Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Stray Cat Rock: Delinquent Girl Boss

Title: Stray Cat Rock: Delinquent Girl Boss
Director: Yasuharu Hasebe
Released: 1970
Starring: Akiko Wada, Meiko Kaji, Koji Wada, Bunjaku Han, Yuka Kemari, Hanako Tokachi, Yuko Shimazu, Yuka Ohashi, Miki Yanagi, Toshimitsu Shima, George Fujita, Ken Sanders, Tatsuya Fuji, Yosui Inoue

Plot: When tough girl biker Ako (Wada) randomly gives Mei (Kaji) the leader of the all-girl gang “The Stray Cats” a ride she soon finds herself recruited to join their ranks. Meanwhile Mei’s boyfriend Michio (Wada) is trying to join the right-wing nationalist group “The Seiyu Group” who in turn are soon set on a collision course with the Stray Cats when they unwittingly interfere in the outcome of a fixed boxing match.

Review: The first film in the “Stray Cat Rock” or “Alley Cat Rock” series of films created originally by Nikkatsu studios to rival Toei Studios “Delinquent Boss” series, while at the same time drawing inspiration from the Roger Corman biker movies like “The Wild Angels”. At the same time the studio bosses were keen to cash in Wada’s popularity as a singer, only for her co-star Meiko Kaji to become the bigger draw and turning the four films which followed into a vehicle for her talent while at the same time forming the start of her legacy as one of the cinema’s toughest leading ladies. More so when she followed the series with both the “Female Convict Scorpion” and “Lady Snowblood” series of films which she made with Toei studios after Nikkatsu studios moved into making films for the “Pink film” market following the end of the Stray Cat series, even developing their own brand of these films branded “Roman Porno” which combined scenes of softcore pornography, S&M and graphic violence.

It is quite a shame that Wada didn’t return to the series as here she is effortlessly cool as the tough biker Ako and more so perhaps because of her largely androgynous style which sees her frequently being mistaken for a man, especially when she’s in her biker gear, that she lost some of her appear especially when placed alongside the more feminine styled Kaji. The styling of the characters throughout the film though ensures that the film has a real time capsule feel, even more so with its psych-rock soundtrack.

Fans of tough ladies though will find much to enjoy here, as the members of the Stray Cats are unquestionably more than capable of holding their own in a fight, as we see right from the start as they find themselves in a knife fight against a rival girl gang while soon seeing off the rival gang’s boyfriend’s aswell! While the levels of violence here might not be nowhere near what we would see with the later films in Kaji’s career especially when compared to the likes of the “Female Convict Scorpion” series but the sporadic moments we get here are still highly effective.
The pacing is for the most part kept pretty tight with the whole film unfolding over the course of two days, with helpful flashing cue cards helping to highlight the passage of time while the plot itself is kept for the most part is quite straightforward and typical exploitation fare and more about the lead up to the final showdown between the Stray Cats and The Seiyu Group which takes the form of a madcap chase motorcycle chase sequence which soon becomes more about director Hasebe trying to find ever more random locations to take the chase scene through as Gang boss Katsuya (Fuji) chases after Ako in his dune buggy. A dune buggy it would seem that has no difficulty getting through narrow corridors, driving through shopping malls or even going up and down numerous flights of stairs.

On the downside the group remain largely undeveloped outside of Ako and Mei with the others members not getting anything in the way of development much like the members of the Seiyu who are essentially just a bunch of goons to be dispatched. Not that this matters much of course seeing how the film largely at times feels like  a collection of interesting scenes loosely strung together with simplistic plotting and occasional bursts of ultra violence but it still makes for an entertaining watch, especially with the fun chase finale let alone the groovy soundtrack which surprisingly doesn't date the film in a particularly bad way. Still if your a fan of feisty females or looking for a light entry point to the Pinky Violence genre then this could be it.

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Man of Tai Chi

Title: Man of Tai Chi
Director: Keanu Reeves
Released: 2013
Starring: Tiger Hu Chen, Keanu Reeves, Karen Mok, Hai Yu, Qing Ye, Simon Yam, Iko Uwais

Plot: Tiger Chen (Chen) a Tai Chi student who despite his master’s concerns uses his training to compete in martial arts tournaments. However when the temple where he trains is threatened with demolition, he finds himself fighting for money in an underground fight club run by the mysterious Donaka (Reeves).

Review: I don’t think when Keanu Reeves announced that he was making his first foray into directing that it would be a foreign language martial arts movie but here he does just that with a decidedly less is more approach, while to an extent creating a showcase the talents of his friend and martial arts trainer Tiger Hu Chen.
Reportedly based events in Chen’s life even if the facts surrounding such claims are limited to say the least, here Reeves keeps things decidedly simple with a more is less attitude as he builds around spectacular fight scenes provided courtesy of the legendry action director Yeun Woo-Ping while keeping a strong focus on the action rather than trying to pad things out with unneeded drama.

Similar in many ways to the original idea for “Ring of Steel” in that it is a story of the corrupting power of money, fame and success; as while setting out with an honest and pure goal of saving his temple, the success Tiger achieves fighting in these underground contest and the rewards that they bring soon causes him to lose track of the reason he is fighting to begin with, while at the same time having the interesting effect of making his fighting style increasingly more violent and brutal the further into this world he is drawn.

While the film follows the usual fighting tournament format with Tiger facing a seemingly endless line of opponents, each with their own unique fighting style including “The Raid” leading man Iko Uwais as it leads to the inevitable showdown with Donaka. What makes it so different is the setup for each fight, which is not the usual ring surrounded by rich invited guests cheering and sipping Champaign but often just a plain room while Donaka watches on from behind mirror glass panels or via the large TV screen in his office and essentially gives the idea that the sole reason that Donaka is doing any of this is solely so that he can have the his own live action version of “Mortal Kombat”. An idea only further reinforced by the announcement to “Fight” and even the command to “Finish Him” popping up and usually followed by a black mask wearing Donaka doing the honours when his fighters inevitably bottle it when given such a command, seemingly only happy to beat their opponent to a bloody pulp but not finish the job.

Donaka though is a fascinating if at time slightly cardboard villain and one suits Reeve’s eternally laid back style, while it is an interesting change of pace to see Reeve playing a villain again, with “The Watcher” being the only other occasion that he has played anything other than a variation on his usual good guy role. Still here his chilled out style only adds to his character who maintains a zen like cool through to the end were he seems to be taking notes from the Nicolas Cage school of acting including the bear trap grin which bizarrely make an appearance while he’s having the holy hell beaten out of him by Tiger. Its unclear though if Reeve’s took on this role to further the budget or because he genuinely felt like playing the bad guy for a change of pace. Despite being nowhere near the level of Tiger Chan, their relationship off screen as Reeve’s martial arts trainer ensure that the end fight scene still works well with

While the film might have worked well as just a straightforward tournament movie, the film also follows the feisty Hong Kong Police officer Sun-Jin Shi (Mok) who is currently trying to investigate Donaka only to find her undercover fighters keep getting discovered and disposed off before we can arrest him while her refusal to give up on the case makes only further makes her the ire of Superintendent Wong (Yam). Mok’s character here makes for an interesting sub-plot and helps to fill in the background for Donaka even if her link to Tiger just remain frustratingly underused and only really comes together out of convenience to the plot rather than the major plot line it should have been when Tiger agrees to become a mole for Shi’s investigation after the true reality of his situation becomes apparent.

Unquestionably though the real selling point are the frequently inventive fight scenes which are every bit the intended showcase of Tiger Chen’s obvious talent, while the range of styles on offer only help to keep things interesting especially when Chen starts letting his darker side take over more and more. At the same time Reeves manages to pull out several surprising fight locations including one ring which not only comes with a groovy blacklight theme but also has a surprise strobe light effect which kicks in when the fight starts to tip in Chen’s favour, though honestly this experiment kind of failed as while it looks pretty, the movement of the actors only comes off erratic when put under the strobe. Despite this slight misstep Reeve shows a clear love of the genre especially with the involvement of Yeun Woo-Ping’s much sort after skills as an action director only further helping this film stand out from the numerous questionable entries that the DTV market has seen a recent influx of with the film unquestionably being a vast improvement over the likes of “Tekken” and the frustratingly hit and miss “Ninja”.

While this might not be high art film making it’s still an incredibly enjoyable film and one which raises plenty of questions as to where Reeve’s will go for his next film especially when a large part of me would more than happily see him give us more of the same, much like Tiger Chan who while he might not currently at the time of writing have anything on his release slate is certainly a talent worth following.

Saturday, 18 October 2014

So I Launched A Podcast!

Over the last couple of months I have been making appearances on both "The LAMBcast" as well as "Filmwhy" podcasts having decided to bite the bullet after wasting far too much time saying I wanted to do podcasting but not actually doing anything about it. Needless to say I have had a blast doing these podcasts and through them have met some great bloggers, while getting to chat with others who until now the only contact I've had was through either e-mail or comments on each others posts.

So now I've decided to throw my hat into the podcasting ring by launching my own podcast which in turn will tie into what we started with the 1001 film introduction to cult and obscure cinema I created with a number of other bloggers when we put together the "Mad, Bad and Downright Strange" list. The idea for the podcast now being to work through the list and cover each film, while getting the chance to discuss them with likeminded bloggers / film junkies. The podcast also aiming to build on the showcase feature I ran over on the site for the list.

So together with Emily from "The Deadly Doll's House of Horror Nonsense"  and "The Feminine Critique" we recorded the pilot show which is now available on PodOmatic for your listening pleasure were we looked at "Starship Troopers".

Of course I appreciate any feedback that you guys and gals have to offer and especially would love to hear if you'd like to be involved and come on discuss some great and frequently random cinema.

Saturday, 11 October 2014

The Devil's Double

Title: The Devil’s Double
Director: Lee Tamahori
Released: 2011
Starring: Dominic Cooper, Philip Quast, Ludivine Sagnier, Mimoun Oaissa, Raad Rawi, Mem Ferda, Dar Salim, Khalid Laith, Pano Masti, Nasser Memarzia, Tiziana Azzpardi, Akin Gazi, Amrita Acharia

Plot: Iraq 1987, Latif Yahia (Cooper) a soldier finds himself recuited to become a “Fedal” (body double” for Uday Hussein (also Cooper) the son of the Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein (Quast).

Review: Lee Tamahori is hardly a director who springs up on anyone’s favourite director list, despite memorably launching his directing career with the powerful “Once Were Warriors” it's been a series of disappointments which followed in its wake while he managed to single handily kill both the “XXX” franchise (not even Wilem Dafoe could save that sequel) and for awhile the “James Bond” franchise with the disappointing series tribute “Die Another Day” while the less said about “Next” the better really. Needless to say I wasn’t sure what to expect from this film, while sees Tamahori moving away from action cinema and back to his drama roots.

While it might claim to be based on a true story, the facts have been frequently disputed since the film’s release, mainly due to lack any actual evidence that Latif Yahia had any connection to Uday Hussein let alone the kind of access to the higher levels of Saddam’s regime as the film depicts. This however does not stop it from being a fascinating story and a highly enjoyable one to boot thanks largely to the phenomenal double act pulled by Cooper as both Latif and Uday. At the same time Latif and Uday are fascinating characters in their own respects with Latif being forced into new role as a Fedal, rather than willingly excepting the role with his first refusal seeing him imprisoned and tortured and ultimately only agrees to take on the role after being informed that his family will be tortured and killed if he doesn’t agree. It is an almost begrudging sense of duty which he takes on the role. Uday on the other hand lives a “Scarface” style lifestyle thanks to the unlimited wealth and power he is afforded as the son of Saddam. At the same time he also enjoys a highly deviant lifestyle of hovering up vast quantities of cocaine, picking up school girls of the street and frequently being prone of burst of psychotic violence which it would seem is none too different than his real life counterpart.

Much like “Scarface” this is equally a film with a focus on gross excess both in terms of wealth aswell as in violence as Latif frequently bears witness to Uday’s life as a playboy gangster which he in turn he is forced to become a part of , while Uday views him as his brother and an object he has created while deluding himself into thinking that he has control over Latif, even though Latif is constantly looking for a way out which won’t endanger his face who have been left believing that he has been killed in the war. While the main focus on the story might be on this thread like bond between Latif and Uday, the film also takes time to follow the relationship between Latif and his advisor let alone the closest thing he has to a friend inside of the regime Munem (Rawi) who like Latif is equally disgusted by what he is forced to bar witness to yet at the same time continues his duties with a sense of grim numbness. At the same time he is frequently a source of sound advice for Latif even if you’re never sure were his loyalty truly lies, more so when he never seems to really side with either party throughout the course of the film.

Still if things are not complex enough a further twist is thrown into the mix with Sarrab (Sagnier), Uday’s lover and the one person who could prove to the breaking point in the fragile arrangement between Latif and Uday as she soon starts showing an interest in Latif with the two soon carrying on a relationship in secret. This however like so many aspects of the film was seemingly included in the more fictional elements which have drawn most of the criticism for the film especially when so much of the film can’t be proven or would appear to have been based on real life events such as the jealous slaying of Saddam’s bodyguard Kamel Hana (Ferda) by an enraged Uday.

The other criticism about the film is the levels of violence which while sporadic frequently burst into cartoonish levels of gore as with the aforementioned killing of Kamel Hana while providing yet another reason to compare it to “Scarface”. At the same time the violence is never excessively over used and often feels in context even if the tone of the film is far from the serious biographical film that I think a lot of the detractors were expecting it to be.

Unlike his more recent output Tamahori here proves that he can still craft a gripping drama even if falls more between the worlds of his brutally dark debut and the more action orientated later latter films. This is still a great film and even while it might be factually questionable in places, its strong characters and visual styling which includes a memorable scene of Saddam playing tennis against his double this film gives us hope that he’s still capable of producing memorable cinema, while at the time of writing it remains to be seen if he continues on this track or returns to more mainstream fare.

Saturday, 4 October 2014


Title: Confessions
Director: Tetsuya Nakashima
Released: 2010
Starring: Takako Matsu, Mana Ashida, Kaoru Fujiwara, Yoshino Kimura, Yukito Nishii, Ai Hashimoto

Plot: Junior high school teacher Yuko Moriguchi (Matsu) while announcing her resignation to her class also reveals that she also knows the two members of her class responsible for the death of her daughter Manami (Ashida) setting in motion her own plot for revenge against those responsible.

Review: Adapted from the novel of the same name by Kanae Minato, while directed by Nakashima who is probably best known for “Kamikaze Girls” and thanks to “Third Window Films “Memories of Matsuko” which as of the time of writing has yet to get a US release while such limited distribution has hardly helped him to establish himself with Western audiences. However with this film he provides a fitting reminder to never assume anything when it comes to Asian cinema, as despite having convinced myself that I knew how the film would play out, I would soon be proven to be way wrong especially as this film is nothing short of surprises to say the least, while also seemingly a statement of the failing of the Japanese judicial system as frequent stabs at the short comings of Juvenile law are made over the course of the film, as it gives numerous fictional examples of crimes were the juvenile offenders are able to get away with often the most hideous of crimes it would seem.

Comprised of a series of confessions the film constantly switches focus between characters, as the effects of Yuko’s revenge ripple out from her initial confession to her class in ever more surprising ways. It’s an interesting narrative to say the least and having not read the source novel it’s hard to say if it works better as a book especially awith the film constantly switching between characters as each confession finishes, before bringing it all together for the finale, which honestly requires something of a leap of faith from the viewer especially when at times it doesn’t seem to know what direction it’s going to take.

Opening with Yuko’s confession which is at the same time eerily haunting for how calm she remains throughout, even with the dealing with the details of how her daughter died and finishing with the nasty sting of her confessing that she spiked the killers milk with HIV infected blood. From here we get to see how each of the killers deal with the aftermath of her confession which is strange seeing how we know who they are so early on rather than their identity being teased out like a more traditional thriller which this film is anything but.

It is of course these multiple narratives which makes the film so interesting than your run of the mill thriller, especially when it comes to the fall out of the killers actions and Yuko’s revenge which sees one of the killers Naoki (Fujiwara) becoming a hygiene obsessed shut in which bizarrely doesn’t extend to his own personal hygiene as he become increasingly more filthy and unkempt. On the flipside the other killer Shuya (Niishi) returns to school for the new term were he soon finds himself being targeted by his fellow classmates who even setup a points system to judge who can pull off the best bullying tactic as they carry out their own style of vigilante justice to punish him. Shuya though as we soon finds out carry’s his own set of issues outside of the school as he finds himself constantly frustrated for his genius being overshadowed. A gift he equally views as being a curse having inherited his intelligence from his scientist mother who abandoned him in favour of pursing her own scientific ambitions and which now leads him to inventing ever more impressive inventions in the hope of her noticing him again. Strangely like Naoki the background of the killers and how they deal with the fallout their actions proves to be a lot more interesting than the reason they murdered Yuko’s daughter in the first place which only becomes more inane the further the events of that day are explained.

As well as the three main confessions of those involved, director Nakashima attempts to fill things out further by adding the additional confessions of Naoki’s mother (Kimura) who starts off siding with her son and soon finds herself being driven closer and closer to the end of her wits by her son’s sudden erratic behaviour. The bizarre choice is the classmate Mizuki who soon forms an unlikely relationship with Shuya which while it comes with some interesting moments such as the idea of serial killers taking on celebrity status with Mizuki having a tattoo of an “L” on her wrist in tribute to the “Luncacy Murder” girl who poisoned her family. Sadly with the film feeling slightly bloated with so many different angles at play these segments only really serve to drag the film out longer.

Unquestionably the film is very pretty to look at and makes it easy to understand why comparisons have been made to Park Chan Wook’s “Vengeance Trilogy”. However unlike that trilogy this film is sadly lacking in any real emotional punch to add any weight to the film and while it might certainly not be filled with the same shocking moments of violence it does however manage to make the scenes showing the murder especially harrowing to watch. Alas while the characters might vary in the levels of interest that their confessions bring, you rarely feel anything for their plight which is certainly one of the things which stopped me from liking this film more. Thankfully the Nakashima manages to pull it all together for the finale, which she's Yuko revel the full extent of her plans with a great twist which goes some way to making up for the earlier flaws.
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