Don “The Dragon” Wilson joins Juju Chan in ‘V-Force’

"Ring of Fire" Theatrical Poster

"Ring of Fire" Theatrical Poster

Don “The Dragon” Wilson (Ring of Fire, Bloodfist) will be appearing alongside Juju Chan (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny), Keith David (The Thing), Michael Rooker (The Replacement Killers) and Bruce Dern (The Hateful Eight) in V-Force: New Dawn of V.I.C.T.O.R.Y.

Directed by Frank E. Johnson (Shannon’s Rainbow), V-Force: New Dawn of V.I.C.T.O.R.Y. tells the story of four young women who gain extraordinary powers and are guided by an older mentor to become super heroes.

We’re not sure how much screen time Wilson will be getting, but there’s always these other “Dragon” films to look forward to, including White Tiger, Enter the Fist and the Golden Fleecing, Paying Mr. McGetty, Showdown in Manila and the recently released Martial Arts Kid.

V-Force: New Dawn of V.I.C.T.O.R.Y. is currently filming in Oregon, as reported in this behind-the-scenes look at the film. We’ll keep you posted as we hear more.

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Deal on Fire! Iceman | Blu-ray | Only $8.11 – Expires soon!

"Iceman" Blu-ray Cover

"Iceman" Blu-ray Cover

Today’s Deal on Fire is the Blu-ray for Law Wing Cheong’s Iceman, starring International martial arts icon Donnie Yen (Special ID). A remake of the 1989 film Iceman Cometh, Yen plays a Ming era warrior who, along with his three traitorous childhood friends, are accidentally buried and kept frozen in time. 400 years later, they are defrosted and continue their battle in modern times where they left off.

Iceman also stars Eva Huang (Kung Fu Hustle), Wang Baoqiang (Lost in Thailand) and Simon Yam (The Thieves). Don’t miss our review!

Order Iceman from today!

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Sadako vs Kayako | aka The Ring vs The Grudge (2016) Review

"Sadako vs Kayako" Japanese Theatrical Poster

“Sadako vs Kayako” Japanese Theatrical Poster

AKA: Ring vs Ju-On
Director: Koji Shiraishi
Writer: Koji Shiraishi
Cast: Mizuki Yamamoto, Tina Tamashiro, Aimi Satsukawa, Masahiro Komoto, Masanobu Ando, Mai Kikuchi, Misato Tanaka, Seiko Ozone
Running Time: 99 min.

By Paul Bramhall

Starting any review of Sadako vs Kayako might as well begin with a recap of the two titular horror movie franchises that they’re a part of.

As the cursed spirit of the Ringu series, this installment notches up Sadako’s twelfth onscreen appearance (soon to be thirteenth, with the 2016 release of the Hollywood production Rings). Based on a novel by Koji Suzuki, Sadako initially appeared to terrify viewers in a 1995 Japanese TV movie, entitled Ringu: Kanzenban, however the character didn’t really catch on until the release of director Hideo Nakata’s 1998 adaption, Ringu. Between 1998 – 2000 there was another Japanese interpretation on the original novel (Rasen), a direct sequel, also helmed by Nakata, a prequel (Ringu 0), a Korean version (The Ring Virus), and a Japanese TV series (Ringu: The Final Chapter). Hollywood then attempted to reinterpret the character for western audiences with a re-make in 2002, which was followed by a sequel in 2005 (interestingly, also directed by Nakata). Then all went quiet on the Sadako front, until 7 years later Japan decided to revive the black haired spirit for the social media generation, with the disastrous efforts that were Sadako 3D and its sequel, both directed by Tsutomu Hanabusa, released in 2012 and 2013 respectively.

Kayako, as the equally cursed spirit that haunts the Ju-On series, almost matches Sadako for screen appearances, but not quite. There are eleven movies in the Ju-On series, with Kayako featuring in nine of them. Director Takashi Shimizu was behind the initial entries, which began with the DTV feature Ju-On: The Curse in 2000, and was followed up by a sequel in the same year. With Japanese horror becoming popular, Shimizu went on to make the theatrically released Ju-On: The Grudge in 2002, which was also followed up with a sequel the following year. Like Ringu, Hollywood decided to remake the latter entries, which were released as The Grudge and The Grudge 2 in 2004 and 2006 respectively, also both directed by Shimizu. For those wondering, yes, he’s basically made two of his movies three times over. There was a third Hollywood sequel in 2009, and during the same year two Ju-On movies unrelated to Kayako were released in Japan (White Ghost and Black Ghost). Much like Sadako, Kayako reappeared in Japanese cinemas after a several year absence with the release of 2014’s Ju-On: The Beginning of the End, which was swiftly followed by Ju-On: The Final Curse a year later, both directed by Masayuki Ochiai.

Perhaps then, much like Freddy Kruger and Jason Voorhees eventually ended up facing off against each other, it’s not such a surprise that a movie has been created which pits the two spirits against each other. While the concept sounds ridiculous, after all both series best entries rely more on a foreboding sense of dread rather than imaginative kills or jump scares, the fact that Koji Shiraishi was announced as director was a sign that this could be an interesting movie. Shiraishi has worked almost exclusively within the horror genre, and is the man behind such titles as The Slit Mouthed Woman (which he manages to work in a reference to in Sadako vs Kayako), and perhaps most notoriously, Grotesque, which was banned from distribution in the UK. When Shiraishi is on form, he’s a director who knows how to balance horror, both visceral and psychological, with fleshed out characters and drama.

Within the first 15 minutes of Sadako vs Kayako, it becomes apparent that this isn’t going to be one of those movies. In fairness, the blame can’t be put entirely on Shiraishi. The whole idea for a movie which sees the infamous pair facing off started as an April Fool’s joke, and eventually became a reality after momentum gained from fans demanding to make it happen. So what we have here is a movie which was supposed to be just a joke. What’s left is a lot of unintentional campiness, more contrived situations than you can shake a stick at, and characters who are so idiotic you actually look forward to the horrible death that they have coming to them.

The plot takes the form of two separate storylines that run in parallel. One focuses on a pair of university students, played by Mizuki Yamamoto and Aimi Satsukawa, who attend the lecture of a mythology teacher who’s obsessed with meeting Sadako. After listening to him explain how the original cursed video tape is considered lost, the two friends visit an old electronics store to try and find a VHS player, as Satsukawa wants to transfer her parents wedding video footage onto DVD. Of course they find an old VHS player to purchase, and what are the chances, the original video just happens to be inside the player! (Not only that, it’s then revealed that the part-time staff member just so happened to check that exact VHS the day before, to make sure it was working, and is soon throwing herself off the top of a storage unit). Yamamoto and Satsukawa innocently decide to watch the video, and in one of the movies few clever moments, Yamamoto misses it due to playing with her smartphone. Satsukawa, on the other hand, is left with the phone call signifying that she has 2 days before she dies, and is understandably quite upset about it.

Meanwhile, in the other storyline a family move next to the house that Kayako resides in, which the high-school attending daughter, played by Tina Tamashiro, finds herself inexplicably drawn to. And that’s really it for the Kayako storyline. For those who are watching Sadako vs Kayako as more of a Ju-On fan than a Ringu one, they may understandably feel as if they’ve gotten short thrift. Indeed for most of the runtime the production feels like Sadako’s show, as the script struggles to setup any meaningful narrative for the daughter, other than the fact that her classmates tell her she’s living next to a haunted house, and she feels tempted to go in.

The introduction of a powerful spiritual medium, played as a kind of Mr. Vampire-lite by Masanobu Ando, is what really sends the camp level of the movie soaring. Ando can be considered the only bona fide movie star in the production, with memorable roles in the likes of Takeshi Kitano’s Kids Return, Kinji Fukasaku’s Battle Royale, and Miike Takashi’s Sukiyaki Western Django. Here though his twirling hand gestures, meant to convey the Japanese equivalent of Taoist magic, make him come across as more of a holiday resort magician, than someone who has a chance against a pair of undead femme fatales. Don’t even get me started on his wisecracking blind sidekick, played by child actress Mai Kikuchi, who turns in the least convincing portrayal of a blind person you’ll ever see. When Satsukawa becomes crazy and decides to upload the cursed video onto the internet (apparently for the first time, so the events of the two Sadako 3D movies seem to be being ignored), Ando realises that they have to stop the ‘curse outbreak’ before the whole world sees the video, concluding that the way to end it once and for all is to pit evil spirit against evil spirit.

So we’re setup for the confrontation that the title promises. However to get there involves a ridiculous amount of silliness. After making such a big deal of how it’s impossible to find a VHS player at the beginning of the movie, there are at least three separate scenarios as the movie progresses in which VHS players just happen to be readily at hand. On top of that, when strands of black hair start randomly appearing, the overall feeling is that the place they’ve turned up in is just in need of a good clean, rather than building up any sense of dread. The inescapable fact is that, for those of us who are familiar with the Ringu and Ju-On movies that have come before, Sadako and Kayako simply aren’t scary anymore. Both series rely on a sense of foreboding dread to build up their scares, however at this point the filmmakers have to rely on cheap jump scares and creative character deaths. Basically, they’ve become the Japanese equivalent of Freddy Kruger and Jason Voorhees.

This statement is no more evident than when Sadako makes her trademark crawl out of the TV, and the scene cuts away before she’s even finished, a move which should be considered sacrilegious for any fans of the long haired ghost. But the whole movie is indicative that the threat of Sadako is simply not a big deal anymore. The professor who’s obsessed with meeting her watches the video on purpose, and as soon as his phone rings he excitedly picks it up yelling “Sadako! Sadako, is that you!?” It’s honestly hard to tell if the scene was going for parody, or expecting to be taken seriously, but I have a bad feeling it’s the latter. Another scene feels like the script for Alien has been adapted for vengeful spirits, as one character witnesses Sadako creeping up on another from behind a jammed door, and starts yelling “Move! Get out of there! Move!” I was half expecting a motion sensor to make an appearance.

With that being said, there are some worthy moments amidst the mediocrity. An exorcism scene is particularly fun, as it crams in some creative deaths, including a fantastic head butt, delivered by an exorcist who becomes possessed by Sadako. The appearance of Toshio also delivers a couple of jump in your seat moments, however in an almost 100 minute runtime, they come few and far between. At this point in both of the series, we’re used to the fact that smart protagonists have been replaced by weakly characterised victims, who’s main job is to scream and look terrified, and Sadako vs Kayako doesn’t change any of that. Unfortunately it doesn’t even have a conclusion, as after a frustratingly short face off (which begs the question if the movie’s title is even appropriate), Shiraishi decides to hit us with a surprise ending that involves what can best be described as a CGI take on the finale of John Carpenter’s The Thing (tentacles included), and a cliff-hanger ending. It leaves little doubt that we can expect a Sadako vs Kayako 2, but what’s less certain is if there’ll be anyone that wants to watch it.

Paul Bramhall’s Rating: 5/10

Posted in All, Japanese, News, Reviews | Tagged | 11 Comments

Exclusive: New U.S. trailer for Sammo Hung’s ‘The Bodyguard’

The Bodyguard | Blu-ray & DVD (Well Go USA)

The Bodyguard | Blu-ray & DVD (Well Go USA)

Well Go USA will be releasing Sammo Hung’s The Bodyguard (aka My Beloved Bodyguard) on VOD on August 2; then to Blu-ray & DVD on September 6, 2016.

It has been over 17 long years since Sammo Hung has directed a movie (since 1997’s Once Upon A Time in China and America), but now, the Hong Kong legend is back – both as star and as director – in The Bodyguard, which was previously known as Old Soldier.

The Bodyguard (read our review) features a cast of well-known names that include Zhu Yuchen, Li Qinqin, Feng Jiayi, Jacqueline Chan, Andy Lau, Hu Jun, Feng Shaofeng, Eddie Peng, Song Jia, Tsui Hark, Karl Maka, Dean Shek, Yuen Biao, Yuen Qiu, Yuen Wah, Yuen Ting, Yuen Po, Tony Leung Ka Fai and Song Jia.

The Bodyguard follows a retired bodyguard (Hung) who has settled in the dark and unknown corner of the world where China, Russia and North Korea meet. Suffering from the beginnings of dementia, the bodyguard is befriended by a young girl whose life is threatened when her father (Lau) falls in with the local crime world. When the girl and her father disappear, the bodyguard must call upon his long forgotten skills to save the life of his young friend.

Check out the film’s new U.S. trailer below:

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A new featurette howls in for Wu Jing’s ‘Wolf Warrior II’

"Wolf Warriors II" Chinese Teaser Poster

"Wolf Warriors II" Chinese Teaser Poster

A sequel to 2015’s Wolf Warrior is currently in production. Jacky Wu Jing (SPL II: A Time for Consequences) is once again starring and directing. Yu Nan (The Expendables 2) also returns.

According to AFS, Wolf Warrior II will be set in a war-torn African country. Other confirmed cast members include Olympic gymnast Zou Kai. Frank Grillo (Captain America: The Winter Soldier, The Purge: Anarchy and the upcoming Iko Uwais flick, Beyond Skyline) will be playing a mercenary commander who goes head-to-head with Wu Jing.

For Wolf Warrior II, Jing aims to topple the original. He’s even enlisted the help of Hollywood heavies, The Russo Brothers (Captain America: The Winter Soldier): “We’re helping Wu Jing out on Wolf Warrior 2. We introduced him to some of our relationships in the business, like a stunt team that’s going to come in and work hard with him to elevate the action on the film because the second time out he really wants to up his game and outperform the first movie, which did incredibly well,” Joe Russo told LA Times.

Handling action for the film will be Hong Kong veteran Jack Wong (SPL II: A Time for Consequences) and Sam Hargrave (fight coordinator for Captain America Civil War) and his team (via Mike Leeder).

The original Wolf Warrior starred Scott Adkins (Close Range), Kevin Lee (Pound of Flesh), Deng Ziyi (Pay Back), Sona Eyambe (Zombie 108), Kyle Shapiro (Dragon Blade) and Samuel Thivierge (In the End).

As always, we’ll update you as we hear more!

Updates: Watch a behind-the-scenes featurette for Wolf Warrior 2.

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Steven Seagal to bring back Nico from ‘Above the Law’?

"Above the Law" Japanese Theatrical Poster

"Above the Law" Japanese Theatrical Poster

The man, the myth, the mystique that is Steven Seagal started with 1988’s Above the Law, his gritty debut feature by director Andrew Davis (The Fugitive). The film put Seagal on the map in the late 80s/early 90s and from that point on, his movies would get bigger, louder and more successful for the next 4 years or so.

Just recently, the Exit Wounds star “officially” tweeted the idea of bringing back Nico Tuscani (his character from Above the Law). Of course, this tweet most likely means nothing, but we couldn’t help to make a post about it. With the resurgence of titles such as Samurai Cop 2Kickboxer: Vengeance and xXx 3, anything is possible, right? Just don’t be expecting Davis to return to the director’s chair – expect someone like Keoni Waxman (Force of Execution), Seagal’s frequent filmmaker of choice of recent times.

If it doesn’t happen, fans still have a mountain full of pending Seagal films to look forward to that include AttritionChina SalesmanContract to KillCypher, Gunfighter, End of a GunDeadly Arsenal and Four Towers. His latest completed films include Code of Honor, The Asian Connection and Perfect Weapon.

If an Above the Law sequel materializes, you’ll definitely hear from us.

Updates: Well, it looks like there might be a grain of truth to the news we reported a week ago. Woodie Mister, partner of Seagal, states that he and the Aikido star are officially developing an Above the Law sequel (via Woody’s Twitter/FCS). Of course, nothing is 100% certain until production begins, but we have our fingers crossed.

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An immortal ‘Highlander’ joins ‘Kickboxer: Retaliation’

"Kickboxer: Retaliation" Teaser Poster

“Kickboxer: Retaliation” Teaser Poster

In Kickboxer: Retaliation, the follow up to the soon-to-be released Kickboxer: Vengeance, Alain Moussi is reprising his role as Kurt Sloane.

For Kickboxer: Retaliation, Dimitri Logothetis (who directed Moussi in the unreleased Wings of the Dragon) is taking over the director’s chair for John Stockwell (In the Blood). It should be noted that Logothetis is no stranger to the series, since he served as both writer and producer for Kickboxer: Vengeance.

This time around, the kickboxing hero is up against a syndicate of ruthless criminals that will include professional strongman competitor, Hafthor Julius Björnsson (Game of Thrones), who will be playing the film’s main villain. Other stars include Mike Tyson (Ip Man 3), soccer star Ronaldinho and returning love interest, Sara Malakul Lane.

Of special note, Jean-Claude Van Damme (Double TeamSecond in Command), who appears in the soon-to-be released Kickboxer: Vengeance, is returning as Master Durand.

Updates: According to Impact’s Mike Leeder, Christopher Lambert (Highlander, Mortal Kombat, The Hunted) will be making an appearance in Kickboxer: Retaliation. Details of his role are not known at this time. Also, a third film in the series, titled Kickboxer: Syndicate, is currently in the works.

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Exclusive: Interview with the visionary Nobuhiko Obayashi

Nobuhiko Obayashi

Nobuhiko Obayashi’s film House is rightfully regarded as one of the craziest and most singular films ever made, and I would say no other movie comes close to its beyond-surreal vision. Obayashi’s debut, made in 1977, would kickstart a career of eccentric, hilarious and visually wild films.

Obayashi was present at the Udine Far East Film Festival where they screened four of his films: House, Exchange Students, School in the Crosshairs and The Girl Who Leapt Through Time. I managed to secure a short, one-on-one interview with him, which was a joy from start to finish. Enjoy!

"House" Japanese Theatrical Poster

"House" Japanese Theatrical Poster

MARTIN SANDISON: You began your career in commercials and directed hundreds of them. So how did you begin your career in the film Industry?

NOBUHIKO OBAYASHI: My initial career in cinema began when I was three years old, with the tools that I found in my house. I studied how to make films myself. When I was a teenager I started to make some short films, in 8 or 16mm. So I became famous as a film artist. At that time In the United States, the underground movement happened. I became very friendly with the underground filmmakers. And then at that time in Japan, commercials were a way to start, and a producer came to me and asked me to make some TV commercials.

MS: To move on to your first film, House, the visual style you created is so interesting, and it is your signature movie. What inspired you to come up with this style?

Obayashi and Tomoyo Harada on the set of "The Girl Who Leapt Through Time"

Obayashi and Tomoyo Harada on the set of "The Girl Who Leapt Through Time"

NO: I have to say that House was the first work done by an Indie director, but doing a major film. So I thought that my work with House should be done the way other major films weren’t being done. Major films, as you know, want to have success, have a hit film. I personally have a vision, and I watched a lot of films from the beginning of cinema, even from Tomas Edison. Every critic said after seeing House that it was not a real film. Now, I think actually it was a very classical film. For this reason, for the title, I put The Movie: House! (laughter)

MS: Could you talk a little about the editing style of House? Because when I saw it I thought, “Wow! It’s so unusual!” I’ve never seen anything like this.

NO: For me, it was so natural, not unusual.

MS: Okay. Could you talk about the music in your films? You studied music. How important is it to the effect of your films; and who are your musical influences?

Eriko Tanaka, Ai Matsubara, Miki Jinbo, Kimiko Ikegami, Kumiko Ohba, Masayo Miyako and Mieko Sato of "House"

Eriko Tanaka, Ai Matsubara, Miki Jinbo, Kimiko Ikegami, Kumiko Ohba, Masayo Miyako and Mieko Sato of "House"

NO: Both music and film are the arts of time. The seven actresses of House were all unprofessional. So it was difficult to let them know how to play with words. So in that case I created the music before making the film. And during the film I played the music all the time so they could get involved. So listening to the music from major to minor, the girls in the film would act happy when it was major and sad when it was minor. To edit the scenes using the music was more effective than using only the words.

MS: It has been some time since you made a horror film, would you make another one?

NO: I don’t like zombie horror films. I don’t like the fast paced music in them. Film should be beautiful.

MS: Do you like contemporary Japanese cinema?

NO: Yes. I find it very interesting. I find the films made by young Japanese directors very interesting, like the films in this festival. They reflect real Japanese society. The history of film is only 120 years, so it is possible to see all the films created, and I would like to say to the young producers to see all of them. With their talent after studying the history of film they would be able to create more and more interesting films. Without knowing the music of Beethoven for example, musicians would not be able to create rock music.

Martin Sandison and Nobuhiko Obayashi hanging out at the Udine Far East Film Festival.

MS: Which are your favourite Japanese directors?

NO: All of them! Especially Ozu. He remains mysterious.

MS: Do you have a favourite Ozu film?

NO: Late Spring.

MS: Yes, I know it. To talk about your influences again, are you influenced by the early surrealist films, like the films of Luis Bunuel?

NO: Yes I like those films, but the most surrealistic director is Ozu.

MS: Interesting! Do you have a project you are working on now?

NO: Yes, I have a project to start in the autumn.

Nobuhiko Obayashi on the set of "House" with a young actress.

Nobuhiko Obayashi on the set of "House" with a young actress.

MS: And could you tell me about the project, or is it secret? (laughter)

NO: Nothing secret! But I don’t know what it will be! (laughter)

NO: It’s not interesting to do something I have done before. It is not me who creates the film, but the film creates me.

MS: Arigatou!

NO: Thanks very much! (in English)

Thanks again to Martin Sandison, Nobuhiko Obayashi and the great staff at the Udine Far East Film Festival. Vintage set photos courtesy of Ob’s House.

Posted in Features, Interviews, News | 5 Comments

Deal on Fire! Drug War | Blu-ray | Only $9.49 – Expires soon!

Drug War | Blu-ray & DVD (Well Go USA)

Drug War | Blu-ray & DVD (Well Go USA)

Today’s Deal on Fire is the Blu-ray for 2013’s Drug War, an action thriller directed by Johnnie To (Office). The film stars Louis Koo (SPL II: A Time for Consequences), Sun Honglei (Seven Swords), Lam Suet (Trivisa) and Wallace Chung (Three).

Timmy Choi (Koo) just got caught making tons. Now he’s in the custody of Captain Zhang (Honglei), and has one chance to avoid execution – turn informant and help the cops bring down the powerful cartel he’s been cooking for. Over the next 72 sleepless hours, the sting spins out of control!

Order Drug War from today!

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Donnie Yen and Andy Lau enter the ‘City of Darkness’

"Dragon Tiger Gate" Japanese Theatrical Poster

"Dragon Tiger Gate" Japanese Theatrical Poster

Martial arts action star Donnie Yen (Ip Man 3) will be teaming up with Hong Kong superstar Andy Lau (The Bodyguard) for City of Darkness (working title), an upcoming police thriller that will be set in the 70’s and focus on how the ICAC (Independent Commission Against Corruption) came about when the Hong Kong police were at their most corrupt (via Mike Leeder).

Hardcore Donnie Yen fans may recall his 1999 film, City of Darkness, which – judging from a plot revolving around jade treasures – will have nothing to do with the new City of Darkness.

Although the new City of Darkness sounds similar to the long-rumored Dragon City – which would have Yen fighting crime in the Kowloon Walled City in the 70s – it’s apparently a totally different project.

Dragon City has been on the radar for a few years, with Derek Kwok (Full Strike, Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons) attached to helm the project.

One thing’s for sure: Yen isn’t doing any of these 70’s-set cop flicks until he wraps up his next film, Wesley. In the meantime, Yen fans have Star Wars: Rogue One and xXx 3 to look forward to. And don’t forget about Yen’s long list of off again/on again titles, which include The Master, a possible Ip Man 4/Flash Point 2 and of course, Ice Man 2.

We’ll keep you in the loop as we hear more. Stay tuned!

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South Korea has its own ‘Bad Lieutenant’ to deal with

"Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans" Japanese DVD Cover

"Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans" Japanese DVD Cover

Is South Korea remaking Abel Ferrara’s 1992 cult classic film Bad Lieutenant? There’s a possibility it’s “by title” only, but according to THR, casting is definitely underway for a Korean-language film called Bad Lieutenant, which will see a 2017 release.

The original Bad Lieutenant followed a corrupt, drug ‘n gambling-addicted cop (played by Harvey Keitel) who investigates the murder of a young nun. The movie is known for its unpleasant, intense nature, yet praised for Keitel’s strong performance.

Despite having a very similar plot, Werner Herzog’s 2009 film, Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans (with Nicolas Cage), technically isn’t related to Ferrara’s film; according to Kyle Warner, Herzog never considered it a remake and supposedly never saw or heard of the original.

Regardless if the upcoming Korean remake is related to either one of these films, one thing is certain: it’ll be the third movie under the Bad Lieutenant banner, and it will obviously be about a “Bad Lieutenant” (unless they mean “bad” as in “bad ass,” but we doubt it).

We’ll keep you updated on this project as more news comes.

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Phone, The (2015) Revew

"The Phone" Korean Theatrical Poster

"The Phone" Korean Theatrical Poster

Director: Kim Bong-Joo
Writer: Kim Bong-Joo
Producer: Suk Jae-Seung, Gu Sung-Mok
Cast: Son Hyun-Joo, Uhm Ji-Won, Bae Sung-Woo, Hwang Bo-Ra, Roh Jeong-Eui, Jang In-Sub, Jo Dal-Hwan, Lee Sheol-Min, Park Ji-So, Hwang Suk-Jung, Kim Jong-Goo
Running Time: 114 min.

By Paul Bramhall

The Phone joins the ranks of that great Korean tradition – the movie which contains something about a phone in its title. Alongside the 2002 horror movie, which went for the simplistic Phone, and the 2009 thriller, which decided to shake things up with the title Hand Phone, first time director Kim Bong-joo differentiates his own production with the inclusion of a The prefix. It’s as good a differentiator as any, and will surely raise the bar for the next movie which comes along which requires a Phone in the title. Bong-joo is certainly not a newcomer to the Korean film industry, having worked as a member of the directing department on the likes of The Divine Weapon, Running Turtle, and The Yellow Sea. However this is the first time for him to sit in the director chair, one which has him working off his own script.

It’s hard to know whether to feel sorry for or to admire actor Son Hyeon-joo. He’s made a career of playing rather plain and unremarkable characters, cast in equally pedestrian mid-budget movies. In 2013 it was Hide and Seek, and in 2015 we got a double whammy, with both Chronicles of Evil and The Phone. He works just as frequently in the expansive field of the Korean TV drama, and it’s easy to see why, as he brings a reliable presence to whatever character he’s called on to play. You’re not going to get a knockout performance, but you’ll get a believable one, and I highly doubt anyone’s ever spoke the line, “Hyeon-joo was pretty unconvincing in that role”.

The Phone sees him in another mid-budget production, but this time it’s one with a twist. Playing a lawyer in the middle of transitioning to a new role, his wife and daughter find themselves harassed by the death threats frequently found in the mail box, due to his involvement in an animal rights case. On the day he wins the case, he’s due to meet his wife for a long overdue dinner date, but the victory quickly sees a celebratory work drinks session take priority, leaving his nearest and dearest unfairly dumped. On the same day, it also happens that a solar flare is set to be interrupting phone services, explained rather uninterestingly through a TV news segment. The solar flare is bad timing, because on the same night a killer has been sent to off Hyeon-joo at his home, however as he’s out getting drunk, his wife ends up being murdered instead.

Skip forward one year, and there’s going to be another solar flare, as it turns out that these things are an annual occurrence, and specifically affect mobile phones in Korea. While at work, at the exact same time as one year ago, Hyeon-joo receives the exact same call from his wife. However it’s not some kind of time echo, it’s actually his wife on the phone, and he’s able to interact and talk to her. The difference is of course, she’s in 2014, and he’s in 2015. Naturally Hyeon-joo, after some initial disbelief, seizes the opportunity to be able to save his better half, and so goes the central premise of The Phone.

Is it a science fiction movie? It is a supernatural flick? It’s hard to say, however on paper, The Phone most closely resembles a mix of Frequency meets Cellular. Onscreen though, events play out in a way that resemble neither science fiction nor supernatural. The fact that his wife is calling from a year earlier is simply a plot device, giving a slight twist to what is ultimately a rather pedestrian and dull crime thriller. It’s a shame, as initially the premise shows some potential. The wife, played by Eom Ji-won, is able to change things enough so that instead of being outright killed, she gets into a struggle with the assailant in the living room. Hyeon-joo is standing in the exact same spot one year later, and as his wife fends off the killer, sending ornaments and shelves smashing everywhere, so they disappear in present day.

The effect of the past affecting the present day as it happens provides a welcome sense of immediacy to proceedings, and it continues to propel the plot forward until ultimately, events transpire in the past that see Hyeon-joo framed as the murder suspect in present day. It’s a worthy twist, however it’s also one that derails the movie, as it changes the whole focus from Hyeon-joo trying to save his wife in the past, to him trying to clear his name in the present. The sense of immediacy that the phone call from the past plot device brought quickly evaporates, as The Phone descends into a low budget version of bigger and better movies. So instead of the motorbike chase through the streets of Seoul that we got in Ryoo Seung-wan’s Veteran, we get Hyeon-joo frantically pedalling a push bike instead, with the police meagrely in pursuit, and other such scenarios.

The loss of focus on attempting to save his wife also results in the audience losing interest, just long enough to begin questioning some of the logic behind the plot. Why did the call go through to the 2015 Hyeon-joo anyway, when the 2014 Hyeon-joo is still very much alive and well? Why does the calls taking place at the exact same time as they did a year ago element get completely discarded by the end of the movie? In fairness, even before the loss of focus, The Phone has some believability stretching moments. These aren’t really due to the actor’s performances though so much as a weak script. The fact that the murdered Ji-won is calling a year after her death should be a sizable emotional blow for Hyeon-joo, but his acceptance of it seems to happen incredibly quickly. It felt like just a couple of minutes after the call he’s already over the emotional trauma of speaking to his dead wife, and is calmly explaining to her that he’s in 2015, while she’s in 2014.

The bad guy of the piece comes in the form of Bae Seong-woo, easily one of the busiest supporting actors in Korea. In 2014 – 2015 alone he featured in eighteen movies, including the likes of The Divine Move, Big Match, Veteran, and The Office. Chances are if you’ve watched more than a handful of Korean movies from the last couple of years, Seong-woo would have been in at least one of them. In The Phone his tall stature lends him an imposing presence to the scenes he appears in, playing a corrupt cop whose debts have led him to working as a hitman for a gang on the side, and with a more polished script he could have been a more worthy villain to root against. As it is, apart from some throwaway scenes with his young daughter, he effectively shows up to murder Hyeon-joo and his family with little other purpose.

As a directorial debut I’m always willing to give a little leeway. A movie doesn’t need to have the best script in the world, or even be completely coherent, as long as it shows some promising ideas, a flair for cinematography, or creates an atmosphere which immerses the viewer its world, then it’s still worthy of recommending. The Phone however is simply too much of a damp squib to fully enjoy. The fact that the central plot device, which involves a man receiving a phone call from his murdered wife, hardly seems to matter by the mid-way point, is perhaps the biggest indicator that Bong-joo was trying to cover too many bases with his first screenplay and directing gig. Unfortunately once the focus moves from the central premise, proceedings play out in such a way that The Phone becomes more like a B-movie version of a Ryoo Seung-wan or Kim Seong-hoon flick, a change in direction that does it no favors.

Perhaps the best approach would be for Bong-joo to pass The Phone off as an extended commercial for the Samsung S6 Edge, or alternatively, wait for the next solar flare to happen one year later, when hopefully he’ll read this review from the past and skip making it all together.

Paul Bramhall’s Rating: 5/10

Posted in All, Korean, News, Reviews | 2 Comments

New U.S. trailer for Park Chan-wook’s ‘The Handmaiden’

"The Handmaiden" Theatrical Poster

"The Handmaiden" Theatrical Poster

Visionary director Park Chan-wook (Old Boy, Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance) is currently hard-at-work on a film adaptation of Sarah Waters’ 2002 novel, Fingersmith. The movie, titled The Handmaiden, will be Park’s first full length South Korean production since 2009’s Thirst.

The Handmaiden revolves around a group of female thieves and their plan to swindle a heiress in early 20th century London. Park’s version will take place in Korea.

The Handmaiden stars Kim Min-hee (No Tears for the Dead), Kim Tae-ri and Ha Jung-woo (Kundo: Age of the Rampant). | First trailer.

Updates: Watch the film’s U.S. trailer. The movie is getting a North American release on October 14th, 2016, courtesy of Amazon Studios and Magnolia Pictures.

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A 90s action star is back for more in ‘The Butterfly Guard’

"Fists of Iron" Theatrical Poster

"Fists of Iron" Theatrical Poster

If you recall straight-to-video titles like To Be the Best, Final Impact, Fists of Iron and Isaac Florentine’s U.S. Seals II, then there’s a chance you might remember a martial artist named Michael Worth.

Worth is mostly known for his action film resume in the 90s, but over the years, he has branched out to writing and directing a number of indie films in multiple genres that include romance, comedy, war, horror and even a musical.

But now, Worth is bringing his skill back to the ring with a new martial arts drama titled The Butterfly Guard, a project he wrote, directed and is starring in (he also knows a thing or two about Bruceploitation).

The Butterfly Guard is a drama about two fighters as they make the journey from opposite ends of the world to fight each other and the realizations they face along the way. The film co-stars Scottie Epstein (Never Back Down 2: The Beatdown), Tim Thomerson (Trancers), Francesca Agramonte (Grimm), Justin Mccully (Code of Honor) and Ivan Sergei (Once a Thief TV series).

There’s currently no release date, but we’ll be sure to fill you in as we learn more. Until then, don’t miss the film’s 1st teaser, featuring the character played by Worth.

Updates: 2nd teaser for the film has been released, this time focusing on Scottie Epstein’s character.

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Wade Barrett and Gary Daniels want ‘Vengeance’

"Vengeance" Teaser Poster

"Vengeance" Teaser Poster

Stu Bennet (formerly known as WWE’s Wade Barrett) and martial arts star Gary Daniels (Zero Tolerance, Tekken 2) are teaming up for Vengeance, an upcoming film by UK cult director Ross Boyask (Left for Dead).

According to Mike Leeder, Vengeance is a fast-paced revenge thriller that kicks off when an ex-soldier learns of the murder of his best friend and sets off on the road for (you guessed it) vengeance.

Vengeance is produced by Evolutionary Films, the company that unleashed one of our favorite martial arts films of 2014, One Million K(l)icks.

Vengeance is currently in production. Stay tuned.

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Death Warrant | aka Dusted (1990) Review

"Death Warrant" Japanese Theatrical Poster

"Death Warrant" Japanese Theatrical Poster

Director: Deran Sarafian
Producer: Mark DiSalle
Writer: David S. Goyer
Cast: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Robert Guillaume, Cynthia Gibb, George Dickerson, Patrick Kilpatrick, Dean Colbby, Art LaFleur, Abdul Sazaam El Razzac, Joshua John Miller, Hank Stone, Conrad Dunn, Al Leong, Paulo Tocha
Running Time: 90 min.

By Kyle Warner

When Jeffrey Bona, operator of City on Fire, told me that he’d like to see every Jean-Claude Van Damme flick reviewed at the site, I might’ve laughed. Figuring that sure, we’ll review a JCVD movie here and there, but c’mon man, all of ’em? It can’t be done—and what’s more, I’m not sure that it should be done! Some dreams are best left as just that: dreams. But when 1990’s Death Warrant showed up on my doorstep, I realized this was no laughing matter. The man was serious! And what’s more; it’d apparently fallen to me to tackle much the rest of the actor’s filmography. Should I feel honored or terrified? Perhaps both, for to navigate the long-forgotten parts of Van Damme’s career can be compared to a film buff’s journey into the heart of darkness. And remember, one should never get off the boat. You’re absolutely goddamn right, Chef.

Death Warrant is the movie where Van Damme goes to prison to sort out justice. And as a prison movie, I think it probably has more in common with Ernest Goes to Jail than The Shawshank Redemption. From the start, it’s unclear if this is a bad action movie or a very sly comedy. (I remain convinced that it was going for comedy at least part of the time, though the delivery is so lacking that it results in zero laughs, only groans.) Jean-Claude Van Damme is a total badass cop out of Canada that’s looking for revenge against the serial killer who murdered his partner. It’s the usual “Wait for backup!” vs. “He killed my partner!” argument as Van Damme goes rogue and attacks the serial killer known as the Sandman. Flash-forward a bit and Van Damme’s given a new and (it seems) totally unrelated assignment: go undercover in a prison to find out the cause of a series of suspicious deaths. Seems someone’s been driving a spike through the brains of various inmates. Van Damme’s first assumption is that it’s a serial killer, because he’s just dealt with the Sandman, and this is the 90’s where serial killers were everywhere! But other lingering theories hold more water: it could be an illegal program run by corrupt guards, or perhaps ritual killings by one of the many gangs in the prison. Van Damme must find out! So, he assumes the identity of a carjacker, slips into the jail, and starts asking questions.

In prison, Van Damme meets every prisoner stereotype imaginable and a more than a few “That Guy” character actors (Robert Guilluame, Art LaFleur, Armin Shimerman). Van Damme asks seemingly every sane inmate he can find about the dead guys with the scrambled brains but everyone’s suspiciously hush-hush about it. Are they scared? Is it a cover-up? Do they just not want to talk to him because he’s Canadian? Fear not, Van Damme will discover the truth, even if we don’t really care!

Directed by Deran Sarafian (Terminal Velocity), Death Warrant presents us with the most stylized and unbelievable of movie prisons. One can imagine that Sarafian’s major screen directions were, “More smoke! More lights!” It ends up looking like a popstar music video. If only Van Damme could sing… Van Damme spends most his time in prison busting out of his shirts that are two sizes too small. So, umm, maybe it’ll appeal to a different sort of Van Damme fan than myself.

Today, Death Warrant might be best recognized as the first writing credit for screenwriter David S. Goyer, who has since made a name for himself as the go-to writer in superhero cinema. In his writing and his story credits, Goyer has given us some of the best (Batman Begins, Blade II, The Dark Knight) and some of the worst (Batman v Superman, Blade: Trinity, Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance) of the modern superhero film. Death Warrant is a different sort of movie, obviously, but it serves as a reminder that sometimes it takes a while for a creative talent to come into his or her own. Death Warrant is a stupid movie and much of that starts with the screenplay, which has a half-baked plot, lame dialogue, forced romance, and a finale that goes off the rails. I do appreciate Goyer’s attempts of working slasher horror into the prison movie genre, though. The Sandman and the killings happening behind bars are reminiscent of the sort of stuff you’d see in Halloween or Scream. So, when Van Damme must come face to face with these evils, there is some fun to be had in watching a martial artist take on a wannabe Jason Voorhees.

The film’s final moments are so rushed that I think the characters were more than ready to leave the theatre and beat the audience to the doors. Though Death Warrant may lack the name recognition of Derailed and Cyborg, don’t be fooled; this is one of Van Damme’s weakest films. Dumb, unintentionally silly, and lacking in surprises, I gotta recommend you skip this one unless you’re a JCVD superfan.

Kyle Warner’s Rating: 4/10

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First look at John Woo’s upcoming actioner ‘Manhunt’

"Manhunt" Japanese Theatrical Poster

"Manhunt" Japanese Theatrical Poster

John Woo, the man behind action classics such as A Better Tomorrow, The Killer, Bullet in the Head and Hard Boiled, is finally making a return to the genre that made him an internationally acclaimed director.

After years making Hollywood films and big budget Chinese epics like Red Cliff and the recent The Crossing, Woo is going to remake the 1976 Japanese classic action thriller Manhunt (starring the late Ken Takakura), which is the story of a man who is accused of multiple crimes and trying desperately to clear his name.

According to AD (via Kevin Ma), Zhang Hanyu (The Taking of Tiger Mountain), Ha Ji-Won (Sector 7) and newcomer Qi Wei are starring in the project. Masaharu Fukuyama (Suspect X) is currently in talks to join as well.

The film will be set and shot in Japan; and feature Chinese, English and Korean dialogue. Media Asia is distributing the film with an attached release date set for 2017 (via Martin Sandison). Until we have more details, don’t miss the film’s teaser poster here.

Updates: Here’s the first look at Manhunt, featuring Zhang Hanyu and Qi Wei (via AFS).

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Deal on Fire! Killers | Blu-ray | Only $8.68 – Expires soon!

Killers | Blu-ray & DVD (Well Go USA)

Killers | Blu-ray & DVD (Well Go USA)

Today’s Deal on Fire is the Blu-ray for Killers, a Japanese/Indonesian thriller directed by Timo Tjahjant and Kimo Stamboel (Macabre) – the duo also known as The Mo Brothers – and produced by Gareth Evans (The Raid 2).

Killers (read our review) follows a well-dressed serial killer who preys on women in Tokyo, as well as the ruthless Indonesian vigilante he begins engaging in a twisted ‘competition’ with – over the internet! The film stars Kazuki Kitamura, Oka Antara, Rin Takanashi, Luna Maya and Mei Kurokawa.

Order Killers from today!

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Dark Water | Blu-ray (Arrow Video)

Dark Water | Blu-ray & DVD (Arrow Video)

Dark Water | Blu-ray & DVD (Arrow Video)

RELEASE DATE: October 11, 2016

Just in time for Halloween! Arrow Video is releasing Hideo Nakata’s Dark Water to Blu-ray & DVD on October 11, 2016. This 2-disc, special edition is jam-packed with extra features that include new interviews with the film’s writer, director and much more.

After terrifying audiences worldwide with the blockbuster J-horror classic Ring and its sequel, director Hideo Nakata returned to the genre for Dark Water (read our review), another highly atmospheric, and critically acclaimed, tale of the supernatural which took the common theme of the dead wet girl to new heights of suspense and drama.

Based upon on a short story by Ring author Koji Suzuki, Dark Water follows Yoshimi, a single mother struggling to win sole custody of her only child, Ikuko. When they move into a new home within a dilapidated and long-forgotten apartment complex, Yoshimi begins to experience startling visions and unexplainable sounds, calling her mental well-being into question, and endangering not only her custody of Ikuko, but perhaps their lives as well.

Beautifully shot by the same cinematographer as Ring and Pulse, and featuring an especially unnerving sound design, Dark Water successfully merges spine-tingling tension with a family s heart-wrenching emotional struggle, creating one of the very finest and most unsettling contemporary Japanese horror films.


  • High Definition digital transfer
  • High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentations
  • Original 5.1 audio (DTS-HD on the Blu-ray)
  • Brand new interview with director Hideo Nakata
  • Brand new interview with novelist Koji Suzuki
  • Brand new interview with cinematographer Junichiro Hayashi
  • Archive interview with actress Asami Mizukawa
  • Original Making of documentary
  • Trailer
  • Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Peter Strain
  • First pressing only: Illustrated collector’s booklet containing new writing by David Kalat, author of J-Horror: The Definitive Guide to The Ring, The Grudge and Beyond, and an examination of the American remake by writer and editor Michael Gingold

Pre-order Dark Water today from

Posted in Asian Titles, DVD/Blu-ray New Releases, News | Tagged | 2 Comments

‘Abyss’ finally coming to Blu-ray, but where’s ‘True Lies’?

"True Lies" Japanese Theatrical Poster

"True Lies" Japanese Theatrical Poster

Where art thou classics of James Cameron? Back in 2014, Tom Arnold confirmed that he and the rest of the cast shot interview material for James Cameron’s True Lies: 20th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray, which was supposed to be released in 2015, but for reasons unknown, the Blu-ray never saw the light of day.

But now we have confirmation for the next best thing: While promoting the upcoming 30th anniversary Blu-ray release of Aliens at 2016 Comic-Con in San Diego, Cameron publicly confirmed that The Abyss has been recently remastered in 4K and will be released on Blu-ray in 2017.

With that said, maybe True Lies is around the corner as well? We’ll see…

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