Monday, 30 September 2013


Title: Leprechaun
Director: Mark Jones
Released: 1993
Starring: Warwick Davis, Jennifer Aniston, Ken Olandt, Mark Holton, Robert Gorman, John Sanderford, Shay Duffin

Plot: Daniel O’Grady (Duffin) returns home from a trip to Ireland, having managed to steal a leprechaun’s (Davis) pot of gold. Unbeknownst to him though is that the evil Leprechaun has followed him back to the U.S. Having captured the creature for a second time and sealed him in a crate O’Grady suffers a stroke while trying to burn the crate. Now ten years later J.D. (Sanderford) and his teenage daughter Tory (Aniston) rent the O’Grady farmhouse for the summer were they unwittingly release the imprisoned Leprechaun, who once again sets out to find his pot of gold

Review: While perhaps not as big a franchise as “Friday the 13th” or “Nightmare on Elm St”; “Leprechaun” like “Critters” has still managed to garner a cult following which in turn has spawned five sequels. Still despite this for one reason or another it has taken me until now to finally get around to watching the first of the series, which is also renown for also being the first movie role for Jennifer Aniston before she shot to fame the following year on  “Friends”, joining the long line of actors who got their first big break in horror and one which includes luminaries such as Jamie Lee Curtis (Halloween), Kevin Bacon (Friday The 13th) and Tom Hanks (He Knows That Your Alone) to but skim the surface.

This film really is a mixed bag to say the least, most of all because it falls in that tricky place between horror and comedy, with director Jones seemingly never sure what tone he wants for the film, as it frequently switches between the two only without any of the smooth transition that “Gremlins” and “Critters” featured. So while Davis plays the Leprechaun largely for laughs, there are frequent moments throughout the film where he suddenly switches to a much darker side of the character and often with no warning. At the same time the frequently violent and gory attacks which accompany this darker side drag the film back to horror, while generally leaving the viewer confused over what they should be feeling, especially when it is not being played with any of the dark humour that Peter Jackson brought to his early splatterfests like “Bad Taste” or “Braindead” which showed that splatter and laughs could work together without losing any of the potential horror. This however is something which really doesn’t happen here, as everytime I felt a good horror vibe being built, it would suddenly be side lined by some misfire attempt at humour.

Most of these attempts at humour though come from the titular Leprechaun, with director Jones clearly using “Gremlins” as his basis for the film, especially seeing how the Leprechaun seemingly can’t do anything without wheeling out a wacky prop, so hence we are treated to him following the group into town on a tricycle which he is somehow able to ride as fast as a car and making me wonder if he take the same steroids the kids in “E.T.” were obviously taking to outrun the feds on their BMX Bikes. Elsewhere he also manages to kill one minor character using a pogo stick!! Seriously how much does he weigh!?! Still my personal favourite has to be the toy car which once again seems to be faster than other car, aswell as somehow being able to T-bone a car so hard it flips over, as clearly the laws of physics don’t apply here, along with it seems logic and reason.

As frustrating as these misfire attempts at humour or general randomness are, were the film gets really irritating is when the supposed heroes Tory and her father are joined in the fight against the Leprechaun by token love interest Nathan (Olandt), his bratty little brother Alex (Gorman) and their man child friend Ozzie (Holton) who run the painting company “Three Guys Who Paint”. You see what they did there….yeah well that’s the kind of tortured attempts at humour the film specialises in. Still for some reason Jones feels that the relationship between Ozzie and Alex is adorable enough to make it one of the main plotlines, much to the misfortune of the viewer who has to endure their grinding conversations and plans to fix Ozzie’s brain using the gold. Still seemingly these numskulls are Tory’s only hope for surviving the night as she seems frequently helpless on her own with even the most easiest of things over whelming her, after all this is a woman who has to be shown how to paint, when you would have felt it would have been kind of obvious, while her father randomly disappears around the halfway point.

What really surprised me about the film though is how surprisingly gory it was, as the Leprechaun attacks frequently get quite bloody, thanks to his penchant for clawing and biting his victims. The real gooey fun though is kept for the finale, were it turns out that Leprechaun’s tend to die in a similarly slimy fashion as Gremlins. Still for those of you fond of a bout of dwarf bashing, then you may find much to enjoy here, as it turns out that Leprechaun’s are also tough as old leather, especially seeing how over the course of the film he is beaten, shot and frequently clubbed with a variety of blunt objects while still coming back for more, which really saying something when you also consider that he is supposed to be 600 years old, he really is quite the spritely Leprechaun.

While the film has its flaws it is hard to deny the effective Leprechaun make up, which reminded me of how effective old school effects can be, especially in these times were it has been largely made a defunct art form in favour of frequently ropey looking CGI. Credit also has to be given to Davis for bringing this creation to life, even if he never seems to quite nail an Irish accent, he still manages to atleast bring a sense of fun to the character, even when the character choices become increasingly random as the film goes on. Still it would seem something about the character appeals to Davis who has gone on to star in all five sequels showing the sort of devotion to a character that Robert Englund showed for Freddy Krueger.

A flawed film to say the least and one which if more tweaked could have been something special, which sadly this one fails to do, especially when it frequently gives with one hand and takes with the other, as its pro’s and con’s seem to be in constant conflict, something I’ve yet to see if it improves with the sequels. Meanwhile WWE films currently have taken of the series rights with plans of making a prequel and sequel as a vehicle for Hornswoggle their Leprechaun gimmick wrestler / sidekick, which at the time of writing still remains in development hell. In the meantime though I doubt this is the last time I will be seeing him again, even as frequently painful this film was, it still leaves you curious to see more though if these pros are picked up and built upon still remains to be seen.

Friday, 27 September 2013

Drive Angry

Title: Drive Angry
Director: Patrick Lussier
Released: 2011
Starring: Nicolas Cage, Amber Heard, William Fichtner, Bill Burke, David Morse, Todd Farmer

Plot: Undead criminal John Milton (Cage) breaks out hell when he finds out that his daughter and her husband have been killed by Satanic cult leader Jonah King (Burke) who has also kidnapped Milton’s granddaughter who he plans to sacrifice as part of a Satanic ritual. Meanwhile an operative of Satan known as The Accountant (Fichtner) has been dispatched to bring Milton back.

Review: If you ever wanted to know how to automatically give me a lesser opinion of your film, release a trailer essentially consisting of grinning loons who got to see your film no doubt for free, while forcing them shout out sound bites of how much they supposedly love your film, while generally making claims that they have seen the “BEST FILM EVER!! No I didn’t just slip on the caps lock, but it’s probably the only way to capture on the page the grating enthusiasm for these comments that they see to bizarrely have for frequently awful films…but then perhaps this is the only film these folks have know ever! Alas this was the situation I found myself in as I entered into this film (see it wasn’t just random ranting) especially when all I could remember about this film was those awful adverts and the handful of intriguing snippets of action it contained.

Still no doubt the sheer sight of Nicolas Cage’s involvement in this film, will have most folks giving it a skip anyway, especially with Cage working his way out of his tax troubles and other debts by seemingly appearing in every film currently being made. True this has resulted in him taking on some of his more questionable roles, but it is hard to deny that when he does take on a role he digs he really is still an incredible actor, as “Kick-Ass” or “Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans” are only further testament to. Sadly though this was not to be one of his better efforts, as he largely sleepwalks his way through this film while never seeming fully committed to the role, yet thanks to a largely no name cast his performance does give the illusion of being better than it is.

The cast director Lussier has assembled here as I mentioned are largely no name, with only half a dozen recognisable faces being drafted for the more dramatically involved parts I.E the ones not requiring you to run around randomly or just being kill count fodder. Sadly for some reason though he also skimped on the casting of the films big evil, as Burke never once feels threatening, despite Lussier frequently showcasing him doing various hideous acts, he still ends up coming off like a henchman than any real kind of threat to Milton. Thankfully the evil quota is partially saved by a scene chewing Fichtner who not only gives a performance with undertones of Christopher Walken but also seems to be having a blast as the relentless henchman of Satan “The Accountant” who is not only invincible but also rocks a sharp suit to boot, while also processing a penchant for coin tosses like Chigurh in “No Country For Old Men” for who both share a relentless devotion to their work. It’s just a shame that more wasn’t made of his role, rather than generally using him as another obstacle for Milton to overcome on the quest to rescue his Grandchild.

On equally strong form is Heard as he waitress Piper who unwittingly becomes Milton’s sidekick. Piper’s character though suffers like so many other aspects of the film from some clumsy characterisation which see’s her character randomly switching back and forth from helpless damsel in distress to ass kicking firecracker on a whim, which is frequently frustrating when you have scenes of her catching her cheating fiancé in bed with another woman who she proceeds to beat the hell out of, as she tosses her out of her trailer, only to then suddenly fall apart when it comes to facing off against her fiancé suddenly losing any of her awesome fighting skills she had only moments earlier, with the only reason being seemingly so that Milton can come and rescue her like a knight in grungy leathers.

As with Lussier’s previous film, the enjoyable remake of “My Bloody Valentine” this film was also released originally in 3D, which as with his previous film I never saw in 3D but rather the 2D conversion which does mean that the once 3D moments now stand out looking like cheap CGI. This of course is a minor issue and one generally covered by the fact that I don’t own a HD TV. Where the real issue is though is that Lussier uses the 3D format in what is very much an old school style in that it is more about the spectacle (and generally seeing what he can throw at the audience). On the plus side this lust for spectacle does occasionally play in the films favour, as it opens with Milton driving a muscle car out of hell, with finale seing Milton and Piper take on King’s army of redneck Satanists in an epic shootout, which includes also includes such highlights members of such as the random naked machine gun welding chick and cultists ablaze and still frenziedly shooting shotguns. Sadly for a film whose title and trailer which sells itself as being high on car smash excitement, feels largely sterile thanks to Lussier largely favouring green screen or over car rigs, which considering that he has a gearhead like Cage on the film seems like a wasted opportunity to have done more like “Gone In Sixty Seconds” for which Cage his own driving still stands a strong testament to his skills behind the wheel.     

Sadly this is far from the neo-grindhouse experience I was hoping for, especially when this is a film were whenever it manages to give the viewer something special I couldn’t help but feel that I had seen it done better before, leaving me with an ultimately hollow viewing experience with a prime example being its shootout during sex which honestly was done better in the underrated “Shoot em-up”, while the dialogue frequently comes off like someone doing a poor Tarantino impersonation. Maybe with the right setting this film could have been a more fun experience, but from this viewing I was left ultimately cold and largely irritated. As such I advise it as one to approach with caution even for Nicolas Cage completists like myself.

Monday, 23 September 2013

The Sexy Killer AKA The Drug Connection

Title: The Sexy Killer / The Drug Connection
Director: Chung Sun
Released: 1976
Starring: Chen Ping, Yueh Hua, Szu Wei, Tien Ching, Chaing Yang, Chan Shen, Lin Feng, Li Peng-fei

Plot: When nurse Wan Fei’s (Ping) sister is hooked on heroin and abused by local drug dealers, she takes justice into her own hands as she sets out to take on the Hong Kong crime syndicates responsible.

Review: With such a provocative title it’s more than obvious what caught my attention about this little seen exploitation movie from the legendry Shaw Brothers Studios who unknown to most people including myself until lately, didn’t just make the Kung Fu movies they are probebly best known for, but also dabbled in a number of other genres such as this exploitation cheapie.

Essentially a Hong Kong remake of Pam Grier classic “Coffy”, while the plotting here is paper thin and more of an excuse to show what frequently felt like a stream of nudity, soft-core sex and of course being the Shaw Brothers a healthy dose of Kung Fu action. This of course is the standard fodder for Ping who like Grier specialised in playing tough feisty ladies, while at the same time not adverse to the occasional  shedding her clothes, as we not only see here, but in the handful of sexploitation movies she did over the course of her career. True she might not be as strong an actress as Grier which it is hard to not draw comparisons to especially with the plotlines being so similar, let alone both ladies affection for a shotgun.
Opening with a particularly sleazy scene of Wan Fei’s sister being drugged and subsequently used by a couple of sleazy gangsters, the film essentially establishes the tone within the opening minutes, while Wan Fei sets out on her quest for revenge with a strangely confident stance which sees her not only being able to weld a mean shotgun but also infiltrate gangs disguised as a prostitute with little trouble despite from all apperences having any kind of training of any kind to assist her other than pure guts and grit it would seem. Okay perhaps the plot in this respect should be taken with a pinch of salt, especially when the plotting is as paper thin as it is, while Ping has enough presence on the screen to pull of the role even if Grier does it better.

Director Chung seems to relish the sleazy atmosphere he creates here, especially when he frequently seems to be finding new ways to add to the films already high sleaze quota including a drug baron who likes introducing prostitutes to his home torture chamber and while Chung occasionally pushes these more risqué moments, there is ultimately nothing too shocking almost as if he was keen to not lose the film amongst the ranks of the numerous Pink movies being produced during this era. Still with such focus on the exploitation elements.

Despite the care free attitude towards nudity it is pretty surprising how largely restrained the violence is here and never exceeds what we have to come to expect from the Kung Fu output of the Shaw Brothers. Still despite being more restrained with the violence, the action scenes are not hampered as a result with Wan Fei proving herself rather handy with her shotgun, aswell as her dagger bracelet. Needless to say Wan Fei does kick a lot of ass while the ending while perhaps more subtle than you expect from this kind of movie is none the less satisfying which includes an exploding waterbed none the less, as she proves not for the first time that hell truly hath no fury like a scorned Wan Fei.

While its true that other similar films may have done this better such as “Sex and the Fury” or the “Sister Street Fighter” trilogy, but there is fun to be had here none the less, even if it is disposable at best. Ideally watch this as a warm up in a double bill as on its own will no doubt leave you wanting something alittle more satisfying.

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Six Truly WTF? Moments

So many times I have been left astounded by some of the choices made by directors on just what they expect and audience to buy into, even more so when these moments leave you no choice but to question what the f**k? you have just seen? So to celebrate these shall we say questionable directing choices here are my personal top 6.

Godzilla flies (Godzilla Vs. Hedorah)

Over the years since the Godzilla first took a stroll through Tokyo, there have been a number of questionable moments which have appeared throughout the series, from attempts to give Godzilla a voice (Godzilla Vs. Gigan), lumbering him with a son who strangely resembles grey lumpy mash, let alone the meddling and inserting of random plot devices (let alone reusing Raymound Blurr) which several films saw on the US release. Still what makes this one stand out is the sheer randomness of watching Godzilla use his radioactive fire breath to enable him to fly, a moment so surreal that even the DVD chapter title has it marked as “Something You Don’t See Everyday” though it would be also be something that we never saw again…unlike Minila who continues to frequently blight the series and delight my wife.

Van Damme Vs. Ice Hockey Mascot (Sudden Death)

While Van Damme might not be renown for being the sanest of action heroes and prone the occasional random ramble as a quick glance at his interviews in the past only seem to provide further evidence to, while the films he choose to make towards the latter end of his career are frequently full of WTF?!? moments, though none are perhaps as special as this one. True this isn’t just some random mascot abuse but rather one of the terrorists disguised as the loveable mascot, but this doesn’t make it all the less comical let alone making you wonder how they ever thought that this fight scene would actually work. To his credit Van Damme does is best to try and work with such a clumsy opponent, showcasing a few favourites, but I would be hard pushed to say that you ever feel that he is ever threatened at any point and kind of highlighted the state of his career at this point.

Gamera gymnastics (Gamera vs. Guiron)


While Gamera might not be as instantly recognisable as fellow Kajiu legend Godzilla to most folks, there is no denying that the fire breathing space turtle still has his fans, so much so that many Kajiu fans are still holding out for a showdown between the two titans of the genre. Like Godzilla though Gamera has had his own share of random moments like Barugon’s rainbow attack (Gamera vs. Barugon) or the redneck voice over option which is bizarrely included as a bonus feature on the dvd for “Gamera 2: Attack of Legion”. Still the best of these has to be this classic and truly bonkers moment, which is only added to by the random dance Gamera seems to be doing when he gets hit in his paws by Guirons’ ninja star attack, but then it’s moments like this which remind me why I love this genre so much.

The Dead or Alive Opening (Dead or Alive)

It is said that a film needs to capture the attention of its audience and establish its tone with its first fifteen minutes, which its safe to say that director Miike Takashi has no problems doing with the first of his “Dead or Alive” trilogy, which throws more violence and shocking imagery into its opening that most films manage in their run time, as he truly sets the scene for his Triad drama and what is to come, which he does in a stunning montage of sex, violence, drugs, guns and noodles, all while showcasing his highly unique style which made him such a standout name during the revival of interest in Asian cinema. Even more so when western audiences were hit with the double punch of this film and “Audition” and certainly helped pave the way for the likes of Park Chan-Wook’s “Vengeance Trilogy” and the truly random films of Shinya Tsukamoto. True there are a number of more shocking scenes in the film itself which I won't spoil for anyone yet to watch it with the ending also being a contender for this list, but it’s the balls to hit his audience with this memorable and frequently shocking opening sequence, which is so self-contained that you can’t help but wonder what the hell it is that you have just witnessed.

Matrix Cockfight (The City of Lost Souls)

While it might not be one of his better films, this lesser seen film from Takashi Miike might be largely hit and miss, but one thing it does get right is this scene which seems to have been included almost as a random whim by Miike, especially when it seems to only be included for local colour and perhaps feeling that a real cockfight might be alittle extreme even for him, instead puts a fun spin on things in one of the better moments of the film.

Bulletproof huh? How about Rocketproof! (Death Wish 3)

After the original “Death Wish” it’s safe to say the series soon began to let the realism slip, while with part 3 it was just sheer thrown out of the window, as Charles Bronson returned for another round of vigilante justice despite now perhaps being older than he should be for such antics yet apparently not too old to follow it up with another two films. Still watched with a sense of humour there is a lot of fun to be had with film, especially as it escalates to its totally over the top shootout finale, were seemingly every one has a gun as the harassed (and mainly OAP) residents of the apartment block take up arms against the gang members. Director Michael Winner though still manages to top this madness with this jaw dropping WTF? moment which I love to show friends, especially the uninitiated just to see their reaction to this scene, somthing often followed by a need to rewind and watch it again, which I can’t really blame them for as it is such a great ending and the perfect footnote for Winner’s involvement in the series as he handed over the directorial reigns to J. Lee Thompson for part 4.

So there you have my choices, but what would make your own list?

Saturday, 14 September 2013

Debuts Blogathon: Basketcase

It’s safe to say that there are few directors who embrace the sleazy side of cinema as much as Frank Henenlotter, who while not the main prolific of directors, with only six films to his credit, since unleashing this debut film in 1982 he has retained his exploitation cinema inspired style throughout, while other directors such as those who came through the Roger Corman film school such Joe Dante, John Landis and James Cameron moved onto making more mainstream movies and moving away from their exploitation cinema beginnings, Henenlotter has remained true to his grimey 42nd street inspired roots, even continuing his passion for exploitation cinema through “Something Weird Video” where he has been instrumental in rescuing numerous titles from being destroyed including “Bloodthirsty Butchers” and  the truly random “The Curious Dr. Humpp” aswell as this debut film from Henenlotter himself.
Opening with what could almost be described as a video postcard of New York’s 42nd street (true not one that anyone would want to receive) as cinema marquee’s advertise kung fu movies and sleaze as the softly spoken and awkward Duane (Kevin Van Hentenryck) wanders down the neon lit sidewalk carrying a larger wicker basket. Unsurprisingly everyone wants to know what’s in the basket, from the cackling street walkers to the residents of the seedy hotel were Duane decides to stay. Unknown to them all though is that this wicker basket is home to Duane’s monstrous twin brother Belial, who is deeply resentful at being surgically separated from his brother, so much so that the two brothers are now on a mission of revenge to kill the doctors who separated them.

Henenlotter’s vision of New York has always been one caked in grime and sleaze which he established with this debut, were the residents are either sleazy or just plain oddballs. Even Duane’s love intrest Sharon (Terri Susan Smith) seems to not be quite all there, especially when she frequently talks so breathlessly and wide eyed. Still this film establishes a lot of Henenlotter’s favourite themes including bodily mutation, over the top violence aswell as his now trademark scuzzy sense of humour to craft a unique film to say the least but one which wears its exploitation colours proudly, with Henenlotter himself classifying his films as exploitation films rather than Horror films.  Here he crafts a tale full of sleaze, gore and sheer randomness yet one which also surprisingly has quite a few touching moments aswell such as the boys’s aunt reading them “The Tempest”, while despite Belial only being able to communicate telepathically with his brother the two share a clear bond for each other, even if it might seem that Duane is being led by his monstrous brothers lust for revenge, the rage at being detached from each other being clear for them both. Still despite these tender moments the tone throughout is decidedly schizophrenic, especially when Belial starts to demonstrate a serious jealously streak, which soon sees him soon setting off to pursue his own perverse pleasures including one scene which managed to offend even the crew to the point where they walked off the production, something that would also happen again on Henenlotter’s next film “Brain Damage”.  
Warped tastes aside this film remains a master class in low budget film making with a measly budget of $35,000 a fact only further highlighted by the roll of cash Duane carries with him actually being the films budget, while Henenlotter’s crew was so small he actually make up most of the names listed on the credits, to make it seem like a bigger crew than he actually had. Still despite the lack of budget the film has still dated well, with the stop motion effects used to animate Belial having a real charm to them which CGI just doesn’t have. Equally not hampered is the healthy gore quota on hand here, as we get a head pushed into a drawer of surgical equipment and bloody maulings amongst the bloody delights aswell as some gooey looking surgical scenes as we see in one flashback the two brothers being separated. Still despite Belial’s murderous tendancies, he is still a restrained killer and only kills for revenge and the only time he breaks from this is in a fit of jealousy towards the end of the film, almost as if Henenlotter was keen to show that while he might look like a monster he processes none of the usual monster psychology, though at the same time he is unquestionably a pervert as seen in several of the more questionable scenes, were Belial decides to explore the world outside of his basket.
More focused than some of his later films, the film has a quick pace and outside of some truly questionable acting there is a lot to enjoy here, especially at this point Henenlotter is still not as caught up in his themes as he becomes in his later films which frequently seem to be more about shocking the audience than crafting an intelligible story as his last film “Bad Biology” only serves to highlight. Still for anyone looking for a starting point for Henenlotter’s film this is certainly a gentle entry point and for many this remains the favourite of his six films, so much so that it would spawn two sequels despite the ending of this film being pretty final, but then like any good exploitation movie, if there is a chance to make money there is always a way.

Thanks to Chris at Terry Malloy's Pigeon Coop and Mark at Three Rows Back for letting me a part of their blogathon, so why not check them out and see the rest of the blogathon posts.

Sunday, 1 September 2013

The Flowers of War

Title: The Flowers of War
Director: Yimou Zhang
Released: 2012
Starring: Christian Bale, Huang Tianyuan, Ni Ni, Tong Dawei, Atsuro Watabe
Plot: Based on the book “13 Flowers of Nanjing” by Geling Yan and set during the 1937 invasion of Nanking, China by the Japanese army were mortician John (Bale) arrives at a Catholic church to prepare the church's priest for burial.  However upon arriving at the church he finds himself the sole adult amongst the young Covent girls who are soon joined by the prostitutes from the nearby brothel claiming sanctuary. Now he finds himself in the unwanted position of protecting the girls by pretending to be resident priest.
Review: I’m sure I’m probably alone when I say that for myself Christian Bale’s most interesting films have always been his less mainstream ones, with films such as “The Machinist” and “Harsh Times” only being further evidence of this and while everyone is still pretty much cooing over his performance as the dark knight, it has meant that this film, another of less mainstream projects has once again slipped under the radar.
Directed by Yimou Zhang who is probably best known for his Hero trilogy (Hero, House of Flying Daggers, Curse of the Golden Flower) whose popularity only makes it all the more surprising that this film did not get better distribution, especially with Bale in the lead, which also makes it only the second fully Chinese-funded film to have a Hollywood star in the lead (the first being the Kevin Spacey headed “Inseperable”) aswell as also having the honour of being the most expensive. Still considering the subject matter it hardly makes for the most fun viewing, while reminding us of a frequently less remembered time in history, were the atrocities being committed by the invading Japanese were easily comparable to those of their Nazi counterparts.
Needless to say Director Zhang does not ease his audience into the situation currently happening, as he shows John stumbling through the corpse strewn streets, dodging stray gunfire from the invading Japanese soldiers hunting down the last of the Chinese soldiers still trying vainly to defend the city. Picking up two of the terrified convent girls he his lead back to the church, which has been left in the wake of the priests death to be defended by the teenage George (Tianyuan), whose attempts to stop the local prostitutes also moving into the church basement are made in vain, especially when they are lead by the fiesty Yu Mo (Ni Ni). It is within this opening half hour which Zhang paints a city now largely abandoned apart from the invading Japanese army and this mixed group seeking refuge within the walls of the church and he makes no qualms about showing the real horror of war, via some truly kinetic battle scenes and especially from the perspective of a Major Li (Dawei) who is soon left the long solider and unofficial protector of the girls before his sudden and surprising removal from the film, but only furthering the harsh realistic view point Zhang has chosen for this film in what is a noticeable departure from his artistic styling’s and use of key colours which made his previous films so memorable, though despite this he still manages to find time for the occasional flourish such as the shots of shattering stained glass, which often sit awkwardly amongst the scenes of vile human atrocity being committed alongside.
Despite being ultimately the saviour for the two very different groups of girls, Bale’s character is far from a shining example of sainthood, for when he is first introduced he is shown as a drunk, more concerned with drinking communion wine and plundering any funds contained within the church, than showing any concern for anyone else. However it is only after the attempted gang rape of the Covent girls by an out of control platoon of Japanese soldiers that he soon finds his moral backbone, while continuing to portray the church priest, in order to invoke an uneasy arrangement with Japanese Colonel Hasegawa (Watabe) to keep the church free from invasion by his troops by posting an armed guard outside the church.
Switching the focus throughout Zhang paints as full a (if admittedly one sided) picture as possible of this group and their view points on the situation, especially as it brings them together to form a mismatched family, especially as some are forced to make hard choices come the end of the film, which will certainly tug on the emotions of even the most stone hearted amongst you. However despite having more than its share of emotional moments and a unquestionable atmosphere of sheer terror throughout, it is hard to ignore the length run time, which does at times feel as if it could have been trimmed down in places, without sacrificing the heart of the story. Equally frustrating is the fact that it often feels like many of the cast are speaking in forced whispers with Bales especially being a prime offender of this, despite giving another truly believable antihero performance.
Ultimately this film is a mixed experience for while it contains many moments of real emotion and unflinchingly shows the invasion of Nanking for what it was, while equally let down in this respect for not showing the Japanese from any view point other than from the Chinese standpoint, leaving us with no explanation or understanding of their behavior. However despite this it still remains one the better dramas about this particularly troubling chapter of history and for that fact alone it is worth watching, if only to remind us of the evil war brings out in those caught in the conflict, while ensuring that it’s never forgotten.
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