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.
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.
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.
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.
In The Raid, an elite swat team moves in to take down the notorious drug lord that runs a drug-gang’s safe house, which is the home to some of the most terrifying and ruthless fighters in the city; In The Raid 2, the cop from the first film goes undercover to take down a network of powerful organized crime syndicates.
Director: Yuji Shimomura Writer: Benio Saeki, Tak Sakaguchi Cast: Tak Sakaguchi, Yura Kondo, Takumi Saito, Mariko Shinoda, Akio Otsuka, Orson Mochizuki, Kenta Akami, Masaya Kato, Rina Takeda Running Time: 100 min.
By Paul Bramhall
The swansong of Tak Sakaguchi (here billed as Tak ∴), Re:Born has certainly had one of the more interesting journeys to the screen. Having been plucked from Japan’s underground street fighting circuit by director Ryuhei Kitamura to headline the 2000 cult hit Versus, Sakaguchi has maintained a constant presence in the Japanese film industry, but has rarely matching the popularity of his debut. The closest he came to replicating the success of Versus came in the form of 2005’s Death Trance, which was helmed by the fight choreographer of Versus, Yuji Shimomura. Still, many of his fans were willing to bide their time in the belief that Sakaguchi still had another worthy action flick in him, until in 2013, their hopes were seemingly dashed forever when he announced his retirement from the film industry.
However it was a retirement that didn’t last long, when in 2015 Sakaguchi issued a statement in which he confessed to being so surprised by the number of fans that reacted to his plans of retirement, he decided to make one last action movie, just for them. His exact words were that he planned to “create the very last and most superb action movie with my utmost power and passion, for the sake of a closure to my entire career.” The man he went to in order to help him achieve his dream was Yuji Shimomura, and together, they began to work on what would become Re:Born.
This is of course the clean cut version of the story. Actually Re:Born could well be speculated to be the offshoot of a long gesticulating project between Sakaguchi and auteur director Sion Sono, titled Kenkichi, that somehow never came to pass. While some said the Sakaguchi featuring segment in Sion’s Why Don’t you Play in Hell? was likely all that was left of the project, here Sion also receives a credit under the mysterious title of ‘Collaborated with Original Draft’, so it seems likely that Re:Born was also once planned to be Kenkichi. Either way, it’s good to see Sakaguchi and Shimomura together again, having last collaborated together in the capacity of star and action director on the 2011 Sushi Typhoon flicks Yakuza Weapon and Deadball.
Despite both titles being announced in 2015, Re:Born shares a lot of similarities with the Mo Brothers Indonesian action movie Headshot. Simply swap Iko Uwais’ character with memory loss with Sakaguchi’s who wants to forget, and the nurse who restores Uwais back to health, with a young girl that views Sakaguchi as her uncle. The core structure of a group of assassins trained since birth to kill, only for one of them to recognize their humanity and rebel, remains the same. However neither Headshot nor Re:Born are the first movies to use this trope (Broken Path immediately springs to mind), and thankfully both Sakaguchi and Shimomura seem to be aware of why audiences are checking in.
That reason is of course for the action. Despite Sakaguchi’s authentic fighting credentials, it’s never been his action performance alone that’s drawn audiences to his movies. We all know it takes more than being able to bust out a move to be a movie star, and Sakaguchi has that ‘more’ factor. He comes with a cocky swagger, and a striking look perfect for the camera, a combination that likely played a part in the successful timing of Versus, made in an era when Asian action movies in general were going through a drought. When Shimomura last directed Sakaguchi in Death Trance, it was sold on the novelty that Sakaguchi was going to be wearing a special type of padded glove, one that allowed him to strike his opponent full force, and Re:Born comes with a similar novel premise.
Rather than a piece of apparel, the selling point here is that of a newly developed fighting style, made especially for the movie, called the Zero Range Combat System. Created by combat strategist Yoshitaka Inagawa, who also plays Sakaguchi’s main opponent, the style focuses on dispatching enemies as swiftly as possible, usually with a series of bladed weapons (from extendable shovels to Silat style curved daggers). Taking on the role of Combat and Tactical Supervisor, Inagawa choreographs the action along with Sakaguchi and Shimomura, and proceedings get suitably bloody in the latter half of Re:Born once the young girl Sakaguchi is the acting guardian of is kidnapped by the bad guys.
Much like in Death Trance, Shimomura imbues Sakaguchi’s character with a certain legendary mythos. Characters sometimes speak of a rumoured super soldier by the name of the Reborn Ghost, a killer so skilled no one has ever seen him, yet he’s known to have operated in wars as far back as Vietnam. Of course, as the head villain himself says, if the myth was true he’d be an elderly man by now, so it must simply be that – a myth. Or is it, and does Sakaguchi have some kind of connection to this Reborn Ghost? He plays his weary former soldier as a kind of ungodly cross between John Wick, Rambo, and the Glimmer Man – appearing from the shadows, most at home amongst death, and able to dodge bullets. Literally, I mean this guy dodges more bullets than Neo.
It’s a quirky trait, and one that was played strictly for laughs in Yakuza Weapon, so to see it taken so seriously here is tricky to ascertain exactly how much we’re supposed to buy into it. Indeed Re:Born’s tone is a serious one, with the first half spent on serious stuff that doesn’t necessarily gel together, or even mean anything once we get to the action packed latter half. Sakaguchi’s talk with a psychiatrist, his heavily scarred ex-teammate who wanted to die on the battlefield, and his friendship with a local bar owner are all setup as meaningful interactions, but are all but forgotten about once we move into Sakaguchi and Shimomura’s favorite locale – the forest. It’s fair to say that characterisation wasn’t high on the agenda for Re:Born, despite the longer than standard lead-up to the good stuff.
Some characters could arguably have been left out altogether. Two comrades Sakaguchi gets teamed up with, half Japanese half African American actor Orson Mochizuki, and Kenta Akami, serve little purpose. Mochizuki is particularly irritating in his constant switching from English to Japanese within the same sentence, especially when the English is “aaaaaight.” By enlarge, the bad guys, despite sporting cool names like Fox, Eagle, and (wait for it) Abyss Walker, serve as fodder for Sakaguchi’s blur of stabbing and slashing. However despite the only real threat to Sakaguchi being Inagawa’s psychotic super soldier, the action scenes still deliver the required thrills, even if they are edited a little too quickly.
The trio of Sakaguchi, Shimomura, and Inagawa were clearly eager to show off their Zero Range Combat System. This is no more apparent than when Sakaguchi finally clears the forest and arrives at the bad guy’s base, only for him to tell Mochizuki to go ahead, just so he can go back and finish off the enemies still lurking in the woods, even though it’s completely unnecessary. Completely unnecessary, but it does allow for some more outdoor mayhem. Unfortunately despite the intensity of the action onscreen, it’s frequently dampened by composer Kenji Kawaii’s terminally dull score, which rarely matches the tone of the scene. Music can be a powerful accompaniment to any fight scene, however here it’s unfortunately a good example of how a soundtrack can impact an action scene negatively.
Thankfully we do get a one-on-one finale of Sakaguchi versus Inagawa, which provides one of Re:Born’s few empty handed fights. It’s interesting to say the least. Armed with a weapon, the movements can best be described as a kind of crinkly clothed samba (you’ll know what I mean once witnessed), but empty handed it kind of resembles an amateur capoeira practitioner who got drunk and decided to bust out a few moves. I admit the scene drew a laugh out of me rather than the desired thrill, but it still deserves points for originality.
Despite not having the strongest narrative, in the context of Sakaguchi’s career it arguably provides a worthy swansong. The Japanese action movie has already been dead for a long time, so any attempt to breathe some life back into it was never going to be a big budget affair, and that’s clear to see here. But for those who enjoyed the likes of Bushido Man and Sakaguchi’s other movies, there’s little to complain about. Throw in welcome cameos from fellow Japanese action talent such as Masaya Kato (Mark Dacascos’s opponent in the finale of Drive), and Rina Takeda (providing narration only as the older version of the young girl), while Sakaguchi’s career didn’t go out with a bang, it definitely did go out with a knee driven knife to the throat.
During a murder spree, precious DNA is left behind that allows a secret government agency to render a killer’s perfect duplicate. Jean-Claude Van Damme (Kill ’em All) squares off against his deadliest opponent yet – himself!
Replicant also stars Michael Rooker (The Walking Dead, The Replacement Killers), Catherine Dent (The Shield), Pam Hyatt (Restoration) and Ian Robison (Stargate SG-1).
Director: Park Hoon-jung Writer: Park Hoon-jung Cast: Lee Jung-jae, Choi Min-sik, Hwang Jung-min, Song Ji-hyo, Park Sung-woong, Kim Yoon-seong, Na Kwang-hoon, Park Seo-yeon, Choi Il-hwa Running Time: 134 min.
By Martin Sandison
Filmmaker Park Hoon-jung has a limited filmography, but as the credited screenwriter on the all-time masterpiece I Saw the Devil, he started off his career very strongly.
His 2nd film as director – following 2011’s The Showdown – is New World, an off-the-wall mix of gangster movie, thriller and melodrama. The always magnificent Choi Min Sik leads an ensemble cast that helps the film reach A-list heights, despite a convoluted plot and bland visual style.
A criminal ‘family’ who rule the roost in South Korea go under the name ‘Goldmoon’, and are sent in to disarray when there is a suspected mole in there midst, and a police operation run by Chief Kang (Choi Min Sik, Oldboy) threatens to take them down. New World concentrates on the power struggles between the brothers as they attempt to salvage what is left of their organisation.
While having a long running time, the plotline of New World is very complex and engaging, but never boring. However, this can be to the film’s detriment; at times it is difficult to work out what is going on, and who is after who. I think the film warrants a second watch to work out its plot strands. The approach to characterisation and the actors who carry out those roles are top notch.
Each main character is so multi-layered and well-designed that it’s impossible not to sit enthralled. My favourite character has be Jung Chung (Hwang Jung-min, A Bittersweet Life), whose journey is magnificently drawn from laissez faire humorous trickster to sadistic, but loveable rogue, and back. A silver-tongued devil, much of the laughs come from his dialogue and the spark of Hwang’s performance is electrifying. He also is majorly involved in the only big action scene of the film, superbly choreographed chaos in the Korean style that mess you beg for more. It’s shame that this scene is the only one of its kind in the movie.
Jung’s nemesis in the movie is his ‘brother’, Lee jung-gu (Park Sung-Woo, Shadowless Sword) and the intense rivalry and hatred he has for Jung is palpable. There are some tension-filled scenes between the two that are nailbiting, and Park puts in a smarmy, near-evil performance. Jung jae-Lee (Assassination) as the protagonist Lee ja-sung has the most obvious chararcter arc, and his bromance with Jung is one of the best things about the movie.
The most obvious reference point for New World is the all-time masterpiece Infernal Affairs, with a similarity in some characters and the plotline. While not reaching the giddy heights of that film, New World succeeds in different ways; such as the approach and density of characterisation, and revealing the inner machinations of a criminal organisation. Where it doesn’t succeed, however, is in style. I found the colour palette used and the cinematography to be bland and unappealing, taking me out of the film as a viewer. It’s unfortunate, because there are so many positive aspects.
All in all, I need to watch New World again to fully appreciate it, but on first viewing I was entertained and interested throughout. While I have a strong stomach for violence and torture in movies, the opening scene I thought went too far. Be warned!
The year 2017 was once again a very successful year for Asian cinema. While Hollywood may be ruling the world with their vast array of superhero movies and family dram, Asian cinema continues to flourish.
The most successful Asian movie of 2017 was Wolf Warrior 2, which actually raked in more than Wonder Woman and Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales and just a fraction less than Spider-Man: Homecoming worldwide. The Chinese movie based on a Chinese soldier, Leng Feng, who takes on special missions around the world and is in an African country protecting medical aid workers from local rebels and vicious arms dealers, became the first non-Hollywood movie to be listed on the all-time worldwide top 100 box office. Interestingly, it is actually a sequel to Wolf Warrior in 2015, which did not even cross the $100m mark at the box office, and was released only in China.
Another Asian movie that won a lot of plaudits in 2017 was Blade of the Immortal. As the title suggests, it is about a Japanese samurai who fights evil after being granted immortality. What the movie does is take a close look at how immortality is not necessarily a blessing and the changes it can bring to a man’s character. Midnight Runner is quite different but equally enjoyable. In this South Korean movie, two best friends and at Korean National Police University work together to track down a kidnapping their witness. It has a bit of Hollywood vibe about it in its humorous and thrilling tone, but it is hugely entertaining.
Bollywood is one of the biggest and most prolific movie industries in the world and actually rivals Hollywood in many ways. So it came as a no surprise that once again Bollywood produced some superb movies. Raees is probably the pick of the lot. Starring the legendary Shah Rukh Khan, the 2017 film is about a bootlegger who wants to improve his community but falls in a political trap. The documentary Sachin: A Billion Dreams is worth a watch for all sports fans. Released in May 2017, the James Erskine-directed film tells the tale of legendary Indian cricketer Sachin Tendulkar.
With 2017 coming to an end, Asian movie buffs have a lot to look forward to in 2018. One of the movies that is eagerly anticipated is Shanghai Dawn. A sequel to Shanghai Knights, which was released way back in 2003, the movie will star the legendary Jackie Chan alongside American actor Owen Wilson. Shanghai Knights is one of the best martial arts action comedy films of all time, and fans will expect Shanghai Dawn to be just as good and funny, if not better. While you wait for this movie to be released, you could play online slot games which involve climbing buildings and martial art, such as Hong Kong Tower, to get you into the swing of things. Before you do, though, it would be worth checking out this article to get a feel for which games would work best for you.
Another Asian movie in 2018 that is worth watching is House of War. This Bollywood movie is based on the true events of the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attack. South Korean film Hero is also based on truth – it explores the life of Ahn Jung-geun. For those who like history, Swordsman in 2018 will bring to the big screen the story of swordsmen who stood against the confusing state of affairs during the period of change in the Chinese Ming and Qing Dynasty.
Director Yoon Hong-seung (The Target) joins forces with Jackie Chan (as producer) for the Korean/Chinese production titled Reset(read our review), which is heading to Blu-ray & DVD from Well Go USA on February 6, 2018.
When her son is kidnapped, the inventor of a time machine (Yang Mi of The Bullet Vanishes) teams up with multiple versions of her future self to rescue him.
Reset also stars Wallace Huo (The Founding of an Army), Chin Shih-chieh (Brotherhood of Blades) and Liu Chang (A Journey Through Time With Anthony).
Director: Won Shin-yun Cast: Sul Kyung-gu, Kim Nam-gil, Kim Seol-hyun, Oh Dal-su, Shin Ki-joon, Hwang Seok-jeong, Gil Hae-yeon, Kim Han-joon, Kim Dong-hee, Kim Jung-young Running Time: 128 min.
By Paul Bramhall
There’s been many variations on the serial killer trope in Korea, often framed within a variety of genres. From the horror of Tell Me Something, to the mystery of Memories of Murder, to the visceral thrills of I Saw the Devil. Director Won Shin-yun’s latest delivers yet another variant on the serial killer theme, but this time with a decidedly unique twist. In Memoir of a Murderer (not to be confused with Memoirs of a Murderer, the Japanese remake of Confession of Murder) one of the most recognizable faces of the Korean wave, Sul Kyung-gu, looks virtually unrecognizable as an aged veterinarian suffering from the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease. However Kyung-gu hides a dark secret – 20 years ago he used to be a serial killer, killing based on the act of “obligatory murder”, an expression he coins for those who deserve to die, and he’s concerned that his fading memory may unravel his past misdemeanours.
It’s an intriguing premise, and one that Shin-yun adapts from a popular 2013 novel by Kim Young-ha. While Kyung-gu’s inconsistent memory forms the crux of the tale, the plot which is provided as a framework develops into a classic tale of cat and mouse (although which one of them has Alzheimer’s is constantly up for questioning). There’s been a pair of high-school girl murders in town recently, and the public are beginning to question if a serial killer is on the loose, in a plot device that strongly echoes Memories of Murder (there’s also a shot involving a tunnel which will invoke memories, no pun intended, of Bong Joon-ho’s 2003 classic). While driving down a fog covered road, Kyung-gu collides with a stationery vehicle, and when he gets out of his car, he finds the trunk of the other vehicle open, revealing a carcass wrapped in plastic, dripping blood onto the road.
The driver of the other vehicle is played by Kim Nam-gil, who insists the carcass is that of a dear. However as the pair exchange words, Kyung-gu’s instincts tell him otherwise – the man in front of him is also a serial killer, and he makes the decision to bring him to justice. A spanner is thrown in the works though when it turns out Nam-gil is actually a cop, and Kyung-gu is left to figure out how an old man with Alzheimer’s, can convince the authorities that one of their own is responsible for the recent murders. It’s a fascinating premise, and one that plays out as a kind of Memento meets Memories of Murder hybrid, as we’re pulled into a world where the reality of everything is questionable, and characters motives aren’t to be trusted.
As Memoir of a Murderer’s anchor, Kyung-gu is fantastic. An actor who’s been in some of the most highly regarded movies of the K-wave, leading roles in the likes of Peppermint Candy, Public Enemy, and Silmido cemented his reputation. The post 2010-era hasn’t been so kind, with duds like The Spy and My Dictator doing their best to stain his filmography. However in 2016 Kyung-gu seems to be back in business, with a strong role both here, and in the prison thriller The Merciless. Nam-gil on the other hand is very much an actor that relies on a strong director to draw a good performance out of him, and while he found one in the likes of Oh Seung-wook for The Shameless, here he’s not so lucky. Coming across as neither menacing nor particularly creepy, his performance unintentionally blurs what exactly we as an audience are supposed to believe.
In fairness though, the script is as much of an issue as Nam-gil’s performance. The tale is told from the perspective (and largely narrated by) of Kyung-gu, and the more the plot develops, the more it becomes clear that he’s not a reliable narrator. His Alzheimer’s is not only making him forget things, but it’s also distorting his memory of how events happened and who was involved. It takes a highly skilled hand to craft such a complex tale in which everything is questionable, however the weight of the narrative soon has both Shin-yun and his co-writer Hwang Jo-yoon (who notably co-wrote Oldboy with Park Chan-wook) becoming lost in their own tangled web.
The main issue is that the narrative doesn’t set any rules for us to follow, which quickly goes from intriguing to frustrating before the movie is even half way through. There are essentially two possible scenarios for the audience to decipher – is Kyung-gu’s Alzheimer’s leading him to believe that Nam-gil is the serial killer, when in fact it’s actually himself, he’s just unable to recall his own murders? Or is Nam-gil a serial killer, who sees Kyung-gu as a threat, and decides to try and get rid of him by going through his daughter? By taking Kyung-gu’s perspective there are certain revelations that deliver the intended shock moment, however the script on more than one occasion betrays itself, by doubling back on the revelation and hinting that the original version of events may be true after all.
The first time it happens it seems like smart scripting, but when it happens again it increasingly begins to feel like the story is confusing itself. This feeling is confounded when the narrative breaks away from Kyung-gu’s perspective, however still seems to portray characters personalities based on his perceptions. A movie like Memento works so well because, even though the rules of the narrative aren’t clear while watching it, by the time it finishes an explanation is provided that makes everything make sense in retrospect, and even encourages a re-watch. That same explanation isn’t provided in Memoir of a Murderer, and the frustrating part is that even a re-watch would do little to unravel the mystery, as with no clear rules as to what’s real and what’s not, it’s a fruitless exercise.
It’s a shame, as there’s obviously a lot of potential behind the premise, and while the production values and lensing are up to par as has come to be expected from a Korean production, the execution ultimately lacks. Shin-yun has had an interesting career, starting off as a stuntman, he made his directorial debut with the 2005 horror movie The Wig, which he also wrote, and has flitted in and out of genres since then. His movie prior to Memoir of a Murderer was also his most successful, the Gong Yoo starring 2013 actioner The Suspect, and while Memoir of a Murderer is an ambitious step up from his previous efforts A to B chase flick, at least The Suspect maintained its coherency.
With that being said, as a showboat for Kyung-gu’s acting skills it certainly delivers, and for fans of the actor it’ll likely be welcomed. Memoir of a Murderer also stars Seolhyun as his daughter, a member of the K-pop group AOA. She notably had a small role in Yoo Ha’s Gangnam Blues, and here again proves to have a decent pair of acting chops. Of course no Korean movie in recent years would seemingly be complete without an appearance from Oh Dal-soo, and sure enough he pops up in Memoir of a Murderer clocking in his third movie of 2016 (the others being Tunnel and Master), here as the local cop. At this point I almost feel like I should deduct a point for any Korean movie made in the last 5 years that doesn’t feature Oh Dal-soo.
In the end Memoir of a Murderer is one of those movies that you really want to love, but is let down by a muddled end product and a script that tangles itself up so much, it forgets that at some point, has to untangle itself. In the closing scene a character tells us that memory can’t be trusted, which is a running theme throughout, however its inclusion seems to indicate that Shin-yun considers the line to be a revelation to the audience, when really what we needed is an explanation. As a result, the end feels like more of an insult than the intended “a-ha!” moment. Kyung-gu may play a character slowly forgetting his life, but the saddest part is, Shin-yun is a director that’s forgotten to deliver on his own potential.
Looks like the possibility of a Black Dynamite sequel is no jive turkey! Since 2012, Michael Jai White (Skin Trade) has been hinting a continuation to the 2009 martial arts/blaxploition spoof – turns out, the idea of bringing Dynamite back in action is still a reality.
The original, which was shot in 20 days in Super 16 format (to give it that 70s look), was an instant cult favorite among genre fans. It even spawned an animated spin-off for Cartoon Network’s late night programming block, Adult Swim.
AKA: Star Wars: Episode VIII Director: Rian Johnson Cast: Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Adam Driver Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Andy Serkis, Lupita Nyong’o, Domhnall Gleeson, Anthony Daniels, Gwendoline Christie, Kelly Marie Tran, Laura Dern, Benicio del Toro, Veronica Ngo, Justin Theroux, Togo Igawa Running Time: 152 min.
By Kyle Warner
Right, so before we get started: I am going to talk about the new Star Wars movie. If you want to go into the film knowing as little as possible, not only should you not be reading my review but you shouldn’t read anybody’s reviews of the film. The trailers have done an admirable job of keeping secrets safe (secrets like “what’s the movie about?”), but I’m not on the marketing team and I am going to tell you more about the film. I will stay away from what I consider to be spoilers but you will learn more about the movie here than you did in the trailers and magazine previews. With that said, let’s begin.
Picking up right where The Force Awakens left off, Star Wars: The Last Jedi finds our Resistance heroes on the run from the First Order after the decimation of the Republic government planets. With the Republic no more, it’s a fight between Supreme Leader Snoke’s First Order and Leia Organa’s Resistance to decide who will control the galaxy. It is not an even fight. Not only does the First Order have more ships and more soldiers, but they have something of a new age Sith Lord in Snoke (Andy Serkis) and his apprentice, Kylo Ren (Adam Driver). Rey, the Force-sensitive hero from nowhere, is off trying to convince Luke Skywalker to return to the fight. Until Rey’s return, Leia’s list of capable allies is a short one.
After ace Resistance pilot Poe (Oscar Isaac) leads a successful but costly attack on a First Order dreadnought (an attack made possible by City on Fire favorite Veronica Ngo in a small but memorable role), the few remaining Resistance fighters jet off into lightspeed. But somehow, the First Order has tracked them, and their dreadnought has already been replaced by an even larger ship. Now, running out of fuel, fighters, and hope, the Resistance flies through dark space with their enemy close behind. All the First Order need do to crush their foe is remain patient and allow the Resistance ships to run out of fuel and drift powerlessly into firing range.
Elsewhere, on a secret island that was apparently one of the oldest Jedi temples, Rey (Daisy Ridley) attempts to convince Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) to train her in the ways of the Force and to return to his sister Leia’s side. But this is not the Luke Skywalker we remember. There is no hint of the wide-eyed farmboy here, nor is there any sign of the enlightened warrior we last saw in 1983’s Return of the Jedi. Luke is haunted, world-weary, self-loathing. He’s not on the island to become a better Jedi; he’s a sad dog that’s wandered into an unfindable place to die. In his vanity, he thinks that his passing will achieve the ending of the Jedi, something he now firmly believes to be a necessary turn of events. But this nobody girl interests Luke. She’s strong with the Force but she’s naïve about just what the Force is, so he decides that three simple lessons about the Force couldn’t hurt. In teaching her, he begins to understand just how powerful she is, and it troubles him. “I’ve seen this raw power only once before… It didn’t scare me enough then. It does now.” Luke Skywalker begins to fear Rey, thinking that her relentless pursuit of answers (Who are her parents? Why did Ben Solo turn to the Dark Side and become Kylo Ren?) will lead her down a dark path similar to his previous failed student, Kylo Ren.
The biggest thing I took away from The Last Jedi after my first viewing is how surprising and unpredictable the film was. It puts a couple opposing characters in a room and the moviegoer thinks this scene can go one of two ways. And then it goes a third way. That happens all throughout the film. Star Wars has rarely felt more daring and bold than in The Last Jedi.
And on that note: The Last Jedi is probably the strangest Star Wars film there is. (We forget that once upon a time theatregoers didn’t know what the heck a Jedi or a lightsaber was, so in the grand scheme of things A New Hope is a pretty wild movie. But we’re used to its ideas today.) The Last Jedi not only gives us weird alien creatures galore (there is a Zoidberg/walrus-looking thing that stares you in the eye as you milk it for its drinkable green alien milk), but it does things with its characters, both old and new, that we never could’ve seen coming. Already we are seeing that some fans are unwilling to accept these unexpected new directions and strange new visions. (To be fair, there is one move that the story takes that, as a fan, I also take some issue with. We’ll see if that changes upon repeat viewings. This is the one Star Wars film I not only want to see again, I feel I need to see it again in order to fully digest it.)
It’s a touchy thing, adapting something that’s lived so long in the pop culture subconscious. You run the risk of upsetting fans that’ve loved these characters for so long that they feel they know their stories better than the storytellers do. And I don’t mean to belittle a fan’s rights to a character—at some point, for better or worse, the art no longer belongs to the artist, which is something that George Lucas was never able to accept. Writer/director Rian Johnson (Looper) does his best to keep Star Wars true to its roots while also telling an intensely original Star Wars story in a very particular personal voice. Look at the RottenTomatoes critic score (currently 93%) and the audience score (currently 57%) and you get a little idea of how that ‘original’ and ‘personal’ Star Wars story is going over with some fans. It’s odd when you consider that the primary complaint about The Force Awakens was that it stuck too close to the blueprint of A New Hope and the complaint about The Last Jedi is that it feels too different.
I don’t mean to suggest that The Last Jedi is faultless because it certainly is not. It slips into The Fifth Element territory at one point when Finn (John Boyega) and Rose (newcomer Kelly Marie Tran) go to a high roller casino. Tracking tech is vague and is used as a primary plot point more than once, all in the service of making characters show up where and when the story needs them. Some complaints about The Force Awakens, like the refusal to flesh out certain character backstories, continue into The Last Jedi. And I still think Domnhall Gleeson is woefully miscast as General Hux.
The rest of the cast is excellent. Daisy Ridley continues to impress in the lead role of Rey. Adam Driver’s great performance makes Kylo Ren into an unexpectedly sympathetic villain. Kelly Marie Tran makes an instant impression on the audience as an engineer for whom the fight has suddenly become personal. You can’t take your eyes off Carrie Fisher, who passed away last December, as she gives the headstrong Leia a great farewell performance. And Mark Hamill gives what may be the performance of his career (in live-action, anyway) as the old Luke Skywalker. To say much more about the rest of the cast (which includes series newcomers like Laura Dern and Benicio Del Toro) would step into spoiler territory, I’m afraid. Suffice to say, they’re all pretty dang good.
I have a few complaints, sure, but in general I kind of loved this movie. It’s full of thrills, drama, heartache, humor, and twists. It’s an interesting film thematically as well, with prime themes being keeping hope alive and teaching the next generation of heroes to carry the flame. It is visually fantastic. There is a scene in which our characters are brought before Supreme Leader Snoke in his throne room. It’s like a shot out of Akira Kurosawa’s The Hidden Fortress (a well-known Star Wars influence), where Toshiro Mifune is brought before the general played by Susumu Fujita, with a clan flag set up behind him and flanked on all sides by loyal samurai. Here, the shot is in color and the flag is red, Snoke sits there in a golden kimono, and is flanked on all sides by heavily armored samurai-looking dudes in bright red. It is a beautiful set piece. A later battle scene takes place on a planet that has white salt atop red clay, so explosions and footprints leave crimson spots on the ground. Absolutely gorgeous. Also, there are the Porgs, which are cute and awesome and we must begin work to engineer them using chicken and pug DNA so that we may finally have world peace.
I love The Force Awakens but it can be accused of going on autopilot from time to time. I imagine you could complain about a lot of things in The Last Jedi, but definitely not that. The Last Jedi is so full of ideas, wit, and wonder. Some of those ideas won’t land for everyone, but if you ask me that’s how you know the movie was taking risks. The story is always one step ahead of the audience, the visuals dazzle, and the action is thrilling. It may not be the best Star Wars film – and after one viewing, I’m not sure where I rank it – but more than any Star Wars film, it left me thinking that anything was possible for future installments in the universe. It made Star Wars feel fresh and daring. How many film franchises that have been around for 40 years can say the same?
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