Monday, 26 February 2018

Pedicab Driver

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, 23 February 2018

Island of Death

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 7 February 2018

Brawl In Cell Block 99

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, 2 February 2018

My Wife Is A Gangster

Title: My Wife Is A Gangster
Director: Jo Jin-Kyu
Released: 2001
Starring: Eun-Kyung Shin, Ahn Jae-mo, Park Sang-myn, Kim In-kwon, Jang Se-jin, Yeon Jung-hoon, Lee Eung-kyung, Kim In-mun, Gye-nam Myseong, Shin Shin-Ae

Plot: Eun-jin is a high ranking gangster in the Korean Mafia who suddenly finds herself being forced to find a husband to forfill the wishes of her dying sister who much like Eun-jin’s new husband has no idea of her ties to the criminal underworld.

Review: The first film in a trilogy, this action comedy is something of a double edged sword as here we get solid action sequences alongside the comedic attempts of Eun-jin to play both a wife and continue her role as a crime boss. Now this is not exactly the most original of plots especially as there have been a slew of comedies based around one party trying to hide their actions from their significant other, much less ones based around a character having to act against their general personality.

Opening to a rain drenched fight between two rival gangster clans we are introduced to Eun-jin or more her legend as Mantis who easily dispatches her gangster foes using her preferred weapon of choice can be best described as a pair of scissor blades.  Of course even without her unleashing bladed death Eun-Kyung Shin has just as much of an intimidating presence when she’s just drinking tea and reading the newspaper with Director Jo Jin-kyu thankfully playing things largely subtle as he prefers instead to play up her tough and largely cold persona which needless to say makes her attempts at finding her softer side only the more amusing.

Predictably a lot of the humor is derived from Eun-jinn attempting to play the dating game and find her softer side, initially though some interesting advice from the make up artist that her henchmen find to help her find a more feminine side to her look.  It’s a chance encounter though that she meets future Kang Soo-il (Park Sang-myn) who is astonishingly clueless about his wife’s criminal activities not to mention extremely accepting of her cold demeanor as any attempts her make to romance her usually end with him being kicked comedically across the room.

Adding to the comedic element are her loyal henchmen who are drawn into the attempts to find her a husband while at the same time mainly relying on the resources open to them as seen by them filling up the church with hostesses from their karaoke bars and fellow mobsters. Thrown into the mix is the cousin of her henchman, who fresh from the country has big ideas about being a mobster but zero clue of how he’s supposed to conduct himself let alone the fact that his preferred weapon of choice is a the shin bone from a horse really speaks volumes about him while at the same time largely being played for laughs.

Were the comedy tends to fail or perhaps just gets lost in translation are usually with the scenes between Eun-jin and Kang Soo-il with him trying to undress her while she is asleep or her suddenly being tasked with having a baby taking to essentially raping him as she forces him to continually have sex with her in her attempts to get pregnant. Thankfully the comedy and action of other scenes make up for these awkward moments which make it easier to stomach.

In a Jackie Chan vein the action sequences blend perfectly alongside the comedic moments with Eun-Kyung Shin showcasing some incredible fighting ability, while the variety of these set pieces choreographed by Kim Won-jin  which include a knife fight in a field being shot almost like a showdown between two samurai and a warehouse gang fight really giving the kind of action I wasn’t expecting from such a largely comedic film.

An entertaining watch if for a few tricky comedic moments, the blending of styles works perfectly here while ending on a sequence which had me eager to check out the sequel.
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