New Trailer has Choi Min-sik hiding secrets in ‘The Mayor’

"The Mayor" Theatrical Poster

“The Mayor” Theatrical Poster

Well Go USA is set to release The Mayor (aka Special Citizen), a South Korean political thriller directed by Park In-je (Moby Dick), and starring Choi Min-Sik (The Admiral, Lucy). The film hits theaters on April 28th, 2017.

In the world of politics, everyone’s hands get dirty, and it’s no different for the beloved two-time Mayor of Seoul, Byeon Jong-gu (Choi Min-sik). Seeking a third term that will set him up for a run at the presidency, Byeon will stop at nothing to keep his darkest secrets hidden from his adoring public. Wiretapping, corruption, murder… everything is on the table and no one is safe in this hard-charging thriller whose twists will keep you guessing long after the credits roll.

The Mayor also stars Kwak Do-Won (The Wailing, The Shameless), Shim Eun-Kyung (Train to Busan), Moon So-Ri (The Handmaiden) and Ra Mi-Ran (The Tiger: An Old Hunter’s Tale).

Updates: Watch the New North American Trailer below:

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Takeshi Kitano returns for Round 3 in ‘Outrage: Final Chapter’

"Outrage: Final Chapter" Japanese Theatrical Poster

“Outrage: Final Chapter” Japanese Theatrical Poster

Takeshi Kitano (Mozu: The Movie) is back for another dose of Yakuza brutality (the first film did for dental offices what Jaws did for the beach) in Outrage: Final Chapter (aka Outrage 3 or Outrage Saishusho), the follow up to Outrage and Beyond Outrage.

Once again, Kitano is writing, directing and starring. Other returning stars include Toshiyuki Nishida (Sukiyaki Western Django), Sansei Shiomi (Crows Zero), Tatsuo Nadaka (Onnagai), Ken Mitsuishi (Kaidan), Ikuji Nakamura (Shin Godzilla), Yutaka Matsushige (Crows Zero) and Hakuryu (The Good, The Bad, The Weird).

Outrage: Final Chapter will be released domestically later this year. Don’t miss the film’s New Trailer below (via FCS):

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Operation Mekong | Blu-ray & DVD (Well Go USA)

Operation Mekong | Blu-ray & DVD (Well Go USA)

Operation Mekong | Blu-ray & DVD (Well Go USA)

RELEASE DATE: June 6, 2017

Operation Mekong, a new actioner from director Dante Lam (Unbeatable), is exploding on Blu-rayDVD, courtesy of Well Go USA.

Operation Mekong (read our review) stars Lam’s frequent collaborator Eddie Peng (Rise of the Legend), Zhang Han Yu (Special ID) and Joyce Feng. Louis Koo (SPL II) was previously attached, but was replace by Peng, due to scheduling conflicts.

After two Chinese commercial vessels are ambushed while traveling down the Mekong River in the waters of the Golden Triangle, the Chinese government immediately sends a band of elite narcotics officers led by Captain Gao Gang (Han Yu) to uncover the truth. An intelligence officer Fang Xinwu (Peng) joins the investigation. After it is discovered that the drugs seized on the Chinese ships had been planted, the governments of Thailand, Laos, Myanmar and China launch a joint task force to apprehend the criminal.

Pre-order Operation Mekong from Amazon.com today!

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New Poster for Stephen Fung’s ‘Once a Thief’ remake

"The Adventurers" Theatrical Poster

“The Adventurers” Theatrical Poster

Stephen Fung (Gen-X Cops) is back in the director’s chair in The Adventurers, a reworking of John Woo’s Once a Thief, the 1991 classic about art thieves, previously played by Chow Yun Fat, Cherie Chung and Leslie Cheung. The film releases domestically on August 11th, 2017.

The Adventurers stars Andy Lau (The Bodyguard), Shu Qi (The Assassin), Tony Yang (Cold War 2) and Jean Reno (Leon: The Professional). Joining them are Eric Tsang (Jian Bing Man) and Zhang Jingchu (Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation).

The Adventurers is being described as a “loose remake” rather than a straight remake (via AFS) of John Woo’s seminal classic.

Updates: Check out the film’s new poster, followed by the Trailer below:

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Luke returns in the New Trailer for ‘Star Wars: The Last Jedi’

"Star Wars: The Last Jedi" Teaser Poster

“Star Wars: The Last Jedi” Teaser Poster

J.J. Abrams’ Star Wars: The Force Awakens (aka Star Wars: Episode VII), the continuation of the original Star Wars trilogy created by George Lucas, was a massive success for Disney, hitting the $2 billion global box office mark. Likewise can be said about Gareth Edwards’ spin-off, Star Wars: Rogue One, which surpassed the $1 billion mark.

But now it’s time to put our geek-focus on Star Wars: The Last Jedi (aka Star Wars: Episode VIII), which has writer/director Rian Johnson (Looper) at the helm.

Returning cast members include Mark Hamill, Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Lupita Nyong’o, Domhnall Gleeson, Anthony Daniels, Gwendoline Christie, Andy Serkis and of course, the late Carrie Fisher (all of her scenes were filmed before her passing). New cast members include Laura Dern (Jurassic Park) and Benicio Del Toro (Sicario), who’ll be playing one of the film’s key villains.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi will arrive in theaters on December 15, 2017.

Also in the works from Disney is a Han Solo spin-off, which will be directed by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (The Lego Movie). A Boba Fett spin-off is also said to be in early stages of development. And let’s not forget about Star Wars: Episode IX, from director Colin Trevorrow (Jurassic World), which we won’t see until 2019.

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Mission Milano (2016) Review

"Mission Milano" Theatrical Poster

“Mission Milano” Theatrical Poster

Director: Wong Jing
Producer: Wong Jing
Cast: Andy Lau, Huang Xiaoming, Michelle Hu, Shen Teng, Wong Cho-lam, Michelle Hu, Nana Ouyang, Fung Bo Bo, Wu Yue, Xie Yilin, Mao Junjie, Xu Dongdong, Shen Teng, Zhao Yingjun, Qi Wei, Ken Lo, Philippe Joly
Running Time: 103 min.

By Paul Bramhall

Remember the big fuss that was made when Jackie Chan made his 100th movie? Well, that same fuss isn’t being applied to Hong Kong auteur Wong Jing’s 100th movie sitting in the director’s chair, but nevertheless it’s here in the form of Mission Milano. While some may likely shake their heads and find it entirely incomprehensible that a filmmaker like Jing could make 100 movies, it’s easy to forget that he has been responsible for some of the territories classics, despite how often he resorts to the lowest common denominator. In the 35 years since he debuted at the Shaw Brothers studio with Challenge of the Gamesters in 1981, his name does also belong to such classics as Casino Raiders and God of Gamblers.

Throughout his career, one of his most frequent collaborators has been the seemingly ageless Andy Lau. They worked together on both of the movies mentioned, and have also collaborated on plenty of Jing’s less than stellar efforts, such as 1993’s Future Cops, and even as recently as 2010’s Future X-Cops (it’s worth noting the movies are not related to each other). Lately Jing has been coasting on the nostalgia and good will of his Lunar New Year comedy series From Vegas to Macau, of which the most recent 3rd instalment reunited both Lau and Chow Yun Fat in the roles they played in the original God of Gamblers. While audience’s patience levels have varied for these movies, the general consensus on From Vegas to Macau 3 was that it was an intolerable mess (I turned it off after 20 minutes). Perhaps sensing that a 4th instalment so soon after wouldn’t be such a wise decision, instead Jing has decided to give us secret agent Andy Lau for Mission Milano.

What’s immediately noticeable in Mission Milano is that it shares exactly the same aesthetic as the From Vegas to Macau series. Everything is a little too clean and crisp, bringing a certain detachment from reality to proceedings, one which could arguably be intentional. While introducing Lau as a suave Chinese 007 style character may be a departure from his From Vegas to Macau shenanigans, perhaps an aspect that Jing didn’t bank on is that he has, intentionally or not, essentially made Switch 2. A sequel being made to that movie is about as likely as Sammo Hung fitting into a 30 waist, and for good reason, with even Lau himself publicly apologising for his appearance in such a disastrous effort. While Jay Sun’s 2013 celluloid car crash was actually a serious effort at giving the world a Chinese James Bond, Mission Milano knows it’s nothing more than a silly piece of Wong Jing throw away entertainment.

Jing himself admits that he makes movies which plug into what’s popular at the time, a factor which no doubt has contributed to him reaching his 100th movie in just 35 years (Chang Cheh still couldn’t hit 100 even in 44 years), and Mission Milano is a perfect example of disposable filmmaking. It’s colourful, features handsome stars being handsome, regular doses of action, comedy that’s both preposterous and protracted, and a bevy of well-endowed females. It’s a formula that Jing has stuck to time and time again when he doesn’t really want to try (lest we forget that sometimes he does), dating all the way back to the likes of 1993’s City Hunter. Strip away Jackie Chan’s amazing fight and stunt-work, and you’d be left with what could perhaps best be described as an early 90’s version of Mission Milano.

While Hong Kong cinema has long since lost the level of action talent that peaked in the 80’s through to the early 90’s, Jing seems to have at least a basic understanding of what audiences require from an action movie. Here he takes a break from teaming up with his current regular action choreographer, Lee Tat-Chiu, and has instead teamed up with Dion Lam. Lam has been busy as of late, choreographing the likes of both the fantasy adventure League of Gods and Shaw Brothers remake Sword Master. Lam was actually part of the choreography team that worked on Future Cop 23 years prior, and has worked with Jing and Lau on separate projects on numerous occasions since then. Here he gets to choreograph a number of scuffles, and at least has the talents of Lau, and martial artists like Wu Yue and Ken Lo, to work with.

The plot, like most of Jing’s action comedies, is entirely nonsensical, and frequently doesn’t play much of a part in anything happening onscreen. But for those that are interested, suave agent Andy Lau is assigned to look into a super-rich heir played by Huang Xiaoming, who’s created a revolutionary technology called the Seed of God. Basically, put one of these Seeds of God down anywhere, add a few drops of water, and out sprouts a fully grown, ridiculous looking CGI tree. World hunger problems – sorted. However the evil Japanese Crescent Gang, led by Wu Yue, want to steal it and sell it on to an even more evil crime syndicate, who have an evil plan to use the same technology to produce untold amounts of cocaine. Clearly, these guys must be stopped.

After an initial confrontation, that takes the form of an extended comedy sequence in which Lau gets beaten up by Xiaoming’s dementia ridden mother, and a ridiculous car chase which makes no sense, Lau and Xiaoming become friends. Lau even confesses to Xiaoming that he got divorced 2 years ago and still misses his ex-wife, however by the end of the movie the script has changed so that Lau is still married, and reunites with his separated spouse (a cameo appearance to provide fan service for HK film buffs). Details like this are clearly not supposed to be paid much attention to, but they’re so incongruous to the plot that they stick out like a sore thumb, drawing attention to the incredible laziness and lack of attention that has been paid to the script.

As the title suggests, Lau, Xiaoming (and his siblings played by Wong Cho-Lam and Nana Ou-Yang) end up packing their bags and heading to Milan to try and intercept the Crescent Gang, who have stolen the technology. It’s worth noting that the scene in which they steal it involves the use of some completely ridiculous sonic guns, but then considering later Lau is using his mobile phone as a lightsaber, perhaps I should retract that statement. You’d think Milan would be a great opportunity for some local flavoured action, but that many of the scenes take place indoors I’d pose the question if any location shooting was actually done at all, or if it was all green screen.

Speaking of green screen, the finale is basically recycled from From Vegas to Macau 2, with everyone converging on a cargo plane to duke it out and ensure good prevails. Considering all the flashy visuals which have been onscreen until this point, I can only surmise that the budget must have run out during the finale. Some scenes of Lau speeding down the runway on his motorbike, trying to catch the plane before it’s airborne, look like a 1990 computer game cut scene. With limited parachutes to go around, the final moments when Jing tries to suddenly make us connect with our doomed heroes is hilariously misguided, but what’s even sadder is that such a scene isn’t all together unexpected.

Perhaps the best compliment that I can give Mission Milano is that I watched it to the end, which is more than I could say for From Vegas to Macau 3. However it’s also a perfect example of how Wong Jing has never learnt that less is more, and now with the latest CGI technology at his disposal, he simply doesn’t seem to have an ability to pace the tone of his movies. But then this is nothing new, the technology may be, but the bombardment of crass jokes, frantic action, and incoherent storytelling are as much a Wong Jing trademark as they are a sign of incompetent filmmaking. Mission Milano delivers exactly what you expect it to, and doesn’t dwell in the memory for more than a few minutes after the credits roll. So if you have 100 minutes to spare, proceed with caution, but for everyone else, this is one mission that’s perhaps best not accepted.

Paul Bramhall’s Rating: 4/10

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Deal on Fire! Takashi Miike’s Hara-Kiri | Blu-ray | Only $7.49 – Expires soon!

Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai | Blu-ray (Tribeca)

Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai | Blu-ray (Tribeca)

Today’s Deal on Fire is the Blu-ray for Takashi Miike’s (13 Assassins, Terra Formars) Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai, starring Ebizo Ichikawa (Space Battleship Yamato), Koji Yakusho (The World of Kanako) and Hikari Mitsushima (Love Exposure).

Hara-Kiri tells the story of a samurai who arrives at the doorstep of his feudal lord, requesting an honorable death by ritual suicide. The lord threatens him with the brutal tale of Motome, a young ronin who made a similar request, only to meet a grisly end. Undaunted, the samurai begins to tell a story of his own, with an ending no one could see coming.

Order Hara-Kiri from Amazon.com today!

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Blood flows in the New Trailer ‘Brotherhood of Blades 2’

"Brotherhood of Blades 2" Theatrical Poster

“Brotherhood of Blades 2” Theatrical Poster

Lu Yang is getting ready for more slicin’ and dicin’ in Brotherhood of Blades 2, the follow up to the filmmaker’s 2014 wuxia actioner, Brotherhood of Blades. The sequel will get a theatrical release domestically on August 11th, 2017.

In Brotherhood of Blades 2, Chang Chen (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) returns alongside Yang Mi (The Bullet Vanishes), Lay Zhang (Kung Fu Yoga) and Xin Zhi Lei (Impossible), via AFS.

The original Brotherhood of Blades (read our review) told the story of three guards who are sent to hunt down a eunuch politician, only to find themselves in the middle of a deadly conspiracy.

Updates: Watch the New Trailer below.

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‘Ip Man 2’ star joins Sly for ‘Escape Plan 2’; Part 3 in the works

"Escape Plan" Japanese Theatrical Poster

“Escape Plan” Japanese Theatrical Poster

A sequel to Mikael Håfström’s Escape Plan, the 2013 prison/action flick starring Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger, is currently in production.

In the follow up, titled Escape Plan 2: Hades, Stallone will reprise his role as security expert Ray Breslin, who uses his skills to test out the reliability of maximum security prisons. Unfortunately, Schwarzenegger (or his character) will not be turning.

Escape Plan 2: Hades co-stars Dave Bautista (Kickboxer: Vengeance), Jaime King, Jesse Metcalfe, Wes Chatham and 50 Cent.

Steven C. Miller (Marauders, Extraction) is taking over directing duties for Håfström. Miles Chapman (Road House 2: Last Call) is once again in charge of the screenplay.

Updates: According to AFS, Huang Xiaoming (Ip Man 2League of Gods, The White Haired Witch of Lunar Kingdom) has joined the cast. Also, an Escape Plan 3 (via Deadline) is in development. Miller and Chapman will be back as director and writer, respectively. No further details are available.

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Incredible Kung Fu Master, The (1979) Review

"The Kung Fu Master" Chinese Theatrical Poster

“The Kung Fu Master” Chinese Theatrical Poster

AKA: The Kung Fu Master
Director: Joe Cheung Tung Cho
Cast: Stephen Tung Wei, Sammo Hung, Philip Ko, Lee Hoi San, Peter Chan, Chung Fat, Dai Sai Aan, Huang Ha, Cecilia Wong, Meng Hoi, Austin Wai, Billy Chan, Lam Ching Ying, Mars, To Wai Wo, Ho Pak Kwong, Wu Ma
Running Time: 92 min. 

By Martin Sandison

In 1979, Sammo Hung was at the peak of his powers as an onscreen fighter, choreographer and director. He was dividing his time between numerous projects, not least classics like Magnificent Butcher and Odd Couple. One of his lesser known movies from this year was The Kung Fu Master (aka The Incredible Kung Fu Master), a gem of “kung fu comedy” notable for many things including a starring role for Stephen Tung Wai, better known as the kid Bruce Lee teaches at the beginning of Enter the Dragon. Tung Wai actually carved out a great career subsequently as a choreographer, with credits such as Donnie Yen’s Bodyguards and Assassins, Hou Hsiao Hsien’s The Assassin and the upcoming Max Zhang-starrer Invincible Dragon.

The plot of The Kung Fu Master is formulaic, and just a platform for the “shapes” action (Note: The use of the word “shapes,” in the context of kung fu cinema, relates to the highly intricate choreography style that reached its peak in the early 80s. Before “shapes”, the choreography style was referred to as a “basher”, i.e. more straight forward, simple punch and block).

Tung Wai stars as Kung Fu Ching, a lowly servant at a kung fu school run by one of two brothers (played by Billy Chan and Huang Hua) who are involved in challenges with other schools. Ching isn’t allowed to learn from them, so he encounters Fei Jai (Hung), a master of various styles, whom he learns from. Soon the situations escalate into many martial encounters.

Never ending “shapes” of the highest order are delivered with such ferocity, intricacy and impact that it blows you away. While a hair’s breadth away from the top Sammo “shapes,” it’s still ridonculous. The credits are a few for action: Sammo Hung’s Stuntman Association, Yuen Baio, Leung Kar Yan, Lam Ching Ying and Billy Chan – with these guys in control, you’re never far away from a fight that hits the sweet spot.

Tung Wai’s versatility as a martial artist is given a great showcase, especially his acrobatics and handwork. We also get a rematch between Sammo and Lee Hoi San (The Magnificent Butcher’s end fight barely topping this one). Lee was one of the go-to guys for villainous “shapes” and here we are treated to another: The late, great Phillip Ko*, who has a cameo, but again proves his skills during a fight with Billy Chan and Huang Hua.

*I was so sad to hear of Phillip Ko’s recent passing; this guy was featured in so many of my favourites from the 70s to the 90s. His film credits rival even Sammo’s. Two little known films of his I would recommend are: for old-school, Choy Lee Fut Kung Fu (not the dreadful Sammy Hung/Kane Kosugi movie from 2011) and Killer’s Romance, a self-directed movie adaptation of the Manga Crying Freeman, starring Simon Yam. Ko also directed a film that has one of the funniest titles ever: Royal Sperm. His memory shall live on through his undoubted presence and mastery of screen fighting.

There is a veritable smorgasbord of martial arts and comedic talent that appear in The Kung Fu Master. Chung Fat has a role as an affluent student whose ineptitude betrays how good a fighter he is (check him out at the end of Yes Madam! fighting Michelle Yeoh). Meng Hoi has a small part as a student (amongst his many film credits, he also dated/doubled for blonde fury herself, Cynthia Rothrock).

The funny elements of The Kung Fu Master are at times a little grating, but mostly on point. There’s the usual Three Stooges-style we are accustomed to in films of this type, with exaggerated sound effects and plenty of undercranking. A novel use of an oiled up patch of concrete for training and fight scenes is refreshing, and reflects Sammo and the team’s creativity.

The Kung Fu Master just misses out absolute classic status due to the simplicity and silliness of the plotline, not to mention the pedestrian direction by Joe Cheung, who also was responsible for the disappointing Chow Yun Fat heroic bloodshed movie, Flaming Brothers. If you’re looking for a “shapes” fest outside the box, look no further.

Martin Sandison’s Rating: 8/10

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Jason Tobin and Byron Mann find danger in ‘Jasmine’

"Jasmine" Theatrical Poster

“Jasmine” Theatrical Poster

Indican Pictures presents Jasmine, the full length film feature debut of writer/director Dax Phelan. This suspenseful thriller stars Jason Tobin (Pound of Flesh), Byron Mann (The Corruptor), Sarah Lian (XIII: The Series), Eugenia Yuan (Revenge of the Green Dragons) and Glen Chin (Knock-Off, Natural Born Killers).

Jasmine stars Tobin as successful Hong Kong businessman. One year after his wife’s murder, he becomes obsessed with a mysterious stranger he thinks killed his wife. Now he travels the world trying to find this stranger, and people keep dying everywhere he goes.

Jasmine hits theaters on May 12. Until then, don’t miss the film’s New Trailer below:

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Suddenly in the Dark (1981) Review

Suddenly in Dark NightAKA: Suddenly in Dark Night
Director: Go Yeong-nam
Producer: Suh Byung-gi
Cast: Kim Young-ae, Yoon Il-bong, Lee Gi-seon
Running Time: 100 min.

By Paul Bramhall

While just like Shiri put Korean action movies on the map in 1999, a year prior the high school ghost tale Whispering Corridors did the same for the Korean horror movie. However both genres had been around for long before the titles that gained them international recognition, with horror in particular having been present in Korean cinema since the 1960’s. While sadly many of these early genre efforts are no longer around, a few did survive (with some of them even receiving English subtitled DVD releases, such as 1961’s A Devilish Homicide, and 1967’s A Public Cemetery of Wolha), although the availability of such titles by enlarge remains extremely limited.

One such example of the genre is 1981’s Suddenly in the Dark, the only horror movie to be helmed by prolific director Go Yeong-nam. Working within the Korean studio system of the era, from his debut in 1964 Yeong-nam would go on to direct over 160 movies up to his final feature, Picture Diary, in 2000. His remarkable span of work over such a long period makes it all the more surprising that Suddenly in the Dark was the one and only time he ventured into horror territory, with the bulk of his work consisting mainly of dramas. Notably however, he did direct a handful of 70’s Bobby Kim starring martial arts movies, including The Deadly Kick.

Suddenly in the Dark, on paper at least, owes a lot to Kim Ki-young’s 1960 classic The Housemaid (which was itself remade in 2010 by Im Sang-soo). The plot focuses on a wife and husband in a well-to-do middle class house set in the countryside. The husband is a butterfly collector who lectures at university, and is frequently away for days at a time on trips to collect and photograph rare species, which he then shows off to his university associates upon his return. On one trip, he arrives home with a young girl in tow. He explains that he found her wandering around, and since both her parents are dead, he thought they could take her on as a housemaid. The wife, delighted to have a helping hand, happily agrees. However, soon a strange doll that the girl carries around, and the revelation that she’s the daughter of a shaman, have the wife questioning what her true intentions are, as she begins to believe more and more that her husband is being seduced.

The wife is played by Kim Young-ae, an actress who has been active in the industry since 1971. Sadly, Young-ae passed away in April 2017, however remained acting until her final days. More recently she can be seen in the likes of 2012’s Confession of Murder, and her final appearance on the big screen can be seen in 2016’s Operation Chromite. Her husband is played by Yoon Il-bong, an actor with over 180 movies to his name, in a career which spanned from the early 50’s and continued for over 40 years. Il-bong can be found in many of the classics of 60’s and 70’s Korean cinema, from 1961’s Aimless Bullet to the likes of Lee Jang-ho’s 1974 debut Heavenly Homecoming to Stars, and 1975’s The March of Fools. The maid herself is played by Lee Gi-seon, an actress who made just 4 movies, all between 1980 – 1982, and all of which appear to have her typecast as a sultry seductress.

Traditional Korean shamanism has never been fully taken advantage of as a practice to incorporate into the countries horror genre, which is a pity, since it’s so unique. Korean shaman’s are usually women, and are able to communicate with the Gods via dancing themselves into a trance like frenzy adorned in colourful garbs. In 2013 Park Chan-kyong (the brother of director Park Chan-wook) made an insightful documentary on one of the most famous Korean shamans, with Manshin: Ten Thousand Spirits, which itself came about thanks to the pair making the 2011 short film Night Fishing together, which involved shamanistic practices. While more recently scenes with shamans can also be found in the likes of Possessed and The Priests, it was director Na Hong-jin who perhaps most effectively utilised shamanism for a modern audience, with 2016’s The Wailing.

In Suddenly in the Dark, the element of Gi-seon being a shamans daughter is played upon in a psychological way, which really plays to the benefit of the horror which begins to unfold, as Young-ae slowly begins to question her sanity. One of the biggest strengths of the plot is that it’s never implicitly stated whether or not Gi-seon is trying to seduce Il-bong, or if everything is a case of Young-ae becoming more and more paranoid. The fact that almost the whole movie plays out from the perspective of Young-ae keeps us on her side for the most part, so it’s only when her husband and friend begin to question her for further details, that we as the audience also question why we’re believing Gi-seon is out to break up their happy home.

Indeed the look and feel of Suddenly in the Dark is more reminiscent of Italian director Dario Agento’s work of the era than any Korean production, with even the pulsating synthesiser score recalling Goblin’s trademark soundtracks. Almost the entire movie is spent in and around Young-ae and Il-bong’s house, making it feel as much of a character as the trio that reside in it. Its garish red carpets and plethora of stuffed animals, which often prominently frame the foreground of many shots, add a sense of foreboding dread to many of the scenes. A variety of different shots are also used to portray Young-ae’s torment, from filming as a kaleidoscope of images, to lensing through what appears to be an empty glass bottle, the methods may be simple but they convey the desired effect of a disorientated frame of mind. Another noteworthy and unique touch that I enjoyed, is that many scenes fade out through the lighting of the scene being dimmed until it’s completely dark.

Despite film censorship still being prominent in Korea during the early 80’s (Park Chung-hee, who notoriously run the country as a dictator during his term in office, had only been assassinated in October of 1979), Suddenly in the Dark has a surprising amount of nudity. Upon Gi-seon’s arrival in the household, Young-ae bathes her and comments on what a perfect body she has, and as the plot moves forward, it almost seems as if Young-ae is more obsessed with Gi-seon’s sexuality than she believes her husband to be. In many ways Gi-seon represents everything that modern Korea was attempting to move on from at the time, with Park Chung-hee actively arresting and burning down the shrines of traditional shamans during the 70’s, labelling them as an embarrassing remnant of Korea’s past. Gi-seon’s presence in Young-ae and Il-bong’s western style home represents the ghosts of a past Korea wanted to move on from, but in fact never really went away.

Events eventually culminate in a finale that sees Young-ae alone in the house one night as a storm rages outside, and the madness that’s been threatening to take over on slow burn up until this point fully takes hold. Again the question is wisely never addressed of what’s real and what’s not, however regardless of the answer, it doesn’t take away any of the impact of what’s happening on screen. Young-ae struggles through the terror in a sequence which encompasses slow motion, more butterflies than you can shake a stick at, and the omnipresent wooden doll makes itself known as only a doll in a horror movie could. It would be a spoiler to go into any more details regarding the ending, but again, for those that familiarise themselves with Korean shamanism, the final shot has a lasting impact, and goes a long way to explaining all that’s come before.

I don’t usually mention specific releases during a review, purely because there can be that many, spread across countless different territories (just ask any Bruce Lee fan), that discussing any one version can quickly become a moot point. However for Suddenly in the Dark I’ll make an exception, which received a US Blu-ray release in February 2017 (after an initial numbered limited edition run of 500 in 2016) on the Mondo Macabro label. The release is significant, considering pre-1995 Korean cinema has been all but ignored when it comes to western releases (with the exception of the previously mentioned Housemaid, which was included in Vol. 1 of Martin Scorsese’s World Cinema Project on the Criterion label), which is bafflingly inexplicable. While titles are more readily available on the Korean Film Archive domestic releases (all of which come with English subtitles), hopefully this will open the door for more titles to receive western releases.

The tale of Suddenly in the Dark differs depending on how you look at it – is it a psycho-sexual thriller? A tale of supernatural revenge? A metaphor for Korea’s rapid rise to modernisation and the cost it brought? I’d argue that it’s all of these, but first and foremost, it’s an effective slice of horror, and if you’ve spent the last 20 years binge watching long black haired ghosts, then you’re in for a breath of fresh air.

Paul Bramhall’s Rating: 8/10

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Doberman Cop | Blu-ray & DVD (Arrow Video)

Doberman Cop | Blu-ray & DVD (Arrow Video)

Doberman Cop | Blu-ray & DVD (Arrow Video)

RELEASE DATE: June 27th, 2017

On June 27th, 2017, Arrow Video is releasing Kinji Fukasaku’s Doberman Cop on Blu-ray & DVD. Never before released on video outside of Japan, this 1977 thriller stars Shinichi “Sonny” Chiba as a Dirty Harry-type character. Read the official details below:

Released just as the popularity of yakuza movies was waning in Japan, and as the country’s film industry was undergoing some fundamental shifts, Doberman Cop is a unique entry in the career of director Kinji Fukasaku (Battles Without Honor and Humanity, Cops vs Thugs), and reunited him with star Shinichi “Sonny” Chiba (Battles Without Honor and Humanity Vol. 2: Hiroshima Death Match) in an American-style crime movie that mixes gunplay and pulp fiction with martial arts and lowbrow comedy to create one of their most entertaining films.

Based on a popular manga by “Buronson” (creator of Fist of the North Star), Doberman Cop follows the fish-out-of-water adventures of Joji Kano (Chiba), a tough-as-nails police officer from Okinawa who arrives in Tokyo’s Kabuki-cho nightlife district to investigate the savage murder and mutilation of an island girl who had been working as a prostitute. Initially dismissed as a country bumpkin (complete with straw hat and live pig in tow!), Kano soon proves himself a more savvy detective than the local cops, and a tougher customer than anyone expected. As he probes deeper into the sleazy world of flesh-peddling, talent agency corruption and mob influence, Kano uncovers the shocking truth about the girl, her connection to a yakuza-turned-music manager (Hiroki Matsukata), and a savage serial killer who is burning women alive.

Made to appeal both to the youth market with its biker gangs and popular music, as well as to old-time yakuza movie fans, Doberman Cop is an surprising oddity in Fukasaku’s career, his sole film adapted directly from a manga and never before released on video outside of Japan. Featuring Chiba at his charismatic best — channeling a Japanese Dirty Harry while doing all his own stunts — and Fukasaku at his most fun, deftly showcasing the combined talents of his “Piranha Army” stock company of actors and other regular players — Doberman Cop is a classic action comedy and a missing link in 1970’s Japanese cinema deserving of rediscovery.

Special Features:

  • High Definition digital transfer
  • High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentations
  • Original uncompressed mono audio
  • Optional English subtitles
  • Beyond the Film: Doberman Cop, a new video appreciation by Fukasaku biographer Sadao Yamane
  • New video interview with actor Shinichi “Sonny” Chiba
  • New video interview with screenwriter Koji Takada
  • Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Chris Malbon
  • First Pressing Only: Illustrated collector’s book featuring new writing on the films by Patrick Macias

Pre-order from Doberman Cop Amazon.com today!

Posted in Asian Titles, DVD/Blu-ray New Releases, Martial Arts Titles, News | Tagged | 3 Comments

Prison, The (2017) Review

"Prison" Theatrical Poster

“Prison” Theatrical Poster

Director: Nah Hyeon
Writer: Nah Hyeon
Cast: Kim Rae-won, Han Seok-kyu, Han Suk-Kyu, Kim Rae-Won, Jung Woong-In, Kim Sung-Kyun, Shin Sung-Rok
Running Time: 125 min. 

By Paul Bramhall

In years to come, when people look back on the 2015 – 2016 era of the Korean film industry, it may well look like all it took for a movie to get green lit is for it be about figures in authority abusing their powers. The list is expansive – Inside Men, Veteran, A Violent Prosecutor, Master, The King, and there are likely more that have gone under the radar. However despite the recurring theme, all of the productions mentioned have been entertaining slices of cinema, whether they choose to wrap their tales of corruption in the guise of a thriller, action movie, or crime caper. On paper, The Prison would also seem to fall into the same category, with its name inevitably likely to draw immediate comparisons with Korea’s other 2016 prison-set production, A Violent Prosecutor.

Thankfully onscreen though, it turns out to be quite a different beast. Helmed by experienced scriptwriter Nah Hyeon, whose pen has been behind the likes of Spin Kick and My Way, here he makes his debut as a director, and as expected works from his own script. The 1995 setting serves as a breath of fresh air compared to other recent productions, and while the year never plays a particularly important role in the story (it’s never specifically mentioned apart from onscreen text at the beginning), the absence of smartphones and presence of 90’s style beer bottles provide subtle but welcome differentiators.

Hyeon also chooses to go with a mostly veteran cast, with Kim Rae-won, last seen on the big screen in 2014’s Gangnam Blues, playing a new inmate who is introduced as a former cop. Quick tempered, he’s barely a few steps out of the prison bus and is already trying to kick the daylights out of an inmate that was staring him down, despite being bound by rope. Rae-won’s introduction to inmate life sees The Prison heading down familiar territory, as just like Hwang Jeong-min’s character in A Violent Prosecutor, Rae-won quickly finds himself on the receiving end of savage beatings from those he was responsible for putting away in his former life. However unlike in A Violent Prosecutor, Hyeon keeps his cards close to his chest during the opening act of The Prison, taking a gamble with feeding the audience little to no information as to exactly why Rae-won is serving time.

Rae-won eventually ends up crossing paths with the most powerful prisoner inside, a character who the other inmates explain even has the prison warden in his pocket. The prisoner is played by Han Seok-kyu, an actor who featured in many of the 90’s Korean movies that are today considered early classics of the Korean new wave – from Lee Chang-dong’s 1997 debut with the gangster drama Green Fish, to Jang Yoon-hyeon’s blood drenched murder thriller Tell Me Something in 1999. Seok-kyu was also the star of the movie that can essentially be considered as the one that put Korea on the map for international audiences, Shiri. After being laden with some cringe worthy English dialogue in Ryoon Sung-wan’s 2013 action thriller The Berlin File, The Prison finds Seok-kyu on top form once more, and he provides an intimidating presence as the top dog.

Rae-won eventually ends up under the wing of Seok-kyu, and learns that not only is he the most powerful prisoner, but he’s also a criminal mastermind behind several unexplained murders that have taken place on the outside. Taking a page from Erik Matti’s On the Job, Seok-kyu has developed a well-oiled machine, that has the warden meeting up with a former inmate on the outside who provides the target, which is then relayed back to Seok-kyu and his associates on the inside. Groups of inmates are then sent out to perform the assassinations, before returning to prison, leaving in their wake a murder and a lack of any suspects to point at.

As Rae-won’s involvement with Seok-kyu and his prison gang develops, Hyeon begins to work in several flashback scenes (which it would be a spoiler to provide any details on) of Rae-won’s life on the outside, as a clear picture begins to emerge of both how and why he’s behind bars. While neither the prisoners-on-a-mission, and Rae-won’s eventual reveal, are particularly ground breaking, The Prison proves to be successful in its no nonsense approach to the tale it wants to tell. Indeed in many ways Hyeon’s debut feels like it could also belong to the era that it’s set in. Despite it being likely to be painted with the same brush as other recent productions, The Prison feels like it would sit more comfortably next to the likes of gangster movies like Oh Seung-uk’s Kilimanjaro from 2000, and Yoo Ha’s A Dirty Carnival from 2006.

Eschewing the subtle (or not so subtle for that matter) swipes at those in positions of authority that similar recent productions have gone for, Hyeon’s narrative is more focused on cramming in as many brawls and beat downs as possible. Despite mostly being set within the walls of the prison, the setting never feels confining, and there’s a surprising amount of action contained within the 125 minute runtime. From Rae-won’s fist fights with other prisoners, to a heist that throws in some unexpected MMA takedowns, to the chaotic group brawls with steel bars and choppers. The return of a movie that embraces the down and dirty style of Korean brawling, that appeared so frequently in movies throughout the 00’s, is a most welcome one, and the fact that the production had a dedicated martial arts team on-board is clearly evident.

Outside of the fists and feet, Hyeon doesn’t skimp on the violence either. An early remark that the last gang leader to try and topple Seok-kyu from his position had his eye ball carved out and devoured in front of his face is given credence, when another gang leader attempts a coup against him mid-way through the movie. It’s a credit to Hyeon that, much like the chainsaw-in-the-shower scene in Brian De Palma’s Scarface, it was only after the movie finished that I realised nothing particularly graphic was actually shown onscreen. However thanks to some smart editing and grizzly sound effects, the scene certainly leaves a lasting impression.

Rae-won and Seok-kyu are ably backed up by a fantastic supporting cast. Like Inside Men, The Prison doesn’t feature a single female cast member (with the exception of the opening 5 minutes, when one appears onscreen for less than 60 seconds), making it a very testosterone fuelled affair. Lee Kyeong-yeong, who played the presidential candidate in Inside Men, here plays the head of the Korean prison system, and is given a fantastically tense scene when he recognizes Seok-kyu from a prison he used to run, and begins taunting him to bow his head to the ground. Jung Woong-in, last seen in Veteran, also puts in an effective performance as the prison warden, who’s conflicts with Seok-kyu soon finds him in over his head. Sin Seong-rok, who also appeared in 2016’s Age of Shadows, also deserves a mention as the leader of a rival gang that wants to topple Seok-kyu.

At the time of writing The Prison is still very much hot off the press, and I feel there’s a risk it may be overlooked due to its similarities with A Violent Prosecutor. However these exist only on the surface thanks to their setting, with one being a crime caper, and the other a violent gangster movie. Hopefully The Prison finds it audience, and they enjoy it for the entertaining slice of revenge that it is. Hyeon has a refreshingly unpretentious directorial style, and if he decides to step into the director’s chair for a second time, I’ll certainly be watching. It’s been said many times before, but movies like The Prison prove it’s still as applicable in 2016 as it was in the early 00’s – nobody does the revenge movie quite like the Koreans do.

Paul Bramhall’s Rating: 7/10

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Deal on Fire! Legend of the Fist | Blu-ray | Only $9.99 – Expires soon!

"Legend of the Fist" Blu-ray Cover

“Legend of the Fist” Blu-ray Cover

Today’s Deal on Fire is the Blu-ray for Donnie Yen’s Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen, directed by Andrew Lau (Infernal Affairs).

In Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen (read our review), Donnie Yen plays Chen Zhen, a role made famous by Bruce Lee in the 1972 film Fist of Fury. It’s set in Shanghai International Settlement, seven years after the events of the Bruce Lee classic.

Legend of the Fist also stars Shu Qi (Storm Riders), Anthony Wong (Punished) and Shawn Yue (Motorway).

Order Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen from Amazon.com today!

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Why Schwarzenegger isn’t in Shane Black’s new ‘Predator’…

"Predator" Japanese Theatrical Poster

“Predator” Japanese Theatrical Poster

While the original Predator may have its share of cheesy one-liners, it’s regarded by most as a modern action classic. It’s a movie that many consider Arnold Schwarzenneger’s strongest effort, a movie that would most likely be called John McTiernan’s finest hour if it wasn’t for a little film called Die Hard.

Still, even more surprising than the fact that Hollywood would touch the sacred cow of Predator is the news that none other than Shane Black will be directing the film. Before he made headlines for writing and directing Iron Man 3, Black was a talented writer who rose to fame on the strength of scripts like Lethal Weapon and The Last Boy Scout.

Alongside his meteoric rise as a screenwriter in the late Eighties, Black actually had a small supporting role in the original Predator as the character Hawkins; this blink-and-you’ll-miss-it part was apparently a way for the producers to try and coax Black into polishing the script for Predator, a task which he repeatedly refused. All these years later, the Predator story appears to be coming full circle, as Black has co-written – along with Fred Dekker (Iron Man 3) – the treatment for the new Predator, which he will also direct.

Black has confirmed that the new Predator film, titled The Predator, is actually an “inventive sequel” and not a reboot. Now we’re left to speculate if the film will treat the events of Predator 2 (let alone 2010’s Predators) as canon or ignore everything except the ’87 original. Producer John Davis says that The Predator will “reinvent a franchise.” A “genius” draft of the script is complete and was written by Black and his writing partner, Fred Dekker (Iron Man 3).

The real question is: what modern actor could possibly step into the combat boots made famous by Arnold Schwarzenneger – let alone the other musclebound roles ably filled by Carl Weathers, Jesse Ventura, and Sonny Landham? Considering that most of today’s stars are cast to be pretty rather than buff, it’s most likely that this new Predator will look and feel radically different than the original.

As of February 2017, Predator has officially started shooting. So far, here’s what we know: The film stars Boyd Holbrook (Gone Girl) as a special forces commando and Olivia Munn (X-Men: Apocalypse), who’ll be playing a scientist. Also along for the ride are Sterling K. Brown (The People vs. O.J. Simpson), Trevante Rhodes (Moonlight), Jacob Tremblay (Room) and Keegan-Michael Key (Key & Peele).

Despite reports suggesting that the new Predator film would be set in suburbia, Black has since denied those claims, leaving us in speculation.

Updates: There was some talk about Schwarzenegger reprising his role as Dutch for a possible cameo, but Holbrook replied back in February: “Shane Black has made something totally new, somehow keeping within the realm of Predator [while also being] absolutely new in terms of the story that we’re talking about today, and rooted in something real. It’s real fresh. I don’t think you’re going to see Schwarzenegger. It would kind of make it a gimmick. It’s horror, science-fiction and a western.” But according to a recent interview, Schwarzenegger actually turned down the film (via Yahoo): “They asked me, and I read it, and I didn’t like it — whatever they offered. So I’m not going to do that, no. Except if there’s a chance that they rewrite it, or make it a more significant role. But the way it is now, no, I won’t do that.”

Predator hits theaters on February 9, 2018. We’ll keep you updated on its progress as we hear more. Until then, check out the first cast photo below (via Twitter):

C5HugjjUEAAzWIn.jpg-large

Posted in News | 5 Comments

Alexander Nevsky teams up with a Terminator in ‘Black Rose’

"Black Rose" DVD Cover

“Black Rose” DVD Cover

Alexander Nevsky’s (Showdown in Manila) 2014 Russian-made action flick Black Rose has finally been acquired by ITN Distribution for a North American release.

Black Rose involves a Russian Police Major (Nevsky) who is enlisted by the LAPD to help solve a series of gruesome murders perpetrated against young women by a sadistic sociopathic killer on the mean streets of Hollywood.

Also in the cast are Kristanna Loken (Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines), Matthias Hues (Raging Thunder), Adrian Paul (Highlander: Endgame) and Robert Davi (Licence to Kill).

It should also be noted that one of the executive producers is Sheldon Lettich (Only the Strong), who is best known for directing Jean-Claude Van Damme’s The Hard Corps and Double Impact.

Black Rose hits theaters on April 28th, followed by a DVD release date on May 2nd. Don’t miss the film’s trailer below, which promises to deliver a vibe that’s reminiscent of the buddy cop films of the 80s and 90s.

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Enter our ‘Sword Master’ Blu-ray Contest! – WINNERS ANNOUNCED!

Sword Master | Blu-ray & DVD (Well Go USA)

Sword Master | Blu-ray & DVD (Well Go USA)

Cityonfire.com and Well Go USA are giving away 3 Blu-ray copies of Sword Master (read our review) to three lucky City on Fire visitors. To enter, simply add a comment to this post and describe, in your own words, the video below.

We will be selecting a winner at random. Be sure to include your email address in the appropriate field so we can contact you for your home address. Also, please ‘Like Us‘ on Cityonfire.com’s Facebook by clicking here.

Sword Master will officially be released on April 11, 2017. We will announce the 3 winners on April 12th..

CONTEST DISCLAIMER: You must enter by April 12, 2017 to qualify. U.S. residents only please. We sincerely apologize to our non-U.S. visitors. Winners must respond with their mailing address within 48 hours, otherwise you will automatically be disqualified. No exceptions. Contest is subject to change without notice.

WINNERS: Dilford, Grace C, and Sam N.

Posted in News | Tagged | 32 Comments

So is Daniel Craig back as James Bond?

"Quantum of Solace" Japanese Theatrical Poster

“Quantum of Solace” Japanese Theatrical Poster

The state of the James Bond franchise is currently in limbo (seems to happen constantly with the series every few years or so… helps to get rid of the bad blood), but this hasn’t stopped a number of filmmakers from expressing interest in taking a stab at the next 007 adventure.

Everyone from Drive’s Nicolas Winding Refn (who is currently working on Avenging Silence, his own take of a spy flick after turning down Spectre) to Guy Ritchie (who penned last year’s similarly themed The Man from U.N.C.L.E.) have been attracted to the idea; but now, a new name is willing to give the super spy a shot: Chad Stahelski (John Wick: Chapter 2).

In an interview with MW, here’s what Stahelski had to say when asked about doing a Bond film: “I’m interested in projects where you can world create. To jump back into somebody else’s world where it’s already been around for so long would be scary. But if there was one property, that wouldn’t be a bad one to try and invest yourself. Especially because of the ebb and flow of the Bond universe right now, I think the timing is good for a slight reinvention with a different perspective shift. Bond has gone from completely serious to totally cheeky to really fun again, to emotional, to serious, to internal, to external. I would love to give the pitch and if they got my wacky version of it, and it fit, yeah. That’s almost a dream too big.”

Of course, this is all just loose talk for now, but that doesn’t mean producers aren’t listening. There seems to be more important issues with the franchise, like: Is Daniel Craig returning or not?

Back in May of 2016, sources told Daily Mail: ‘Daniel is done – pure and simple – he told top brass at MGM after Spectre. They threw huge amounts of money at him, but it just wasn’t what he wanted,’ said the source. Another source told the Mail that ‘executives had finally agreed to let the actor go after growing tired of his criticism of the franchise.’

Subsequently, there was that ridiculous rumor going around that Sony was offering Craig $150 million to reprise his role as 007 for two more films. “Daniel’s the key for a seamless, safe transition as far as Sony and Bond bosses are concerned, and they’re prepared to pay a king’s ransom to make it happen,” a source told Radar.

And let’s not forget that Craig stated that he’d rather ‘slash his wrists’ than play Bond for a fifth time (he said this shortly after the release of Spectre).

Then, just this last October, Craig apparently had a change of heart since his wrist comment. During a recent appearance at The New Yorker Fest in Manhattan Birth.Movies.Death. reporter Phil Nobile Jr. (via Collider) shot video of Craig saying the following:

When you’re asked 20 feet from the end of a marathon whether you’d do another marathon, the answer is simple. It’s like, “No, I won’t.” But the things I get to do on a Bond movie and what the type of work it is, there is no other job like it, there is no other job like, and if I were to stop doing it, just say, I would miss it terribly because you are working with — I maybe disparagingly said the movie industry’s getting a little bit of, you know, of the focus group thing and the whole thing. A Bond movie doesn’t work like that, it’s literally from the skin of your teeth you get it out and then it’s released less than six months later after you finish it. There’s no time for focus groups. There’s no time for that. You make the movie, it gets out. It’s one of the most thrilling things as an actor you can do.

From both a critical and financial point of view, whether or not Craig leaves the franchise, it’ll be on high note: 2012’s Skyfall has gone on to become the most successful James Bond film of all time, grossing over $1 billion worldwide. Last year’s Spectre, which drew in a lesser audience, plus mixed reviews, took in $879.2 million worldwide. Even though Spectre wasn’t a massive success, it was still a success.

If Craig is indeed done, the big question is: Who’ll be playing Bond? Idris Elba (Beasts of No Nation), Michael Fassbender (Jobs), Damian Lewis (Homeland), James Norton (War and Peace) and Tom Hiddleston (The Avengers) remain firm favorites. Also, Jamie Bell (Snowpiercer) is supposedly talking with producers.

For now, Craig is wrapping up a 20-part TV series called Purity. (Mirror reported that MGM was even willing to push Bond 25 back, which would allow Craig to complete the series). Craig can be seen next in Steven Soderbergh’s Lucky Logan, a heist film, which releases in August.

Updates: According to PS, Bond producer Barbara Broccoli has all but persuaded Daniel Craig to play 007 for the historic 25th movie in the series. Daniel’s talks with Barbara are going in the right direction. They have a script — screenwriting duo Neal Purvis and Robert Wade [who’ve penned several Bond movies] are writing and they’ll go into production as soon as Daniel is ready to commit.” The source added, “Plus, Barbara Broccoli doesn’t like Tom Hiddleston, he’s a bit too smug and not tough enough to play James Bond.”

We’ll keep you updated on anything Bond-related as we hear more. Until then, here’s the Trailer for one of our favorites, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, as recently reviewed by our own British spy who is currently on a mission in Manila.

Posted in News | 14 Comments

Diamond Cartel (2017) Review

"Diamond Cartel" Theatrical Poster

“Diamond Cartel” Theatrical Poster

AKA: The Whole World at Our Feet
Director: Salamat Mukhammed-Ali
Cast: Karlygash Mukhamedzhanova, Armand Assante, Cary Hiroyuki-Tagawa, Bolo Yeung, Don ‘The Dragon’ Wilson, Peter O’Toole, Michael Madsen, Tommy ‘Tiny’ Lister, Aleksey Frandetti, Nurlan Altaev, Serik Bimurzin
Running Time: 100 min.

By Paul Bramhall

As a candidate for the cinematic oddity of 2017, Diamond Cartel is certainly a strong contender for the prize. The Kazakhstan production was originally titled The Whole World at Our Feet, with filming and editing spread across 3 years from 2011 – 2013, and a domestic release eventually finding its way onto local screens in 2015. Skip forward another 2 years, and it was picked up for US distribution by Cleopatra Entertainment, before being re-cut and re-dubbed into English (from Russian) to create Diamond Cartel. This isn’t the first time such a practice has taken place in recent years, with Thai director Wych Kaosayananda’s 2012 crime drama Angels being re-cut (and even having new scenes filmed) to create the 2015 action flick Zero Tolerance. In both instances the original version of the movies is all but impossible to come across, with only the new edits available to pass judgement.

The question is of course why would a movie from Kazakhstan, a nation engraved into people’s memories due to its unfortunate but hilarious portrayal through comedian Sacha Baron Cohen’s character Borat, be of any interest to an action movie fan? The answer is a perplexing one, but one that’s as equally entertaining as it is bewildering. For reasons that remain unknown to this reviewer (believe me, I did my research), first time director Salamat Mukhammed-Ali managed to bring on-board a veritable smorgasbord of internationally known names to feature in his movie. The screen time of each varies considerably, from substantial roles (Armand Assante and Cary Hiroyuki-Tagawa), to a couple of minutes (Bolo, Don ‘The Dragon’ Wilson, and Peter O’Toole), to mere seconds (Michael Madsen and Tommy ‘Tiny’ Lister).

How did Mukhammed-Ali, a guy who’s done everything from being the lead singer of one of Kazakhstan’s most successful rock bands, to being personally head hunted by the countries President to direct his outreach commercials, manage to get these stars onscreen together!? There’s clearly something in the Kazakhstan air, as Mukhammed-Ali’s fellow countryman Erken Ialgashev brought together a similarly ridiculous cast for 2016’s Beyond the Game (which at the time of writing, has yet to have an official release), many of whom also turn up in Diamond Cartel. However none of these actors are the star of the show (despite what the posters would have you believe), instead the main character is played by actress Karlygash Mukhamedzhanova. Clearly dubbed, there’s no doubt she brings a visual appeal to proceedings, and was probably the reason why Vinnie Jones can also be found in a Kazakhstan production, when they appeared in 2011’s The Liquidator together.

Mukhamedzhanova is the focal point, and narrator, of Diamond Cartel’s rather muddled and often incoherent plot, which vaguely resembles a kind of love triangle version of Kill Bill. The main problem is that there are actually 2 main plots vying for attention, when what would have made the most sense is for one to be a sub-plot of the other. Firstly, Mukhamedzhanova takes a job at a casino run by gangster Armand Assante (who spends the whole film in a suit jacket minus a shirt underneath), and as she catches his eye, he tricks her into being indebted to him, training her to be one of his black leather wearing female assassins (think Naked Weapon). However she only wants to be with her one true love, a pure of heart but penniless handsome young man played by Aleksey Frandetti.

This setup results in an abundance of unintentionally hilarious dialogue, which manages to be as equally cheesy as it is stilted. Mukhamedzhanova and Frandetti were childhood sweethearts, however Frandetti has always had to compete against the richer and more powerful love rival, played by Nurlan Altaev, who by pure chance, is now Assante’s main henchman. As the training to be an unthinking assassin sees her disappear off the map for a number of years, it’s only when she comes across Frandetti by chance that she seizes the opportunity to get her life back. The pair go on the run (after she explains how she’s been murdering people during the time that she disappeared), chased by Assante (who wants his assassin back) and Altaev (who still wants her to only love him). Confused? You should be. Oh, and I mentioned there’s a 2nd main plot as well. So Assante is trying to get his hands on a huge diamond, which the loved up pair inadvertently end up in possession of.

To spend any more time on the plot would be a fruitless exercise, as on-screen it plays out as a dizzying mess. Extended flashbacks, bizarre double-crosses, characters that come & go with no rhyme or reason, completely misguided melodrama, and hyper-violent action scenes all get thrown at the viewer with merciless abandon. Songs used as a soundtrack start in the middle of scenes in which they make no sense, the voice performer dubbing Mukhamedzhanova provides a narration that’s reminiscent in both style and tone of Sarah Connor’s in Terminator 2, and at one point, Bolo says “Yeah.” However, somehow it all remains entertainingly watchable, although let’s be perfectly clear, it’s for all the wrong reasons.

Michael Madsen, playing a character called Mr. Mike, appears for a few seconds then gets shot in the face. During one action sequence a guy is set on fire, and the camera keeps cutting back to him running around in flames and screaming, but he’s so energetic it’s hilarious instead of horrific. Armand Assante has a quartet of blind folded violinists who play in a stable while he’s interrogating those who he thinks double crossed him. Cary Hiroyuki-Tagawa sits at a table which has a chained man in a cage next to it, who is never explained let alone utilised, he’s just part of the furniture. A character even comes back from the dead that rivals Nick Cheung’s so-called death scene in The White Storm, and that takes some topping. Some of the native English speakers are also dubbed, most glaringly Don ‘The Dragon’ Wilson, his new voice providing him with the performance of his career. Everyone else seems to have been dubbed by the guy that used to narrate trailers in the 80’s and 90’s, meaning every time someone says something, no matter how trivial it is, it sounds epic.

Assante and Hiroyuki-Tagawa seem to have been spared the dubbing treatment, however their performances alone provide enough entertainment. Assante in particular, in one scene during which he realises he’s been tricked, goes for the over-acting performance of the year, as he flips out in a way that makes Nicolas Cage at his most manic look like he’s on Valium. Hiroyuki-Tagawa deserves points simply for going to the effort of speaking in a Russian accent, an effort that must have been appreciated enough to be maintained. Then we have the elephant in the room – Peter O’Toole. Yes, the same Peter O’Toole from Lawrence of Arabia, here clocks in his final performance before his death. O’Toole’s appearance is almost as baffling as when Charlton Heston showed up in Jean Claude Van Damme’s 2001 DTV movie The Order. As a boatman that plans to help the couple escape the country, he appears onscreen for less than 2 minutes, mumbles some incomprehensible lines, and is gone. An interesting end to an acting career spanning 60 years.

Matching the craziness of the rest of the movie is a couple of equally crazy action scenes, both of which involve heavy duty machine gun fire and the bodily damage it entails. The violence is completely over the top, with knives lodged in mouths and through the back of heads, torsos ripped apart by mini-guns, shovels impaled in chests, and fingers shot off of the hands they belong to. Even Bolo gets a brief, poorly edited fight scene, which bizarrely keeps cutting away to a random kitten wandering around aimlessly. It was only while I was researching for this review that I read the kitten was Bolo’s idea, as he wanted the fight to be a homage to the Bruce Lee vs. Chuck Norris confrontation in Way of the Dragon, in which a cat also watches the fight. Let’s just say that here it didn’t work, and leave it at that.

While Diamond Cartel’s intentions are clear – it wants to be an epic tale of how true love conquers all (a message which its original title more fittingly conveys, as it’s a meaningful line actually spoken in the movie) – its delivery is so over-enthusiastic and incohesive that it’s impossible to take seriously. However, I also find it impossible to be too harsh on the production, just because its full-steam ahead approach and unapologetic over-the-top nature does result in a bizarre form of entertainment. While audience’s mileage will vary, taken as a kind of modern day incarnation of Samurai Cop or Miami Connection, there is a lot of fun to be had with Diamond Cartel. But if you’re expecting to find the answer as to why Mukhammed-Ali was personally head hunted to be a director for the President of Kazakhstan, then the answers are probably best found elsewhere.

Paul Bramhall’s Rating: 6/10

Posted in All, Asian Related, News, Reviews | Tagged , , , | 6 Comments
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