Tuesday, 28 September 2010

C Is For The Calamari Wrestler

The Calamari Wrestler
Director: Minoru Kawasaki
Released: 2004
Staring: Kana Ishida, Osamu Nishimura, Miho Shiraishi, Yoshihiro Takayama

Plot: After winning the championship title in hard fought match Koji Taguchi (Akira) is shocked to suddenly have the belt snatched from him, by a giant squid who it turns out is the reincarnated former wrestling legend Kanichi Iwata (Nishimura), who was also formerly dating Koji’s fiancé Miyako (Ishida). Kanichi now in his squid form is now faced with the battle to regain the respect he earned in the ring, while facing a series of increasingly bizarre opponents.

Review: Originally I had planned to look at Ringo Lam’s “City on Fire” for my “C” entry in this alphabetical romp through Asian cinema and as though it is still undeniably a great film and I'm sure it would definatly have been fun to go over the whole “Reservoir Dogs” ripped it off argument, but instead I decided to go for something alittle more obscure and fun for this entry, as this film not only combines my love of Wrestling and Kaiju (men in giant monster suits) style brawls, but it is pretty much one of the most random movies I have ever seen, baring all the trademarks of director Kawasaki who for some reason loves to have his main characters portrayed by giant creatures, with this film being his first big hit, while also helping to lay the foundations for the equally insane “Kabuto-O Beetle” (2005) and “Crab Goalkeeper” (2006). Due to this highly unique style of film making, it’s almost impossible to look at this film in any logical terms, seeing how it defies any kind of normal logic and is the kind of film, that could truly only have been made in Japan, especially as under any other studio system it would have been churned out as a high camp romp, while Kawasaki instead chooses to play it almost straight-faced, almost as if it is no big deal to have a giant squid wrestler, let alone the giant Octopus and stag beetle fighters he introduces later and somehow he has managed to make it work, even though he never bothers to explain properly how Kanichi ended up becoming a squid in the first place, especially when Koji shows up to their showdown having turned into a red Octopus, adding to the undertones of Kafka’s “The Metamorphosis” which runs throughout, though saying that certainly don’t expect anything too deep from this movie, especially with it’s cheesy effects and Godzilla style brawls, it is only all the more surprising that links “Kaiju Big Battel” haven’t been made, as essentially this is just their antics put on film, which for those of you not familiar with their Kaiju style wrestling shows, here is a quick taster.

Once you get past the fact that your watching a film about a giant wrestling squid, there is still a lot to enjoy here, as Kawasaki makes it more about wacky brawls and even works the love triangle between the Kanichi and his former girlfriend Miyako and her fiancé and Kanichi’s rival Koji, which not only seems plausible (somehow, though still not sure how) but also says all kinds of things about Miyako, who apparently has no problem with her former lover now being a giant squid, but instead seems more about how he will support her financially, especially when combined with the numerous flashes of a naked Miyako frolicking with the Squid form of Kanichi, but hey whatever works for you right?
Still it’s not all random brawls and questionable romances, as Kawasaki includes many simple and effective sequences, such as Calamari meditating, going shopping and generally being a hero of the local towns folk, as his popularity only continues to grow, with these scenes only adding to the human element of the film and despite the fact that he’s a giant squid you still can’t help but feel for his plight, which certainly isn’t the easiest thing to portray, when the costume only allows the minimum amount of movement and an expressionless face, but certainly something that Kawasaki is no stranger to, having started out directing episodes of “Ultraman Tiga” and it’s these early years of his career which really come into play here, as he uses all the tricks he learned there to great effect here, as he sets out to create his own set of equally memorable characters.

Despite some solid strong style wrestling sequences which open the film, Kawasaki soon trades these for wacky oversized creature smack downs, heavily reminisant of the Godzilla movies only on a slightly less city destroying scale and despite having the hindrance of some extremely rubbery costumes, he still manages to make these fight sequences highly entertaining if at the same time an acquired taste, as those of you who are not fans of the brawls seen in the Godzilla films, will no doubt find yourselves more irritated than amused, but then you will no have no have tuned out by the time, the first of these truly random scenes appears. Still despite this you can still feel the love which Kawasaki has for wrestling, while giving nods to the frequently ludicrous and exaggerated nature of the sport.

This film is really a reminder of how fun and imaginative Asian cinema can be, especially when you start looking outside of the main releases and instead look at the ones which fall outside of the popular genres and directors. So if your looking for something truly random, then this film certainly fits the bill, while providing more than a few laughs without overstaying it's welcome with a tight running time, while for those of you still wanting more, I'd highly recommend "Kabuto-O Beetle" for even more wrestling madness.

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

B Is For Brotherhood: Taegukgi

Brotherhood: Taegukgi
Director: Je-gyu Kang
Released: 2004
Staring: Dong-gun Jang, Bin Won, Min-ho Jang, Eun-ju Lee, Yeong-ran Lee

Plot: In 1950's South Korea, shoe-shiner Jin-tae Lee (Don-gun Jang) and his 18-year-old old student brother Jin-seok Lee (Bin Won), live with their mother, Jin-tae's fiancé Young-shin Kim, and his young sisters. Jin-tae and his mother sacrifice themselves working long hours to send Jin-seok to the university, but when North Korea invades the South the family are forced to escape to a relative's house in the country. Through this journey Jin-seok is forced to join the army, while Jin-tae also enlists wanting to protect his young brother. After discovering that if he is awarded a medal of honour that, he can arrange for the release of his brother, though as the war continues the relationship between the two brothers begins to deteriorate, as Jin-tae only becomes more driven towards wining his brother’s freedom.

Review: It seems that nearly every major conflict has that one film, which isn’t just a boys own adventure or a political statement, but instead has been made so that we might have an idea, what those involved actually went through. World War 2 has Spielberg’s “Saving Private Ryan”, Vietnam has Oliver Stone’s “Platoon” and the Korean war thankfully has this film, which I have frequently referred to in the past when recommending it as being the Korean Saving Private Ryan, though even with this clumsy tag, it still doesn’t feel like I am truly doing this film justice, especially when you consider it is one of the most expensive movies made by a Korean Studio, despite the fact it’s 12.8 million dollar budgets pales in comparison to what is typically spent in the Hollywood Studio system, yet to spend this much on a film was unheard of at the time of the films original release and the sole reason it was financed, was thanks largely to the success of Kang’s previous film “Shiri” (1999) which was also the first of the big budget Korean productions, while also proving at the same time that Kang was a director capable of holding his own against some of the bigger names in the Hollywood studio system, especially when given a significant budget to aid him, while this film only furthers his reputation as director, though sadly the gap between this film and any new project has been a painfully long wait, with only the currently in development “My Way” being his only recent activity.

Still it’s hard not to compare this film to “Saving Private Ryan” especially when they have such similar openings with the elderly former solider visiting a memorial site, though Kang at least gives us a chance to get to know the brothers before throwing us straight into the conflict, unlike Spielberg’s memorable dive straight into the D-Day landings. Infact “Brotherhood” is a lot more subtle on this front, saving the true horrors of the trench warfare and claustrophobic cityscapes that the battles are waged in, until the brothers are unwilling drafted and it’s from this moment that we rarely given a break from the dirty and frequently under equipped conditions of the front line, as he builds up to the epic conclusion, which for myself truly captured the blood and snot style of combat which, made up the majority of battles fought in this war, giving the viewer a true sense of what it must have been like to have fought in such wrenched conditions, as countrymen from the north and south of Korea were forced to fight each other in a war based purely on political beliefs.

Like Spielberg and Stone, Kang is not afraid to show the truly horrific side of war, as limbs are frequently blown off in explosions of dirt and mud, as soldiers encounter ambushes and booby traps, leaving you with the impression that any character could die at anytime, while scenes in a field hospital prove especially chilling, when the incompetence of the field medics leaving one wounded solider with a festering, maggot covered stomach wound.
Still the power of these scenes are not cheapened by the soundtrack which despite the film having a fantastic classical score, only adds to key scenes and never becomes threatening enough to overpower the images being shown and giving the audience cues for what they should be feeling at that exact moment, with Kang preferring to let the drama tell the story and leave the audience to their own emotions and it’s a technique used to devastating effect here.
However the trump card Kang has here is clearly with Dong-gun Jang, whose performance here is highly reminisant of the early films of Chow Yun-fat, especially with the levels of charisma and confidence he brings to the role, while truly helping to sell the father like role Jin-tae has taken upon himself, going far beyond being a protective brother, as he is shown being willing to do anything, to ensure that his brother can reach his full potential, all the more clearly shown as he signs up for increasingly suicidal missions, seeking the medal of honour so that he might get his brother off the frontline, even though he has no love for any aspect of the war going on around him. Still I’m sure that if it wasn’t thanks to Jang’s performance here, the film would have none of its emotional power, let alone the believability of the relationship between the two brothers, even as it deteriorates under the battlefield pressures, especially as their own personal beliefs comes constantly under attack, by the things they witness and such is the emotional power of this film, which Kang has managed to capture here, by the time the credits have rolled only the most stony hearted will fail to find themselves moved by what they have just watched.

"Brotherhood: Taegukgi" is a powerful and important film, not only in the respect of Korean cinema but war films on a whole, as it not only gives the viewer a true insight into the harsh realities of war, but also looks at how it changes those involved. In many ways I would place this in a higher respect than "Saving Private Ryan" even though both set out to create a similar viewing experience, but for those of you who like your War films with more of a human element I'd strongly recommend this film.

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

A Is For Audition

Title: Audition
Director: Takashi Miike
Released: 1999
Staring: Ryo Ishibashi, Tetsu Sawaki, Jun Kunimura, Eihi Shiina

Plot: Having lost his wife over seven years, Aoyama (Ishibashi) has spent the years since his wife’s death burying himself in his work and raising his son, who urges him to try and meet someone new. While meeting with his friend and producer Yoshikawa (Kunimura), his is presented with a plan to hold a mock Audition, as a way for Aoyama to meet a suitable new girlfriend, with the girls under the impression they are auditioning for a new film. Through these audition he meets and is immediately drawn to the soft spoken Asami (Shiina) unaware, that she hides more than a few dark secrets of her own.


Review: Okay I should start by pointing out this film should definatly be watched with only the barest information about the plot, so start reading now and go watch this film, as to read on will essentially only spoil the film…….your still here? Okay well if you havn’t seen this film, then it’s only yourself to blame for any spoilers leaked from this point onwards.

“Audition” not only was one of the films along with the likes of "Ringu" (1998) and "Battle Royale" (2000) which lead the charge for the new wave of intrest in asian cinema, which not only broke the traditional ideas of the genre, but pretty much took them outside and gave them a good kicking, while this film in perticular can also in one sense be seen as the film, which marked the beginning of Miike’s attempts to break away from the hyper violent Yakuza movies, which he had carved out a name for himself with, while with “Audition” he began to venture into a more subtle style of film making, which he has since the release of this film done several more times, though sadly these attempts have often been frowned upon by the majority of the fan base, eagerly awaiting the next Miike shock fest only to find something alittle disapointingly more subtle, which is not to say that this film is without it's share of shocks as it certainly has those, it’s just Miike is in a much more subtle mood than usual here, luring his audience into a false sense of security before revealing a truly memorable twist, in much the same way that Hitchcock did in “Psycho” (1960) which used the initial fifteen minutes to convice the audience they were watching a film about the criminal actions of Janet Leigh’s character Marion Crane, only to then revel the true darker nature of the film, somthing which Miike certainly seems to have taken his cues for with this film, dragging out the romantic melodrama of the storyline for over two thirds of the film, only to then shatter Aoyama’s (aswell as the audience) perception of Asami in a confusing fusion of flashbacks and hallucinations, as Asami’s secret is finally revealed in all it’s sustained horror, which is why I tend to recommend that first time viewers go into this film blind, especially seeing how the trailer despite containing some of the iconic imagery does tend to spoil the big revel, which tends to prove only all the more powerful when the audience hasn’t been filled in on the dark delights which Miike has kept in reserve till this final quarter which is truly classic Miike.

It almost seems like a perfect match that the film is adapted from the novel of the same name, by the badboy of Japanese fiction Ryu Murakami, who also wrote the equally fantastic “Coin Locker Babies” which is currently in production at the time of writing this review and the winner of the Yomiri Literature Prize “In The Miso Soup” and seeing how well his writing lends itself to Miike’s directing style it makes only all the more surprising that this is the only adaptation of Murakami’s books that he has worked on. Still this sole jaunt into this world is still a powerfully effective film and certainly one which it would prove more than a little difficult to adapt into an English version, not only for some of the more nauseating scenes, which would no doubt come under a much stricter censoring, even in it’s original form had Miike not been attached, who it seems has the same sort of ability to slip the more shocking images past the censor chopping block, that directors such as Quentin Tarantino have, as his name alone is enough warning for most educated viewers to know what to expect, which is no doubt why the censors are more lenient on his work. Still none of these scenes seem to be placed purely for shock factor, but instead feel like they are being shown to only further add power to the images bombarding the viewer, despite the fact that Miike had originally not wanted to take the final torture scene as far as it goes, only to be told by one of the producers to “be a man and see it through to the end.” Which ultimately turns out to be the right choice, even as shocking as it proves, it still keeps you hooked with a grim fascination, as none of these shots seems to have placed with a voyeuristic intent, even when being shown the kind of scenes which most directors would question including, in particular those involving Asami and the man she keeps in a sack, treating him like some grotesque kind of pet as Miike slowly begins to revel the true terror of his creation.

“Audition” for myself is certainly one the best introductions to the films of Takashi Miike, especially for the more timid viewer daunted by the fountains of gore and violence, which is usually associated with his work, while proving that his films are about more than shock and awe, emphasised here with it’s straightforward plotting and strong characterisation all making for a great starting point for a director who is without a doubt one of the most creative and exciting directors currently working in modern Asian cinema.

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Elwood's A-Z of Asian Cinema: Introduction

Finally the house move has been completed, the boxes emptied or more accurately hidden away somewhere I can't see them, in the hope that perhaps they will just sort themselves out, but more importantly, I'm back and ready to head once more into the depths of cult, foreign and obscure cinema, while also looking at anything that falls in between.

So wanting to kick things back off with something special and inspired during a one of the more duller moments at work, which for anyone who has ever worked in a call centre will tell you, is pretty much 99.9% of your day, but it did however inspire the idea of putting together my "A-Z of Asian Cinema" a 26 review jaunt through the genre of cinema, which first sparked my obsession with film and what essentially forms the backbone of this blog and it was this desire to highlight not only key films in the genre, but also create what I hope will be an introduction to some of my readers, to some of the most interesting, exciting and in some case just darn random films out there and far more than just Kung Fu, Giant Monsters and Creepy long haired girls crawling out of TV's, which is not to say that none of the above won't be making an appearance, along with possible even more randomness, but hopfully by the time this latest feature has been finished I will have the basis for a great introduction to newcomers looking for a place to start, aswell as possibly finding one or two titles, which surprised even the grizzled veterans of the genre.

Now to just quick this all off!

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...