Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Exit The Dragon, Enter The Tiger

Title: Exit The Dragon, Enter The Tiger
Director: Tso Nam Lee
Released: 1976
Staring: Bruce Li, Chang Yi, Lung Fei, Shan Mao, Kam Kong, Got Siu Bo, Cheng Fu Hung

Plot: After Bruce Lee mysteriously dies his friend David (Li) sets out to find out why.

Review: Bruceploitation is a strange subgenre of Exploitation cinema, seeing how it’s essentially based on cashing in on Bruce Lee’s legacy and fame and is unique in being the only Exploitation sub genre based around a person rather than a theme or setting. The majority of these films featured actors of varying martial arts ability, with most hired for their resemblance to Bruce Lee which again varied greatly between those with an uncanny resemblance to those who bore absolutely no resemblance to the great man whatsoever! Bruce Li thankfully is one of the better ones.

Opening with Bruce Lee (also played here by Li) having a premonition of his own death, which he shares with his friend David aka Tiger, with the setup it would seem being that Tiger is the true predecessor to Bruce, as further highlighted by the title sequence in which he gets to show off his skills while being sound tracked to Issac Hayes’s groovy “Theme From Three Tough Guys”, which shares more than few similarities to the “Enter The Dragon” theme. Still I don’t think I’ve seen a film so keen to make sure that the audience gets the message than this film, as nearly every wall in the film seems to be covered with posters of Bruce Lee, well those which aren’t covered with pornography which for some unknown reason doesn’t seem to faze anyone. The DVD cover is none the less insane, I mean look at it, let alone the fact that David seems to have a tiger growing out of his armpit! I also love the quote on the back cover “See Bruce Lee choose his successor!” almost as if the studio are trying to make out that this film is some kind of biopic, but then it’s this sheer randomness which makes the Bruceploitation genere like so much exploitation cinema so much fun.

With the sudden death of Bruce and shameless use of stock footage from his funeral, David returns from Hong Kong and sets about conducting his own investigation, essentially consists of hanging around GoGo Bars, harassing assorted members of The Baron’s gang and generally kicking alot of ass, with David eventually discovering that The Baron was attempting to use Bruce to help him smuggle heroin, which has to be one of the most batshit insane theories about his death, since the theory that he faked his own death so he could work undercover for the Hong Kong police to bust up drug rings, but no doubt a theory explored further in another of these films.

The plot is pretty straightforward and is consists pretty much of David switching between detective mode and ass kicking mode, while the second half of the movie David for some reason suddenly starts referring to himself as Tiger, but then are really trying to make sense of a film with a film as insane as it is. Out of the two modes, his ass kicking one is certainly provides the more enjoyable parts of the film, even though they do suffer in places from some sloppy editing which sadly takes away from these scenes which are otherwise great and frequently inventive, while for some they may go on alittle too long, but seeing how tedious some of the non fighting scenes are I was actually happy that these scenes went on as long as they do. The final beach showdown is certainly great to look at cinematically, even if it does bring once again into question the health and safety regulations of Hong Kong film sets.

Li whose real name is Ho Chung Tao, was given the name of Bruce Li by producer Jimmy Shaw spent most his career making Bruceploitation movies, with this film being the one which would truly launch his career, even if he hated his screen name citing that “I don’t like it, because I can act like him, but I can’t be him”. In an alternative reality I have no doubt that Li, much like the equally overlooked Conan Lee and could have been a much bigger star had the studios not been so keen to pass him off as a replacement Bruce Lee.

“Exit The Dragon, Enter The Tiger” is one of the better films in the genre and while there are certainly more random titles under the Bruceploitation label (see “The Clones of Bruce Lee”) this isn’t an overly bad film if judged on its fight scenes, while the rest of the film can be slightly testing to get through, while it still shame that we never got to see Li reach the same heights as the man he imitated.

Sunday, 24 July 2011

The Hills Have Eyes (2006)

Title: The Hills Have Eyes

Director: Alexandre Aja

Released: 2006

Staring: Aaron Stanford, Kathleen Quinlan, Emilie de Ravin, Dan Byrd, Tom Bower, Billy Drago, Robert Joy, Ted Levine

Plot: After breaking down in the desert a family find themselves being hunted by a group of Cannibalistic mutants

Review: Out of the new breed of Horror directors of recent years few have managed to reach the same levels of the masters of horror who came before them, while even more frustrating the ones who showed true potential such as Eli Roth, now seem to have lost their way with Roth seemingly these days more interested in producing and giving questionable performances as an actor. Still since I saw Director Aja's debut film “Haute Tension” released in the UK under the grindhouse esq title “Switchblade Romance” and the more straightforward title interpretation of “High Tension” for it’s US release, he has been for myself a Horror director worth watching and this film only further cemented for me that reputation, for it is one thing to remake a classic horror film, but to be personally hand picked by the films original director and Horror legend Wes Craven after he was shown Aja’s debut by his long time producing partner Marianne Maddalena, to helm the remake of a film which was once branded the scariest movie ever made, leading to a fun rivalry between Craven and Sami Rami, who would also reference the original in a film I'd also give that title to “The Evil Dead”.

Teaming up once again with his creative partner Grégory Levasseur to devastating effect once more, as right from the start Aja lets the audience know that he’s not going to be pulling any punches, from the opening pick axe attack on a group of scientists, to his opening title montage which combines nuclear testing footage with intercuts of birth defects caused by Agent Orange in Vietnam, yet still hauntingly manage to double as convincing effects of nuclear fallout. Needless to say it’s a gruesome and shocking foundation that he only builds on, from this moment onwards, though showing a maturity to lure the audience into a false sense of security teasing out the next attack which again proves to be as equally effective as like the family the audience is bombarded with chaos and confusion, with the second of these attack seeing things taken perhaps alittle to far, especially as it descends into a rape and murder party which does have the feeling of Aja pushing things perhaps alittle too far, while at the same providing the catalyst for the change in seemingly eternal pacifist Doug (Standford), who is shown as an academic and thinker unlike his more openly aggressive and testosterone driven father in law Big Bob (Levine). It’s only after the mutants attack that Doug snaps and pretty much goes postal, much like David in “Straw Dogs” (1971) were an equally horrific (but unconvincingly acted by Susan George) attack on his wife leads him to abandon his academic persona for more primal urges and it’s a key reference used by Aja and further highlighted by Doug’s broken glasses.

When it comes to the gore, once again Aja isn’t pulling punches as to be expected and if revenge is a dish best served cold, then the revenge Doug hands out is Icy cold with his change startling to say the least, as he changes from someone who actively avoids confrontation, to a man running on pure survival mode as he turns the tables on the mutants by actively hunting them down with the family dog Beast whom also seems to undergo a similar change for some unknown reason) . The gore quota is giddily high here, as limbs are lopped off and violence is kept primal especially at the hands of the mutants, who at the same time they still maintain a high level of intelligence and able to pull off planned attacks on the family and seen communicating via Walkie-Talkie, yet frustratingly there is little depth given to the mutants beyond their surface abnormalities, so any theories on the chain of leadership is left with the audience to figure out for themselves. Still I loved the fact that the mutants live in a town made for nuclear testing and that they are creations as a result of those weapons of death and destruction, characteristics they now choose to embody.

The mutant appearances are all very much grounded in reality with Aja and Levasseur looking at the effects of nuclear fallout in places such as Chernobyl and Hiroshima, aswell as more bizarrely a Pogues concert which the pair attended while in Chicago, while the effects used are a highly impressive mixture of flawless CGI and old school effects, allowing them to create some hideous looking creations, with each of the mutants having their own individual look, making them easy to distinguish between and allowing what little characterisation there is to come across alot clearer.

While it might have the disadvantage of being a remake, Aja has managed to rise above the comparisons to the original and is very much it’s own creation and more than capable of holding it’s own against the original, making it one of the few remakes to match up to the original, while Aja manages to bring enough original ideas to prevent the feeling of over familiarity which often comes with remakes and it only makes it more of a shame that he opted not to come back for the sequel, which although more original, lack any of the edge that this film has even if the tastefulness of some of the scenes can certainly be questioned, while at the same time only furthering my opinion that Aja is a modern horror director worth keeping an eye on.

Wednesday, 13 July 2011


Title: Doomsday
Director: Neil Marshall
Released: 2008
Staring: Rhona Mitra, Bob Hoskins, Malcolm McDowell, Alexander Siddig, David O’Hara, Craig Conway, Adrian Lester, Chris Robson, Leslie Simpson, Sean Pertwee, Darren Morfitt

Plot: In 2008 the reaper virus was discovered in Scotland, infecting hundreds and killing millions, leading the authorities to quarantine Scotland from the rest of England to prevent the prevent the virus spreading further. Three decades later the virus appears again in London and Eden Sinclair (Mitra) and a team of specialists have been sent back to Scotland to search for the elusive Dr. Kane (McDowell), while in the time since the quarantine has caused those who survived to become brutal savages

Review: For one reason or another I’ve never got around to watching this film until recently when it happened to be on “Sci-fi”, so recalling that it was somewhere in depths of the “Lovefilm” rental list I thought I’d actually give it a watch, especially seeing how the list currently stands around 475 queued titles, I doubted that it would be getting watched anytime soon otherwise, especially with the reviews on it’s initial release being pretty much meh! With this in mind I can’t say that I was exactly expecting much from this film.

Right from the start there is a creeping sensation of Déjà vu, as the military forces gun down a frenzied mob of the potentially infected, in scenes all to reminiscent of “28 Weeks later” (2002), with this feeling only growing throughout when it suddenly becomes clear that Marshall is attempting to use the Tarantino style of film making by scrapbooking and adapting scenes and ideas from his favourite films and while Tarantino takes his inspirations and gives them his own unique spin to create a multi layered homage to the cinema he adores, were as here Marshall seems to be simply cutting and pasting scenes were needed into his Scottish setting, which at times seems to the sole original element on hand and while it largely works, it certainly took me more and more out of the film, every time one of these lifted sequences appeared as I tried to remember were I’d seen them before, with the inspirations coming from the predictable such as “Escape from New York” (1981) and “Mad Max” (1979) with Eden’s character being an amalgamation of the leads of those two films, with the loner attitude and eye patch of New York’s Snake Pliskin and the cold personality of Mad Max’s Max Rockatansky with both drawing this nature from their surroundings aswell as the trauma of losing a loved one, with Eden losing her mother during the opening riots, causing her to become isolated from the rest of society. Still despite being a combination of two of cinema’s greatest antiheroes, Eden stands up well which is no doubt largely on part to a believable performance by Mitra, seen here in one of her first leading roles, with the original intention of giving her a handful of witty one liners being thankfully removed, while more questionable aspects such as her bionic eye work surprisingly well, while only adding more much needed originality to her character. Still both of those films director atleast get some recognition in the form of Soldiers Miller and Carpenter, though this felt like brick to the face in the terms to subtly much like Marshall’s blatant plagiarism of ideas.

Marshall’s vision for his quarantined Scotland is certainly an interesting one as the action is split between the apocalyptic and savage city, which I’m sure we are supposed to assume, is Glasgow which is now under the anarchic rule of Kane’s son Sol (Conway) who is one half psycho while the other half is pure side show barker as he rules the punk like Marauders with a mixture of violence and alternative cabaret which also includes an interesting use of the Fine Young Cannibals track “Good Thing” which has a whole bunch of interesting imagery now attached to it, thanks to this film like much of the 80’s influenced soundtrack, with Marshal originally aiming for an equally 80’s synth track, but later opting for a heavy orchestra score instead.
The flip side to Marshall’s vision comes in the form of Dr. Kane’s Medieval influenced empire, were he has established himself as a Col. Kurtz esq figure and despite the country being in quarantine it certainly hasn’t stopped his group from using authentic looking medieval outfits and weapons, yet no mention of how he managed to convince his numerous followers to go along with the idea of taking things literally medieval. This sudden change of surrounding does however mean that you end up feeling that the group have somehow stumbled into another movie altogether.

The action sequences are all handed well from the city foot chase sequences and Mitra handles herself well in a fist fight with Marshall providing a good action quota throughout and even finding space for a couple of car chases, which again draw heavily from their inspiration with the first taking it from “Aliens” and the second seeming like a mash up of the best bits of the Mad Max trilogy, with the location being exchanged for the Scottish Highlands, which although it’s exciting to watch in places with some clumsy camera placement causing the illusion of high speed to seriously be lost to the point were pedestrians would no doubt be moving quicker than some of the vehicles..

As a director Marshall hasn’t really won me over with his films to date with both “Dog Soldiers” (2002) and “The Descent” (2005) being largely forgettable, while his last film “Centurion” (2010) was enjoyable enough but not enough to make him a director worth watching for future projects and I can’t say that this film really changed that opinion, even though it surprisingly proved to be a largely fun film despite it’s flaws, while it’s blatant plagiarism prevents it from becoming little more than disposable fun, even though Marshall seems all set to take us back to the Apocalyptic highlands judging by the open ending, I personally think that one trip is more than enough for most but the least cinematically educated of viewers.
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