Friday, 16 November 2018

Urotsukidoji: Legend of the Overfiend

Title:Urotsukidoji: Legend of the Overfiend
Director:Hideki Takayama

Review: Reknown as one of the landmark titles of adult animation, this notorious anime adapted from Toshio Maeda’s manga has continued to shock each new generation of anime fan who no doubt were directed to it by the previous generation. Of course when it was released in 1989 it served in many ways to taint the impression the general public had about anime while the hysteria lead by newspapers such as The Daily Mail began leading a public outcry to “Ban this sick filth”.
Of course looking at the film its easy to understand why audience were so shocked when this title was released especially when there was nothing else really like anime with the genre’s seemingly carefree attitude its gratuitous sex and violence with the closest we had come to such material in the west being the sporadic adult animated title such as Heavy Metal or the films of Ralph Bakshi. Infact so uneducated were audiences at the time especially with there being no internet to refer to, anime was often refered to as Japanimation or Manga which was certainly the case in the UK thanks to majority of titles being put out by Manga entertainment.

Because of Urotsukidoji’s notorious legacy for myself it was always a title I avoided much like many of the demon based titles, largely due to the feeling of watching something you really shouldn’t especially with popular titles of the era such as Violence Jack, Wicked City and Genocyber which seemed to relish the levels of sex and violence with thie popularity of these titles in many ways influenced the titles being available when I started getting into Anime in the late 90’s were the focus was often on more adventure, sci-fi and horror based titles than the staggering range that anime fans now have available to them. At the same time with most anime being only accessible via VHS releases / tape trading it limited further what you could watch with the cost of these tapes often making you more cautious about not wanting to be lumped with a tape you couldn’t pass on. Still with the aim of trying to cross off the list those anime titles for one reason or another I’d missed I finally decided to bite the bullet and watch it.

Originally released as a series of three OVA’s (Original Video Animation) which were edited down into this theatrical version for western audiences at the same time cutting around 40 mins of gratuitous sex and violence, something that many fans / anime sweaties are often quick to gripe about despite there still being plenty of nudity, gratuitous violence and demons befiling humans left in the film and taking a look at the cuts list its nothing that I personally can’t live without but of course if your the sort of anime fan who wants to see such things and have the extra bucks to pay trader prices you can hunt down the uncut version released in the Perfect collection via Anime 18.

The film meanwhile see’s the Earth realm as one of three interconnected dimensions alongside the demon dimension of the Makai and the more ethereal realm of the beast people known as the Jujinkai which our antihero Amano and his sister Megumi belong to. The pair have spent the last 300 years looking for the Chojin (or Overfiend) who according to legend rises every 3000 years to bring the three realms together in harmony. However despite the seemingly straightforward plot this is a film heavy in random sub-plots and schemes being carried out by various members of the demon realm whose encounters with humans usually end in splatter heavy violence and more worryingly rape, something the film certainly takes a shockingly lax approach to compared to the west.

Amano and Megumi’s mission soon leads them to encounter the shy clutz and occasional peeping Tom, Negumo who has fallen for the popular cheerleader Akemi and following a series of situations which unquestionably make for awkward viewing the pair end up forming an unlikely couple which is of course only complicated further when Negumo is revealed to be the Chojin that Amano and Meguimi have been hunting for. A reveal which in one of the more memorable moments sees him taking on his gigantic demon form in a transformation sequence which sees a trio of penis tentacles tearing through a hospital. The plot at times can feel confusing and distracted which many fans blame on the cuts while for myself it was mainly because of its desire to constantly work in those graphic moments which see the film diverting off course to add another thrill but when it works its still an interesting plot with some fun twists along the way, especially as the prophecy might play out the way that Amano expects.

Much like it’s creator the film’s influence on erotic anime and especially the Hentai genre can be seen throughout the film as its hard to ignore the scenes of graphic sex and roaming tentacles which when combined with the explict violence makes it far from the most accessible anime even though there are titles which followed in its wake which certainly pushed the boundaries of taste further including Toshio Maeda’s own L.A. Blue Girl. Needless to say that despite its importance within the history of anime, this is not going to suit all tastes however if you can stomach the more explict aspects to the film it is still an enjoyable…if that’s the right way to phrase such an experience that this film certainly is.

Sunday, 8 July 2018

Andre The Giant

Title: Andre The Giant
Director: Jason Hehir
Released: 2018

Plot: Documentary charting the career and life of wrestling legend Andre Rene Roussimoff better known as Andre the Giant.

Review: If we are to believe everything about Andre we would be lead to believe he had three rows of teeth and could drink 107 beers in a single sitting. But standing at 7ft 4 in Andre was as big as his legend not to mention one of the most recognisable faces in professional wrestling even to non wrestling fans and it’s this legend that director Jason Hehir attempts to find the truth behind as he features extensive interview footage with his family, his fellow wrestlers and “Princess Bride” cast members to craft a portrait of this iconic figure. This is a film certanly not afraid to showcase his life from the triumphant highs to the crushing lows which lead to his premature demise.

Charting his rise to fame in the first half it’s clear that Hehir is as fascinated with Andre’s status as a real life giant as everyone who saw him while he charts the making of his legend as he starts his rise through the wrestling ranks becoming a headline attraction back when wrestling was still broken up into territories defined by local television coverage. Soon ending up as one of the biggest stars of Vince McMahon’s “World Wrestling Federation” now better known as the “WWE” as he helped McMahon essentially bring the end to the territories as the company rode the introducion of cable TV.

One of the strengths of the documentary really is in how Hehir manages to make a film which is as appealing to the establish fan as it is to the newcommer as while there might be extensive talk of the wrestling territories and backstage politics here memorably highlighted by Andre chasing off his minder while he’s trying to play cards. Hehir manages to explain the mechanics of the wrestling industry to the newcomer without slowing down the pace of the documentary. To this extent it can be alittle jarring to have Hulk Hogan seemingly hijacking the documentary to talk about his own career but thankfully he’s on refreshingly modest form and its inclusion is more to build up the showdown between himself and Andre and their iconic match at Wrestlemania 3.

As a wrestling fan the film more than delivers especially with the wealth of archive footage which is included, especially for the lesser seen early portions of Andre’s career. The documentary also does not shy away from the brutal backstage politics of wrestling with many of the wrestlers interviewed openly discussing Andre intentionally roughing up wrestlers who either annoyed him or he perceived as threatening his spot and its refreshing that the documentary doesn’t shy away from the more negative aspects of Andre which only adds to the build up to his match with Hogan were going into the match Hogan had no idea if Andre was going to go along with his match plan or not.

While a large portion of the film is unsurprisingly devoted to his wrestling career Hehir does touch briefly on the making of “The Princess Bride” were he memorably appeared as the giant Fezzik a role which William Goldman had written with him in mind. Perhaps disappointingly to fans of the film this section is one of the briefest but it does feature some fond memories by his co-stars Cary Elwes and Billy Crystal aswell as Director Rob Reiner reminiscing of dealing with a drunk Andre suspended on wires so they could film a horse riding sequence.

Unquestionably this is both touching tribute to the legendary wrestler which wrestling fans will certainly enjoy but at the same time accessable enough that the uninitiated will still find much to enjoy here.

Tuesday, 20 March 2018

Island Claws

Title: Island Claws
Director: Hernan Cardenas
Released: 1980
Starring: Robert Lansing, Steve Hanks, Nita Talbot, Jo McDonnell, Martina Deignan, Barry Nelson, Tony Rigo, Raymond Forchion, Dick Callinan, Dolores Sandoz, Frank Schuller, Mal Jones

Plot: When a leak at a Florida power plant dumps several thousand tons of toxic waste into the ocean it causes the local crab population to suddenly start growing to monsterious size and start moving in on the local population of a nearby fishing village.

Review: The sole film from director Hernan Cardenas while also written by Ricou Browning and Jack Cowden who also created “Flipper” making their move into writing a movie about killer giant crabs a perfectly logical one. This late entry in the animals run amok genre doesn’t exactly bring anything new to the genre outside of the fact that its about giant crabs which compared to the numerous shark movies out there is certainly one of the lesser seen creatures of terror. I mean even ants to my knowledge have clocked up more movies than our crustacean pals have but stumbling across this on Amazon Prime who recently have become almost shameless with the kind of movies they choose to stock their on demand library with I thought it was an interesting enough concept to check it out.

Opening to a research lab were they are conducting experiments in increasing the size of crabs using warm water and growth hormones as a warm to help increase the world’s food supplies, especially when they discover that the local crab population near the power plant have been growing bigger which of course is nothing to do with the fact that a few tons of toxic waste have been dumped in their part of the ocean which anyone up to speed on their movie logic will know already that movie radiation equals giant monsters compared to real life were it sadly this is never the case. It’s here though that we are introduced to journalist Jan (McDonnell) who is writing a story on the lab only to soon also get involved with scientist Pete (Hanks).

Elsewhere bar owner Moody attempts to keep the small town together by acting as their unofficial head as he keeps the peace amongst the locals usually by keeping them boozed up in his bar while he also acts as Pete’s adopted father after his parents were killed in a drink driving accident caused by Jan’s father who also runs the power station responsible for all the giant crabs. There is a small part which hints at bad blood between the two fathers but is as dropped as quickly as its introduced like so many of the sub-plots in the film which includes a group of Haitian refugees who wash up on the outskirts of town and hide out in the mangroves and whose sole reason for their inclusion seems to be so that Cardenas could work in an angry mob who thanks to some old school racist tendency believe that the Hiatians are to blame for all the strange happenings in town which they equate to voodoo reminding us once more that there are few things as dangerous as a group of drunks with an idea.

The crab attack are sadly pretty sparse here and for the most part involve actors working with a swarm of real crabs which are actually used pretty effectivly especially during one of the scenes highlights when they swarm the school bus which one of the locals Amos lives in with his attempts to battle the invading crabs showing us that the banjo is as little use as a weapon as it is an actual instrument.

The climax of the film though see’s the towns folk battling an 8 foot crab which somehow has managed to remain hidden until it suddenly destroys Moody’s house. Created by Glen Robinson who’d previously worked on effects for “King Kong” (1976) and “Flash Gordon which far exceeds the expectations of the films low budget especially when he built a complete crab and not just the front portion which you’d expect. While still an impressive looking design it sadly lacks any real movement meaning the actors are forced to run around a lot shooting at it with shotguns and generally trying to sell it as being more of a threat than it really is and perhaps Cardenas might have been better just sticking with his initial crab swarm.

The downside to the film other than the occasionally plodding plot threads certainly comes from the lack of lighting during the night sequences which really make it hard to see what exactly is supposed to be happening half the time, which one of the attack scenes is for the most part impossible to make out meaning that it lost much of its effect.

On the whole its not a bad film just not the sort of film that your likely to watch more than once and even then its throwaway entertainment at best especially if your a fan of the genre.

Sunday, 4 March 2018

American Ninja

Title: American Ninja
Director: Sam Firstenberg
Released: 1985
Starring: Michael Dudikoff, Steve James, Judie Aronson, Guich Koock, John Fujioka, Don Stewart, John LaMotta, Tadashi Yamashita, Phil Brock, David Vlok

Plot: Joe Armstrong (Dudikoff) a drifter conscripted into the U.S. Army to avoid going to prison finds himself drawing on his ninjutsu training when his unit are caught up in a plot to steal weapons from the army being carried out by the Black Star Order of Ninjas.

Review: A standout title for Cannon films which would inturn spawn a further four sequels as here they once more attempt to cash in on the Ninja trend which itself was less focused on any kind of historical accuracy and instead more focused on the look of the Ninja outfit and general excuse to wheel out all kinds of fun gadgets and weapons.

Here Michael Dudikoff plays Joe a loner who has been trained in the ways of Ninjutsu from birth which certainly comes in handy when he’s required to pulls out these skills throughout the film and despite not being a trained martial artist tapped into the James Dean vibe that Cannon films wanted after audiences struggled to get on board with the idea of a female ninja in the equally cult “Ninja 3: The Domination”. Certainly Dudikoff nails that James Dean persona of the loner with a chip on their shoulder but then here Dudikoff is far from the most expressive of actors and for some reason seems to have the same expression throughout. Even at the end were he is the hero surveying the smouldering remains of the battlefield does he not crack a smile and instead maintains the same gruff expression.

Thankfully what he might lack in expressions he does make up for in terms of his abilities as an action star even though he didn’t have any martial arts skills at the time of filming unlike his co-star Steve James which turned into something of an issue between the two with Dudikoff not wanting to be shown up with James requesting that his fight scenes be filmed on the opposite side of the compound to Dudikoff to avoid further problems. The pair would eventually squash their issues halfway through the production but watching the film you could easily believe that Dudikoff was a trained martial artist especially when you look at scenes like the sparing session between Dudikoff and James. James though makes for a great co-star and much more than a sidekick which is character had originally been written as and thanks to James changing a lot of the dialogue which was one of the main conditions of him agreeing to do the film and certainly it makes him much more of his own heroic character especially during the final showdown were he gets to fight his own battle.

The action throughout while perhaps lacking in any kind of logic especially when you get multicoloured ninja’s but it still manages to be enjoyable as a popcorn action flick and with it’s high bodycount and especially during the finale which features a ninja vs ninja showdown between Dudikoff and the head ninja played by Tadashi Yamashita in a fight which is a mixture of the pair trading Ninja gadgets (which include wrist lasers!!) while simultaneously engaging in an obstacle course. Needless to say this film more than delivers in mindless fun.

Perhaps having some kind of expectation going into this film, seeing how its an American Ninja movie perhaps made me view this in a more forgiving light, but when approached with the view point of just having fun with the movie it certainly delivers while the tight runtime which dedicates a large portion to action scenes equally helps and really makes me keen to see what else the series has to offer.

Monday, 26 February 2018

Pedicab Driver

Title: Pedicab Driver
Director: Sammo Hung
Released: 1989
Starring: Sammo Hung, Max Mok, Nina Li Chi, Fennie Yuen, Suen Yuet, John Sham, Billy Chow, Lau Kar-Leung, Sun Yueh

Plot: Lo Tung (Hung) and his friend Malted Candy (Mok) are pedicab drivers working in 1930’s Macao while hoping to win the hearts of their respective love interests which soon leads them into unwanted attention from the local gangster Master 5 (Sham)

Review: When I cast my mind back to the early titles which first got me into Martial Arts cinema there are the obvious classics like Jackie Chan’s “Police Story” and Bruce Lee’s “Enter The Dragon” but it was this film which first introduced me to the unlikely superstar Sammo Hung who despite being on first appearances looking like a parody of the traditional kung fu hero with his portly physique but as he proves throughout this film (not to mention his extensive career) he is more than capable of putting together some jaw dropping action scenes which is perhaps one of the reasons this film is held in such high regard by fans of Martial Arts cinema.

Blending comedic slapstick with hard hitting action scenes right from the start as Lo Tung and his friends engage in a tea house brawl with a group of rival pedicab drivers which includes light tubes being branded like lightsabers, while the number of people involved in this opening brawl is quite staggering when you look at how well choreographed the sequence is and only added to further by the brief appearance by Eric Tsang as the cleaver welding restaurant owner.

While the film certainly has it’s comedic elements largely provided by Hung as he battles the lecherous old baker Fang (Yueh) for the affections of Ping (Chi) who works for his aunts bakery. This plot line is perhaps played with alittle too much Benny Hill style humour which does make Ping suddenly falling for Lo Tung more than a little surprising especially when she doesn’t seem to really care for him. The darker elements however come with Malted Candy’s pursuit of Hsiao-Tsui (Yuen) who he doesn’t realise is also a prostitute owned by the gangster Master 5.

Considering how light hearted the film is in the first half its actually quite a shocking switch in tone that the film suddenly takes when it comes to Malted Candy’s romance, which at one point see’s him and his friends throwing drinks at her and generally treating her as being below them, even though she only became a prostitute to pay her sick father’s medical bills and now is trying to buy out her contract. Certainly on the first watch its a jaring shift in tone which does take you out of the film, especially considering how until this point the film has been playing things in a comedic slant.

As problematic as the plotting for the film might be the real draw is the action sequences which unquestionably more than deliver here. For those of you have never seen a Sammo Hung movie this more than showcases his talent with not one but three standout fight sequences for him as the first see’s him battling with poles the head of a gambling house played by another legend Lau Kar-leung who despite being setup for a return in the finale bizarrely never returns. We also get to see him battling Master 5 and his knife welding goons in the finale which also shows him demonstrating his usual surprisingly limber move set which is still jaw dropping to watch and worth watching the film for alone.

For some bizarre reason this film is notoriously difficult to find and only further argues the point for hanging onto so many of my VHS tapes, though why this film has not been given a better release is really quite baffling, especially when so many fans proclaim it as a high point in his career. True it might suffer from some sudden shifts in tone and questionable plotting but the action scenes alone make this one worth taking the effort to hunt down.

Friday, 23 February 2018

Island of Death

Title: Island of Death
Director: Nico Mastorakis
Released: 1977
Staring: Robert Behling, Jane Lyle, Jessica Dublin, Gerald Gonalons, Jannice McConnell, Nikos Tsachiridis

Plot: Christopher (Behling) and Celia (Lyle) are enjoying a break on a small Greek island, while pursuing their favourite pastimes, which unfortunately for the locals are sex and violence, meanwhile Inspector Foster (Gonalons) is hot on their heels.

Review: Probably the least well known of the video nasty list, yet arguably the most notorious seeing how it only got taken off the list here in the UK last year, still good things come to those who wait which this film might be anything but, but still I think it’s easy to say that this is possibly one of the most explicit movies to have made the list, especially as it is essentially a constant stream of soft core porn, nudity and violence, with only the most paper thin of plots to string the scenes together, which is hardly surprising when Director Mastorakis seemingly had two goals when he set out to make the movie and that was to first make himself as much money as possible, while the second was to make the most violent and perverse film possible after after being inspired by “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre”, well more specifically he was inspired when he found out just how much money Tobe Hooper was making from it.

Opening with Christopher buried up to his waist in what will later be revealed to be a pit of lime while Celia watches and laughs mockingly we get our first taste of Christopher’s travel documentary esq voice over which continues to appear randomly through the film as the film now cuts back to a few days earlier as Christopher and Celia arrive on the unnamed small Greek island looking like any normal happy couple. Needless to say we are just about fifteen minutes before they are having sex in a phone box while he phones their mother…..yes that’s right they are also brother and sister (though confusingly at times she is also referred to as being his cousin) and really don’t seem to care much about the incestuous nature of their relationship. So after that surprising opening, you would think that Mastorakis might have blown his load early, until Christopher having had his attempts at getting some morning fun rejected instead relives his frustration with a passing goat before graphically killing it in what is unsurprisingly the most talked about moment in the film.

This murderous duo are almost polar opposites to each other when it comes to thier motives, with Christopher murderous tendencies being drawn from his own twisted religious beliefs, making him prone to ranting about his role as the angel of purification and how his victims have sinned as he kills, while these zealot esq beliefs of course makes the residents of the island prime targets for his campaign to purify them of their sins, especially when everyone is prone to spontaneous nudity and so sexually open. Celia meanwhile plays things like his trusted accomplice though seemingly minus Christopher’s religious rants, as she sets up the majority of the murders, as Christopher voyeuristically enjoys watching her having sex and frantically photographing her in action, which seemingly seems to be the only cure for his own impotence, especially when each of the murders are usually followed by frantic sex between him and Celia and more frantic photography of their handiwork.

There is barely a moment wasted here which is not being filled with death, gore or sex or some amalgamation of the three, with the sound of a camera shutter between each scene, creating almost an unintentional feeling that each scene is like a little violent and nasty short, a feeling only further reinforced by the beyond minimal plotting on offer here, which is pretty much abandoned by the final quarter as we lead up to the moments were we first joined the murderous duo, though don’t expect anything to be any clearer by the time we get to were we first started the film, as Mastorakis instead leaps even further into the randomness void of pure cinematic insanity which has Celia making the nasty (literally in this case) with a inbred looking famer, after he beats up and farts (yes you read that right) on Christopher which is around the same point that you realise that Mastorakis really doesn’t care anymore, let alone has any idea how to end the movie.

The death scenes are all explicit and filmed with an almost voyeuristic glee, as Mastorakis unleashes a variety of interesting deaths from the traditional stalk and slash, to the slightly more creative such as a bulldozer blade and memorably using an aeroplane wing to hang one of their victims during flight. Still none of these are shot with any sense of fun are largely just gratuitous violence and gore, which frequently makes for uncomfortable viewing.

“Island of Death” is another key example of a film which made the Video nasty list and which no doubt otherwise would have long since been forgotten like so many of the titles on the list and furthering the belief that the list did more harm than anything regarding protecting the movie going public from these kinds of movies, instead providing exploitation fans and gore hounds with a shopping list of titles to hunt down. Needless to say you can go through life having not seen this film and be all the better, especially as you won’t have wasted an hour and half of your life on this film, which left me with the same feeling I had after watching “The Human Centipede” an equally ghastly experience, which equally was all shocks over substance and like this film also soon realised that it has nowhere to go and no matter how low you sink the moral standard it still doesn’t make up for the serious lack of plotting and as such, I would recommend this only for video nasty completists and celluloid curiosity seekers only.

Wednesday, 7 February 2018

Brawl In Cell Block 99

Title: Brawl In Cell Block 99
Director: S. Craig Zahler
Released: 2017
Starring: Vince Vaughn, Jennifer Carpenter, Don Johnson, Udo Kier, Marc Blucas, Tom Guiry

Plot: Bradley Thomas (Vaughn) a former boxer and drug mule finds himself drawn back into his old life when he is laid off from his job at an auto-repair company. However when a pick up gets botched he finds himself imprisioned and with a debt to repay to his former employer Eleazer (Mucciacito) who has now kidnapped Bradley’s wife Lauren (Carpenter). Now Bradley has to assassinate a fellow inmate being held in a maximum security facility.

Review: Perhaps if Tarantino had not been on his own kick to revitalise the Western genre with “Django Unchained” and “The Hateful Eight” we would perhaps see director S. Craig Zahler in much more of a mainstream light especially with his own take on the Western with “Bone Tomahawk” memorably bringing cannibals to the wild west while somehow managing to combine intelligent plotting with jaw dropping violence and now with this film he attempts to do the same for the prison drama.

Continuing the recent move into more serious fare for Vince Vaughn following his memorable turn on the largely forgettable second season of “True Detective”. Here Vaughn is very much the velvet glove inside the steel fist as he plays the hard hitting Bradley who thinks little of the brutal damage he inflicts on those who stand in his way and this is after we’ve seen him dismantle his wife’s car with his bare hands after he discovers that she has been cheating on him. At the same time he’s not just some mindless psychotic thug with his soft spoken and straight to the point attitude while frequently insisting he’s called Bradley and not Brad which makes him a very much a different sort of character than you would expect, especially considering the journey that we follow him on as he has to get from his initial imprisonment at a medium security facility to the maximum security facility of Redleaf by essentially beating the living hell out of anyone he can.

On equally strong form are the supporting cast which see’s Udo Kier as the go between from Bradley’s former employee and whose dark threats regarding the fate of Bradley’s wife in perticular the fate of their unborn child which hints at the violence to come. Don Johnson is on equally great form as Warden Tuggs who also uses the threat of violence and the generally dire conditions of his prison and much like Bradley plays against type as he constantly retains an air of cool, even when the situation around him is getting increasingly out of control never giving us the balistic meltdown we expect him to be building towards.

Despite the premise this is far from he all out action fest that you might expect. Yes there is certainly a lot of action here with some incredibly shot and wide framed brawls really making the most of Vaughn’s boxing training he undertook for the role but much like with “Bone Tomahawk” Zahler teases out these moments, spending the first hour establishing his characters and the botched drug deal which leads to Bradley being incarcerated but its never boring especially with Zahler showing the same kind of flair for dialogue as he has for violence

Shot with an intentional grindhouse eye for violence here it’s most jarringly cartoonist in how its approached with arms being broken and noses blooded it only gets worse when Bradley finally reaches the titular cell block 99 located in the depths of Redleaf and were order is maintained through the use of shock belts and less than humane treatment of the inmates considered problematic to be sent down there. Unquestionably these moments are cringe inducing and even slightly nauseating in places thanks to the fantastic sound design which really makes you feel the full impact of these moment. However compared to the superhero style of action and quick cuts its almost refreshing to see how Zahler holds back and just shoots the action almost from the view point of the onlooker. Yes Bradley might be overpowered in the damage he’s able to inflict with no real explanation as to how he’s able to achieve some of these almost superhuman acts of violence.

As of now Zahler might be one of the few directors alongside Richard Kelly, The Soska Sisters or Quentin Tarantino who I’m excited to see what they do next which at the time of writing is the equally evocatively titled “Dragged Across the Concrete” which will see him taking on the police procedural which after seeing his first team films has me only the more excited to see what other dark delights are yet to come.
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