workers and friends, technological breakdown, and a mysterious website which asks the compelling question, “Do you want to meet a ghost?” After the unexpected suicides of several friends, three strangers set out to explore a city which is growing more empty by the day, and to solve the mystery of what lies within a forbidden room in an abandoned construction site, mysteriously sealed shut with red packing tape.
Featuring haunting cinematography by Junichiro Hayashi (Ring, Dark Water), a dark and unsettling tone which lingers long after the movie is over, and an ahead-of-its-time story which anticipates 21st century disconnection and social media malaise, Pulse is one of the greatest and most terrifying achievements in modern Japanese horror, and a dark mirror for our contemporary digital world.
High Definition digital transfer
High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentations
Original 5.1 audio (DTS-HD on the Blu-ray)
New optional English subtitle translation
New interview with writer/director Kiyoshi Kurosawa
New interview with cinematographer Junichiro Hayashi
The Horror of Isolation: a new video appreciation featuring Adam Wingard & Simon Barrett (Blair Witch, You’re Next)
Archive ‘Making of’ documentary, plus four archive behind-the-scenes featurettes
Premiere footage from the Cannes Film Festival
Cast and crew introductions from opening day screenings in Tokyo
Trailers and TV Spots
Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Tommy Pocket
FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by critic Chuck Stephens
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.
Brace yourself for Jeffrey Chiang’s Mawas, an upcoming thriller that’s being dubbed as “Malaysia’s first monster movie.” Headlining the film is Hong Kong action star Michelle Yeoh (Reign of Assassins). But don’t expect something in the lines of King Kong, Godzilla or any other kaiju film, because Mawas is more in tune with folklore favorite, Bigfoot.
According to CO: Mawas is a Malaysia’s hominid cryptid similar to America’s Bigfoot which was reportedly sighted in Johor, Malaysia. There have been speculations that the creature may be a surviving Gigantopithecus, the largest known apes that ever lived.
At one point, Hollywood director James Wan (The Conjuring) was attached, but apparently, Chiang (Dilarang Masuk) is serving as both producer, writer and director.
Check out more promotional/conceptional artwork below (via CO/AFS):
Director: Zhang Yimou Cast: Matt Damon, Jing Tian, Pedro Pascal, Willem Dafoe, Andy Lau, Zhang Hanyu, Eddie Peng, Lu Han, Kenny Lin, Cheney Chen, Huang Xuan, Karry Wang, Ryan Zheng, Numan Acar, Johnny Cicco, Vicky Yu, Bing Liu Running Time: 104 min.
By Kyle Warner
In 2008, Zhang Yimou amazed the world with the opening ceremonies of the Beijing Olympics. It was a spectacle for the eyes, ears, heart, and mind. As a fan of his movies and as a stunned observer of the Beijing opening ceremony, I wonder if Yimou ever felt intimidated by his own success at the Olympics. Because, though I’ve mostly enjoyed the films Yimou made post-Olympics, I think it’s fair to say that they’re not up to the quality that we’ve come to expect from the master filmmaker. His first film after the Olympics, A Woman, a Gun and a Noodle Shop, an oddball remake of the Coen’s debut thriller Blood Simple, was amusing but hardly an essential piece of the director’s filmography. The Flowers of War, for all its beautiful cinematography and important historical content, feels dramatically cool and distant. Coming Home, a drama about lives being torn apart during the Cultural Revolution, bears similarities to Yimou’s masterful To Live but lacks all the subtlety found in that earlier film. So, if you were to tell me a year ago that an aggressively silly monster movie starring Matt Damon would be the film where Zhang Yimou got his groove back, I’d call you crazy. And yet… here we are?
William (Damon) and Tovar (Pedro Pascal) are soldiers on the run from bandits in the northern mountains of China. They’re in China looking for black powder to take back to their armies but are intercepted by a strange beast in the night. William kills the monster, which falls into a ravine, and he claims a severed green arm as a trophy. The next morning, the soldiers are chased once more, and their flight leads them to the front steps of the Great Wall of China, manned by a thousand Chinese soldiers. William and Tovar are put in chains, led into the Wall, and interrogated. It’s only after Strategist Wang (Andy Lau) discovers the severed green arm in the foreigner’s supplies that they begin to listen to their story more closely. When William tells him that they met the beast only two days ride to the north, a note of fear spreads through the Chinese soldiers. They know what this monster is. They know that there are more of them. And they had not dared to think that they could already be so close.
From there we get a wham-bam action movie with so many moving pieces, so many strange sights, and it’s all – somehow – conducted in a clear, easy to follow manner. Thousands of green monsters that look a bit like inbred, mutant dinosaurs (complete with eyeballs located on their shoulders and vibrating xylophones on their spines) come charging towards the Great Wall like a unified force. The Chinese soldiers go to their posts; they each have a job to do. The soldiers in red are archers. The soldiers in black are infantry who man the wall should a monster make it over the top. The soldiers in purple protect the general (Zhang Hanyu). And women in blue jump over the wall with a spear to stab at the monsters below before they are towed back to the top on a rope and pulley system. Meanwhile, William and Tovar are tied up and terrified, just watching shit unfold like maybe they took one bad turn too many and ended up in the worst spot imaginable. The foreigners free themselves, then join in on the fight, doing enough good work to stay their executions for now.
When everything’s working, the movie can be quite a rush. And even at the stupidest moments, The Great Wall is still good fun. It’s an escapist man vs. monster movie set in Ancient China with a strong cast and a great director at the helm. Is it a less important movie than even some of Yimou’s near-misses, like Flowers of War (which also featured a Hollywood star)? Yes, probably. But it’s a better film because it achieves all that it sets out to do. Mainly: have a good time showing cool actors kill off weird monsters for a little under two hours.
The Great Wall has gotten some heat from critics and filmgoers for whitewashing Chinese history. And listen, I understand the complaint because movies like Ghost in the Shell have some difficult questions to answer. But I gotta tell ya, The Great Wall doesn’t really belong in the same conversation. I don’t think it even belongs in the conversation of ‘white savior’ adventure movies where the American saves the day for a tribe of people different from him. Damon’s William comes to China to steal gunpowder and he has no illusions about being an honorable man. He’s a fine fighter, yes, but the only game changing thing he brings to China’s fight against the monsters is Europe’s whale hunting methods (which, for a modern viewer, may not read as a very heroic thing for our character to know so much about). And sure, William changes his tune as the film progresses, becoming more of a good guy, but he never becomes the savior, let alone the leader. William becomes a valuable member of the team, different background and all, and ultimately I feel like that’s a positive message that both Chinese and American films could use more of. As for William’s comrade Tovar, Pedro Pascal (Narcos) plays the part as even more roguish than Damon’s William. Tovar wants to rip off the Chinese, even when he sees the fight they’re up against. Willem Dafoe (John Wick) has a small part, and he too belongs in the bastard category. So, if you have major issues with whitewashing in Hollywood, I hear you. But I don’t think a film directed by Zhang Yimou, financed with Chinese money, filmed half in Mandarin, and depicting white dudes as thieving opportunists is the movie you should be taking issue with. My advice, watch it before developing too strong of a political opinion against it.
If Jing Tian was more of a star in the west at this point in her career, I do believe she’d share top billing with Damon on the posters because she’s very much the film’s co-lead. As Commander Lin, Jing is the Great Wall’s most fiercely loyal defender. She believes in something deeper than gold or renown, which causes her to clash with William who is more the mercenary, and makes for some decent character work. With parts in Kong: Skull Island and Pacific Rim: Uprising coming up, perhaps Jing Tian’s star is on the rise in the US.
Hong Kong favorite superstar Andy Lau (Saving Mr. Wu) has a nice supporting part as the Great Wall’s head strategist. It was weird for me at first, having seen Lau in so many Chinese productions, to see him speaking English opposite Matt Damon. And Lau did a commendable job, too, playing the most levelheaded guy in a movie full of characters who are either macho or terrified. I’m not sure if this will lead to more English speaking roles for Lau or not but he did a good enough job to deserve the shot if he so desires.
The film looks beautiful. Cinematography by Stuart Dryburgh (The Piano) perfectly captures the crazy visuals and Yimou’s delicious use of colors. As mentioned, all the soldier units are decked out in different colored armors and the monsters are green. It’s like a painter’s palette has been weaponized and gone to war. When Strategist Wang works up a potion to put one of the monsters to sleep, I shouldn’t have been surprised to see harpoons dripping with bright yellow liquid; the last major color missing from Yimou’s canvas.
The Great Wall surprised me. I went in expecting some goofy movie with Chinese vs. monsters and that’s exactly what I got, but it was done on a level usually reserved for more prestigious historical epics and fantasy adventures. The Great Wall is a B-movie done with A-talent who refused to slump for a paycheck. Not as eloquent or as dramatic as Yimou’s arthouse action movies like Hero or Curse of the Golden Flower but still clearly made by the same visual artist, The Great Wall is a feast for the eyes and a helluva good time at the movies.
Kino Lorber has announced that they’re prepping a Blu-ray for 1968’s Hell in the Pacific, a survival/thriller by director by John Boorman (Deliverance) that stars Lee Marvin (Point Blank) and Toshiro Mifune (Incident at Blood Pass).
During World War II, an American pilot (Marvin) and a marooned Japanese navy captain (Mifune) are deserted on a small uninhabited island in the Pacific Ocean. There, they must cease their hostility and cooperate if they want to survive, but will they?
Hell in the Pacific is one of three films that share a common theme. The others being Frank Sinatra’s None but the Brave (1965) and Wolfgang Petersen’s Enemy Mine (1985).
Back in 2012, it was reported that Bruce Willis was set to star in Five Against a Bullet, a film about a Mexican politician who hires five of the best bodyguards (Willis, being one of them) after his father is killed by a drug cartel.
For die hard Asian cinema fans, the basic premise of Five Against a Bullet sounded a lot like Johnnie To’s 1999 film The Mission, which centered on a Triad boss who, after a failed assassination attempt against him, hires five of the best killers for protection.
In fact, an “official” remake of The Missionhas been stuck in development hell for years, which leads us to the question: Is the plot for Five Against a Bullet a mere coincidence or has the The Missionremake morphed into a new, shady idea with a new set of players?
In any case… Willis has since moved on and is no longer attached.Five Against a Bullet ended up being another title in limbo – that is – until last December when Variety broke the news that Jackie Chan would be starring in Five Against a Bullet as one of the bodyguards.
Noted director Joe Carnahan (Narc, Smokin’ Aces) is associated as the film’s writer (he was brought on board in 2014 to do re-writes by Predators’ scribe Alex Litvak); and depending on your source, he was listed as director. But today, Deadline has revealed that Jeffrey Nachmanoff – a director known for Traitor and the upcoming Keanu Reeves thriller, Replicas – will be helming Five Against a Bullet.
Part John Woo violence, part Guy Ritchie comedy and part 70s exploitation… get ready for Free Fire, an upcoming shoot ’em flick produced by Martin Scorsese.
Official: Acclaimed filmmaker Ben Wheatley (High Rise) propels the audience into quite possibly the most epic shootout ever seen on film as he crafts a spectacular parody of the insanity of gun violence. Everyone’s got a gun, and absolutely no one is in control.
Set in a colorful yet gritty 1970s Boston, Free Fire opens with Justine (Brie Larson) and her wise-cracking associate (Armie Hammer) arranging a weapons deal in a deserted warehouse between an IRA arms buyer (Cillian Murphy) and shifty gun runner Vernon (Sharlto Copley). What starts as a polite exchange soon becomes a full-on Battle Royale (via A24).
Free Fire hits theaters on April 21, 2017. If you haven’t yet, be sure to check out the film’s Trailer below:
Jung-soo, an ordinary car salesman finds himself in a most extraordinary event when the tunnel he’s driving through collapses, trapping him. Nothing is around him but wreckage, and all he has is 78% of his phone battery, two bottles of water, and his daughter’s birthday cake.
The initial news throws South Korea into a frenzy and makes Jung-soo a media darling. But once his phone dies, and the days and weeks start to drag on, people begin to lose interest.
Tunnel is a fantastic and fascinating take (in the vein of The Host and Train to Busan) about the role of the media in shaping public opinion, the perceived ineptitude of the South Korean government, and the true character of the general public, this is a disaster film like no other.
Back in 2014, an English language remake of The Raidwas announced, but during early stages of development, the film became stuck in development hell. Within the process, director Patrick Hughes (Expendables 3) dropped out for reasons unknown. And Frank Grillo (Captain America: Civil War), who was also heavily associated with the project, hinted in many interviews that the remake was on again/off again, and finally off again, indefinitely.
Then surprisingly in January, Grillo announced that he and filmmaker Joe Carnahan (Smokin’ Aces) were re-launching the remake from a newly revised script by Carnahan himself.
Now news has emerged (via Collider) that Carnahan is not only writing the remake, but also directing it. Here’s what he had to say (via Twitter): “The Raid remake will hew closer in tone and feel to The Grey and Narc. Gareth Evans is producing alongside and has given us his full blessing.” Carnahan continued with his next message: “It’s not a remake. It’s a reimagining of the same scenario. Everybody take a deep breath. We won’t disappoint you, rabid-fanboy-from-Hell.”
Evans (read our archived interview with him), the director of the original, and producer of the upcoming remake, previously expressed interest in having both Scott Adkins (Eliminators) and Michael Jai White (Falcon Rising) as potential leads. Others stars attached included Chris and Liam Hemsworth, Luke Evans, Anthony Mackie, Ethan Hawke and Taylor Kitsch.
Updates: In a recent interview with Collider, Carnahan and Grillo were very vocal about their upcoming Raid remake (they say it’s not a remake, but semantics aside, it’s a remake). And here’s the most interesting tidbits from the interview:
On the feel of the remake…
Carnahan: If our movie felt like the knife fight between Adam Goldberg and the German in Saving Private Ryan the entirety of the movie, then we’ve done exactly what we need to do.
Grillo: You want to look away but you can’t.
On the “assault” pattern in cinema…
Grillo: Many Americans, most Americans, have never seen The Raid before.
Carnahan: By the way, Smokin’ Aces is about an assault on a penthouse with a bunch of crazy people fighting their way up to the top. That was six years before The Raid was made. So it’s not like these are things that don’t interest me. I can show you a pattern. I dig that kind of an idea.
On the film’s exposure…
Grillo: And I’ll tell you something that bothers me. When people say you’re doing to do “The Hollywood Version” of The Raid –
Carnahan: Or whitewash it.
Grillo: First of all, we’re not the Hollywood version of anything. We come through the back door all the time. I’m not Tom Cruise. I’m not the Hollywood version. I’m not knocking Tom Cruise, but he’s Tom Cruise. He gets to do whatever he wants. So my point is we don’t have to do this. We can do anything we want to do. We want to do this because there’s something we see that we want to show to American audiences, and audiences globally. Many people have not seen The Raid.
On the film’s setting…
Carnahan: [It’s set in] Caracas. Because Caracas is a madhouse. It’s almost like a safehouse for bad guys, like they built this block in Caracas because this is where you come to do business and no one will f*ck with you. Because it’s such a dangerous place, nobody wants to go in there. Again, it’s heightening elements of The Raid that were already there, I’m taking these story elements and kind of weaponizing them. Just giving them a shot of steroids, because again everything is about zagging—where The Raid zigged, we’ll zag.
On Gareth Evans’ blessing…
Grillo: We’ve had two-hour conversations with Gareth [Evans]. He says, “Go make your version. I want to see your version.”
On Iko Uwais’ possible involvement…
Grillo: I did a movie with Iko… We became brothers. And he’s my boy. When he heard this, he reached out to immediately and said, “Is there a place for me in the movie?”… So maybe. Joe said maybe there’s a world where he’s one of the other guys. Who knows.
We’ll keep you updated as we hear more about The Raid remake. Stay tuned!
This impressive production, also known as Bloody Fists or Kung Fu Invaders, is a true landmark in kung fu film history. The first of Chang Cheh’s Taiwan-produced, mid-1970s Shaolin cycle, Heroes Two is the low-budget beginning of several films starring Fu Sheng, which culminated with the grand Shaolin Temple in 1976.
Black Water is the story of a CIA operative (Van Damme) who is imprisoned in a CIA black site on a nuclear submarine after being framed as a traitor. He has to prove his innocence with the help of fellow inmate (Lundgren) and clear his name before he disappears forever…
Black Water also stars Patrick Kilpatrick (Death Warrant), Al Sapienza (Sopranos), Jasmine Waltz (Poker Run) and Kristopher Van Varenberg (Assassination Games).
Mike Leeder reports that Black Water (aka Submerge, obviously no relation to Steven Seagal’s Submerged) is written by Chad Law (Close Range) from a story by Tyler W. Konney (Blue Line), and is produced by Richard Switzer (Altitude).
We’ll keep you updated on Black Water as we learn new details. In the meantime, we’ll soon be seeing more of Van Damme in Amazon’s Jean-Claude Van Johnson, as well as the forthcoming Kill ’em All,not to mention a possible 2017 release for the long-awaited Full Love.
For now, we leave you with the trailer for the brutally underrated Van Damme/Lundgren flick, Universal Soldier: Regeneration:
“God of Gamblers Returns” Chinese Theatrical Poster
They say that tension and conflict’s at the heart of drama so it’s not surprising that the confrontational nature of gambling has featured so heavily in many Hollywood films. After all, it’s also an industry that represents some of the biggest gambles of all with millions dollars being invested in even the lowest budget movies.
Films with gambling in them range from ones in which it’s at the heart of the action like Scorsese’s Casino to more surprising ones like Toy Story 3 that even includes a fun roulette scene. But the one game that really works well on the screen is poker – and these five classic examples show the many different ways that it can be used to create real highs, and lows, for the characters.
Best Bond scene
Gambling’s an essential element in virtually every Bond film ever made as he makes his way round many of the world’s most exclusive casinos. In Casino Royale, Daniel Craig’s first outing as the super spy, he takes on his nemesis Le Chiffre in a high stakes game of poker. Despite being poisoned and made to go into cardiac arrest mid-game he manages to re-start his heart with a handy in-car defibrillator and go on to win millions.
Most tense scene
Rounders was released 1998 starring the relatively unknown Matt Damon as a maths genius on a mission to repay huge debts with poker winnings. To do this he has to take on the sinister and scary Teddy KGB played with maximum menace by John Malkovich. It’s looking bad for Damon till he spots a “tell” and goes on to clear out KGB with style.
Poker for laughs
In the 2001 remake of the classic 1960 movie Ocean’s 11 George Clooney puts together a team to defraud some of the biggest casinos in Vegas – but first he has to get Brad Pitt to teach many hapless team members how to play. Hilarity ensues as they fail to get the idea at all including believing a hand of “all reds” is the best you can get. Needless to say, Pitt is far from amused!
The king of cool
For a masterclass in poker-faced genius look no further that Paul Newman’s performance in the 1967 film Cool Hand Luke. In a key scene which takes place in the penitentiary where he is a prisoner a frantic game of poker’s going on around him while Luke is impassive. Naturally he goes on to win with ease delivering the killer line, “sometimes nothing can beat a real cool hand.”
Best drunk scene
Poker and drinking don’t make a good combination but it can have its uses – as Paul Newman also displayed in the highly acclaimed follow-up to Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, The Sting. The whole film is about the attempt to cheat the gangster Doyle Lonegan, played by Robert Shaw, out of his money and in this scene Newman pretends to be drunk to get him to lower his guard – and it works like a dream.
Of course, there are lots of other examples of poker in the movies that we just don’t have space to mention here and you’ve probably got some favourites of your own. There are also likely to be many more in films not yet made or released – so make sure you also look out for the classics of the future.
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