Monday, July 28, 2008

Ninja Champion (1985)


Ok. This might get messy. So, at heart it's a basic revenge movie in the vein of I Spit On Your Grave. A woman is raped by three thugs wearing make-up, and after getting out of hospital she tracks them down and kills them one by one. Meanwhile, an ex-lover/Interpol agent who abandoned her after the rape and remarried (awfully quickly) comes back into her life, and she also accepts the help of a bald, muscle-bound retarded guy. Oh, and she's involved in diamond smuggling in some way. OH! And we find out she has a twin sister who is also involved in the revenge scheme.

But, forget all of that. You might be wondering about the title: Ninja Champion. Where are the ninjas, goober? Well, there are ninjas here. We know they are ninjas because they dress up in bright red and blue pajamas, and sometimes have the word NINJA on their headbands. These scenes are actually entertaining in a silly way, but have absolutely no relationship to the revenge film outside of some dialogue that comically tries to tie things together. The film culminates in a DUAL TO THE DEATH between the white (good guy) and red (bad guy) ninja that apparently takes place on a playground. After some baffling exposition, red-guy gets stabbed on the monkey bars. Rough way to go.


Oh yeah. This is what bad is like. You may remember the name Godfrey Ho from my review of The Shaolin Drunk Monkey. In the mid-80s, our man Godfrey came up with a tremendous money-making idea. Ninjas were huge, so he purchased the rights to not-quite-complete films, sprinkled in some new scenes featuring rainbow colored masked ninjas, and then re-dubbed the whole thing and gave it a title like Rage Of Ninja, or Full Metal Ninja (Actual Titles!).

These low-budget titles were regular features in video stores in the 80s, and for anyone unlucky enough to see more than one a pattern soon began to develop. Ho would re-use footage constantly, commonly sticking his American actors in multiple films, though the footage was obviously all shot at once. It must have been his effort to corner the crucial Michael Dudikoff market.

For instance, the ninja star of this film (named.. Donald) is played by Bruce Baron. In 1986, Bruce Baron "starred" in The Ultimate Ninja, Ninja Destroyer and Challenge Of The Ninja. Take a wild guess who directed those three. It's a particularly creative form of hackery, and a ballsy one at that, since these films make almost no sense at all. On top of that, Ho takes full directing credit despite often not being involved with a majority of the footage actually on-screen! And that is how a director gets over 100(!!) directing credits in just under 30 years.

An even more egregious example is a minute long scene featuring Richard Harrison (who was a well regarded actor in Italy) who was in no less than 18(!!!) films with the word Ninja in the title. Almost all directed by Godfrey Ho, and almost always playing a character called Gordon since the footage for all of these films came from one session of filming.

But what about Ninja Champion? Obviously two separate films stuck together with chewing gum and spit, it's actually probably best to review them seperately.

The female revenge flick is bland, pedestrian stuff. In one scene the female protagonist is captured in a car and asks for a chance to put on make-up before her capturer (and former rapist) kills her. His response? "Don't do it too well, or I may want to rape you again before I kill you!". You stay classy, Godfrey Ho.

Oddly, there's actually a bit of kung-fu in the film, and it's not at all bad. My favorite bit is when the boyfriend/interpol agent jumps into the air and vanishes completely, leaving his attackers dumb-founded. If only he taught his lady-friend this teleportation trick!

But the film is limp and uninteresting. There's a bizarre early scene where Rose (our unfortunate female lead) visits a diamond smuggler and drops her top, revealing.. um.. shininess. Or a heavenly glow. Or something. It's quite bizarre, particularly since we get a gratuitous nipple shot about five minutes later.

Most of Rose's revenge attempts involve poison, so we're not treated to any I Spit On Your Grave penis-cuttings (Spoiler!), and it's frankly a little difficult to understand the motivations behind her rape even after several long-winded explanations. The man-child who enters the film in the final scene seems to be missing an entire back story, likely excised to make room for more ninja action!

Speaking of the ninja action.. It's not bad. I mean, it's only likely ten minutes of the running time, but it includes some nice acrobatics and swordplay and isn't particularly offensive outside the fact that:
  • The ninjas are dressed in bright rainbow colors.
  • The ninjas are clearly marked as such, which must hurt subterfuge.
  • The fights are often preceded with some nifty circus tricks, including one spry ninja literally jumping through (small) hoops to make us happy.
  • The male American leads are.. weird looking. I can't really explain it, but they just are.

Video quality is bad, but watchable. The dubbing is terrible.

There is really no reason to ever watch this film. The revenge story is confusing and slow, and the ninja footage is probably repeated in some other, possibly better, Godfrey Ho film. Any interesting parts from Ninja Champion (including the blatant Star Wars rip-off music right off the bat) are right here:

Friday, July 25, 2008

Zipang! (1990)


OK, so, Kaizo Hayashi’s 1990 action flick Zipang features an unstoppable samurai, an immortal ancient warrior, a ninja with advanced technology and weapons hidden inside his bones, secret worlds, and all sorts of crazy crap that I don’t have the space to get into here. It’s a bizarre funhouse of a film, and your enjoyment of it will hinge entirely on how much zaniness you can take in one sitting.


So what’s the plot to Zipang? Well, it goes something like this: a group of bounty hunters, including Yuri the Pistol (a female fighter played by Narumi Yasuda and armed with--that’s right--a pistol), set out to capture a ronin named Jigoku (which means “Hell,” I think). Jigoku (Masahiro Takashima) is, of course, a super samurai, who numbers his various swords like they’re golf clubs. He yells out a number to one of his followers who, like a caddy, makes sure he gets the requested tool.

The battle between the bounty hunters and Jigoku is a long one, played with little blood and lots of comedy. In the process of dispatching his foes, Jigoku runs afoul the familiar chambara characters Zatoichi and Tange Sazen--and also a Muskateer, I think (or maybe its Cyrano de Bergerac--Jigoku doesn’t mince words with him). Apparently they’re after the bounty as well. Jigoku defeats them all. He’s just that slick.


Historically, “Zipang” is the name Marco Polo used to identify Japan. Or so I'm told. In the film, however, Zipang is some other dimension. Somehow, Jigoku and his band of merry followers get caught up in the search for Zipang, a mystical and hidden land of gold. To get there, one must wield a golden sword, which Jigoku locates in short order. Unfortunately, there are others searching for the gold, including the ninja Hanzo, and an ancient warrior--an ancient warrior who was killed before the film’s opening credits, only to rise again.

While all of this is going on, Jigoku falls for Yuri the Pistol, who ends up being transported to Zipang, along with Hanzo, both of whom become prisoners of the King of Zipang, who’s kind of a dick. Jigoku sets off to save her. Because he's just that kind of guy.


While Zipang is certainly zany, with its comical characters and its spoofing of the genre, I wouldn’t go so far as to call it a comedy. While the fighting is light-hearted, it is still thrilling, action-y stuff. You’re meant to enjoy the fighting in it the same way you’d enjoy a fight in, say, the Zatoichi series. Zipang seems to represent the samurai film laid bare as a genre, with all of the elements used in a self-conscious fashion--as well as some flights of fantasy added. One guy can kill a whole army? Sure! Even if they have rocket launchers? Why not!


Pagan Films, a UK-based distributor, has produced a fairly bare-bones DVD for Zipang, but if you want to see the film, it’s all there is, so there’s no point complaining. The film probably wouldn’t work if it weren’t for Hayashi’s eye for style. He switches from a monochromatic opening to a film filled with vibrant colour, and later has no problems about playing around with the film to add to the unreal quality of the story. The film is visually quite interesting, despite a few cheap looking costumers (Hanzo’s ninja outfit looks like it’s made out of garbage bags) and some rather static matte-painted backgrounds. On the whole, though, it’s the look of the film that really draws you to it.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The Deadly Duo (1978) (aka The Two Great Cavaliers)


Ah Cheng (John Liu) has decided to get out of this silly kung-fu business and retire with his new girlfriend. Unfortunately, everyone is out to kill him, and one of the killers has been using his trademark knives to frame him! D'oh! Meanwhile his friends (who have turned on him because of his unwillingness to help a poisoned ally with his acupuncture skill) meet up with a mysterious swordsmen who is not what he seems. Lots of people die and switch sides, and things wrap up with the ailing Ka Yan (Leung Kar-Yan) being cured and all of his allies attacking the big baddy, who has a powerful (blue) fist.


First things first. Despite the plot description on the DVD, and a lot of the information out there, this is not Chang Cheh's classic Shaw Brothers film from 1971. The Deadly Duo is more well known as The Two Great Cavaliers and, though worthwhile in its own right, shouldn't be confused with Cheh's film.

Instead, we have a very confusing plot that is kept afloat by the able abilities of the cast. John Liu shows some amazing kicking abilities in the lead, and he's given many opportunities to demonstrate his impressive speed and accuracy. The great Angela Mao (Enter The Dragon) is the female lead, and she shows off her impressive kung-fu skills in between bouts of pouting and being turned on by allies. The third male lead I didn't recognize, though his sword skills are impressive and add a bit of variety to the fighting on display.

And though he doesn't get to show off many of his skills, it's always nice to see
Leung Kar-Yan (The Victim) show off his beard.

Aside from the fighting, the plot doesn't provide many interesting moments or surprises. At least until we get to the final twenty minutes and find a group of bad guys attempt to sneak into the trapped location where Ka Yan is being held. Not having been taught the different phoenix stances that work as a key, the baddies are dispatched in various grisly ways. The most impressive being an explosive charge that blows a dummy all to hell, and provided me with my most enjoyable moment while watching.

Once again we have to deal with a lousy, full-screen, dubbed print of a film that would greatly benefit from being shown in its original form. In fact, this film has been released in a letterboxed version that is commonly available through Crash Cinema and might be worthwhile to pick up for fans of Angela Mao. The image here is fuzzy but watchable, but the dubbing is wretched and only helps to confuse an already muddled plot.

While the plot is mostly incomprehensible, the film itself is never boring and the fights are inventive, acrobatic and very fast paced. One of the better kung-fu films in this collection, and features some amazing fighting from John Liu and Angela Mao.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Chase Step By Step (1974)


A drought has hit a poor county in China and the people are suffering. Two circus performers, Tsao Wu & Ling Wing (Feng Hsu), are asked to escort a delivery of gold to the area. On the way they are attacked by everyone. Honestly. Every single person they run into tries to steal the gold, or kill them and *then* steal the gold. Eventually they reach the county and are (surprise) attacked once again. Luckily our two heroes use their significant kung-fu skills (and a few circus tricks) to smack around anyone who tries to attack them.


Chase Step By Step is saddled with a bad title, but it actually has the ingredients to be a rather interesting kung-fu film. The idea of mixing circus performing (demonstrated in the opening credits) with kung-fu action would seem to be a natural mix, and the acrobatics of performers in the late 70s (and the comedy that was injected into kung-fu films of that era) might have proven this to be a precursor of that style. Unfortunately, while there are a few moments of unique action, the vast majority is slow, blandly choreographed kung-fu with some blatant undercranking meant to make the fights appear faster.

This style of kung-fu, where the opponents often don't appear to be even attempting to hit our heroes, was quite common in the mid-70s and could be looked past if the plot provided anything interesting. However, what exists of the plot is barely a skeletal structure on which to hang fight scene after fight scene. The relationship between the two leads quickly becomes irritating, with Ling Wing becoming intolerable as the film moves along. Her shrillness certainly doesn't do the film any favors.

To the film's benefit, the multitude of fight scenes at least keeps the pace moving and when the pair does use their circus-honed skills it makes for some interesting visuals. Tsao Wu uses stilts to briefly fight off some attackers, and the two walk across a tight-rope with the gold to escape some attackers. More integration of these sorts of skills might have made the material something special, but instead only serves to remind the viewer of the lost potential here.

The video quality of the film is rather abysmal at first (particularly in the opening credits, where the image is stretched horribly), but evens out to just being bad throughout a majority of the film. Occasionally the fight scenes find characters wandering in and out of frame, though this is a limitation of a 235:1 being cropped so significantly. The dubbed audio is often ludicrous, but is intelligible enough throughout most of the film.

Action packed, but tiresome kung-fu entry handicapped by some lackluster fighting that betrays the era it was made. Purely mediocre with a few memorable moments.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Mother Joan of the Angels (1960)


Eight demons possess Mother Joan of the Angels: Behemoth, Ballam, Isaacaron, Gresil, Amon, Asmadeus, Leviathan, and Clootie. How can one man, her exorcist, Father Joseph Surin, hope to save her?

Polish director Jerzy Kawalerowicz’s Mother Joan of the Angels (Matka Joanna od aniolow), like Ken Russell’s The Devils (1971) is loosely based on the 1634 case of the Loudon nuns. In Loudon, France, a group of Ursuline nuns were supposedly possessed, due to the actions of Father Urbain Grandier, who was eventually burned at the stake for witchcraft. While the nuns remained ‘possessed,’ a group of expert exorcists--the Jesuit Jean-Joseph Surin among them--attempted to cleanse them in a series of public exorcism, which reportedly gathered groups of up to 7,000 people. The possessed nuns became something of a tourist attraction.


Kawalerowicz’s Mother Joan of the Angels begins with Father Surin (Mieczyslaw Voit) prostrating himself before the crucifix. He has just arrived, and he is uncertain that he is up to the task. The villagers, oddly enough, don’t seem to take the possession very seriously--it’s more-or-less a good source for rumours. It’s explained that the priests allow the common people to see the possessed nuns, since proof of demon possession, paradoxically, acts as proof of God’s existence.

When Surin meets Mother Joan (Lucyna Winnicka), he finds that she is very forthcoming about her possession. It all stems from Father Grandier, she explains, and now the evil is within her.


The actions of the possessed nuns seems rather tame by today’s standards. Most of the lesser nuns--never named--flounce about in a rather un-nunly fashion, but most of the blasphemies are left for Mother Joan. Sadly, you’ll never hear her shout anything like “Your mother sucks cocks in hell!”, and so hers is a lesser possession in the annals of filmdom. Still, she does do a lot of her own tumbling, and a few awkward contortions, which are enough to convince Father Surin that the possession is sincere. Still, it’s unclear to me if Mother Joan’s relatively sedate possession is due to constraints of the time and place, or if Kawalerowicz intended to cast reasonable doubt on the nature of Mother Joan’s complaint.

Surin, a self-flagellator, is deeply affected by Mother Joan’s actions. It makes him doubt his own skills, and possibly his own religion. He also seems weirdly attracted to Joan’s sins. In one scene, both of them are shown in the same room, and, though separated, both simultaneously flog their own bare backs in acts of contrition. Both are naked, from the waste up, and both are performing a strictly physical act. This works as Mother Joan of the Angel’s sex scene, I think.


As Surin begins to doubt more and more, he seeks out the advice of a Rabbi. The Rabbi makes a series of ominous statements, which Surin doesn’t seem to understand: that the presence of demons might only be the absence of angels; that all things, good or wicked, are based on love; that Father Surin and the Rabbi are one and the same. And, indeed, the Rabbi is Father Surin, in as much as it is obviously Voit playing him as well. But what do all these things mean? And how does it help Surin?


Mother Joan of the Angels is beautifully shot on black and white film. I haven’t seen as much Bergman as I probably should, but I was reminded of The Seventh Seal, at least visually, while watching this. The film is very stark, and the two leads, Voit and Winnicka, seem to have been chosen as much for their acting as for their piercing eyes. Many of the shots are expertly composed, and aside from some jump-edits (which might be the DVD, for all I know) the film is well-executed.

The DVD by Polart is, simply put, one of the worst I’ve ever seen. The features are slim (a write-up on the director and the leads, as well as advertising for other Polart DVDs), but most importantly the quality of the film image is terrible. On top of that, the subtitles are down-right laughable. Hardly a line goes by without some glaring issue of spelling or grammar, and occasionally a line is just missing. Still, this didn’t stop me from enjoying the film.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The War Game /Culloden (1965-64)

The War Game


What happens to a city, to its people, when an atomic bomb detonates in the atmosphere above it? In the 1960s, this question probably seemed pretty pressing. Peter Watkins, fresh off the success of Culloden, convinced the BBC that he should be allowed to shoot a nuclear war film, one that would show the effects of a nuclear attack on British soil. When he handed in the final film, the channel refused to broadcast it--but, Watkins claims, only after secretly showing it “to senior members of the Home Office, the Ministry of Defence, the Post Office (in charge of telecommunications), a representative of the Military Chiefs of Staff, and Sir Burke Trend, Secretary to Harold Wilson’s Cabinet.”

Using documented evidence about the effects of bombing on Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Dresden, and other European towns firebombed during the War, Watkins was able to create an extremely realistic film detailing the violent effects of a nuclear attack on British soil. Like most of his work, it’s shot like a documentary, filled with amateur actors and realistic effects. The War Game shows many things that the BBC thought people weren’t ready to see: blinded children; the degrading effects of radiation poisoning; terminal patients executed by police officers, in what is both an act of charity and necessity; food riots; suffering; gruesome death.


At first, The War Game seems too much a document of its time. The fear of nuclear war has, thankfully, abated, and the black and white footage and dour narration makes the film seem almost campy. Once you get past that, though, it’s remarkable how much detail Watkins goes into. While certainly he dwells on the grizzly physical aspects of the attack, just as much (or more) time is spent on the moral problems, most of which are caused by logistics. In the case of an attack, we learn, the British government simply lacks the resources to relocate such a large part of its population; after the attack, they lack the capacity to treat and feed the survivors.

Obviously Watkins is a pacifist, and the point of his movie is to scare the living hell out of his audience. And it is scary, since every instance that Watkins depicts in his faux-documentary had already happened in one of the Axis cities bombed during the War. His reliance on facts, then, makes the film all the more terrifying, and stops him from making a simple and derivatively alarmist piece. The War Game won the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature in 1966.



Project X, the Canadian distributors who (with New Yorker Films) have made a mission of making Watkins’ work available in North America, saw fit to release The War Game with Culloden, Watkins’ first major work. Combined, the two films run only two hours, and so the pairing is sensible--even if the way they’ve positioned the two films out of sequence seems somewhat illogical.

The 1746 Battle of Culloden was the last battle of the Jacobite uprising, in which the British army smashed the Highlanders and chased Bonnie Prince Charlie off of their land. We learn (if we didn’t know already--my Scottish history is rusty, but fortunately I've read Waverly) that the battle was an extremely bloody affair, with the Highlanders losing 25 men for each slain British soldier. Culloden first documents the poor planning and suicidal incompetence of the Highland leaders before turning to the cold-bloodedness of their British rivals.


In what became Watkins’ trademark style, Culloden is shot as a documentary. Some viewers may find this hard to grasp--Watkins doesn’t portray the battle as a recreation, but simply acts as though there was a documentary film crew present at the battle. Nothing is done to explain things any further. Watkins used non-actors to fill the speaking roles, just as he would later do in The War Game and Punishment Park. The lower-class Highlanders even speak in Gaelic, while Bonnie Prince Charlie has a French accent.

Using the documentary style, Watkins is able to interview the personalities involved, and to try to give the viewer some idea about how the actual battle went down. On Watkins’ website, he says “This was the 1960s, and the US army was ‘pacifying’ the Vietnam highlands. I wanted to draw a parallel between these events and what had happened in our own UK Highlands two centuries earlier, including because our knowledge of what took place after ‘Culloden’ was basically limited to an exotic image of ‘Bonnie Prince Charlie’ on the label of a Drambuie whiskey bottle.” He does this by portraying the battle as realistically as possible, and by focusing on the grim realities of the War, stripping away all the romantic nonsense that historic battles always end up wearing.

After the Highlanders are slaughtered, the British heroically bayonet all the wounded, and have the survivors either executed (usually hanged, and then drawn and quartered) or sent to Barbados as indentured servants (read: slaves). Hardly the high water-mark for English compassion.

The Project X/New Yorker release is nothing special, but it contains both films and commentaries, though not (unfortunately) from Watkins himself. Watkins really did produce films unlike any you've seen before, so film fans should check it out.

Black Cobra 3 (1990)


Robert "Bob" Malone (Fred "The Hammer" Williamson) is brought to the Philippines by Interpol agent Greg Duncan, the son of an old friend, to help investigate the theft of American weapons. Partnered with C.I.A. agent Tracy Rogers (Debra Ward), the trio find themselves constantly thwarted in their investigations, leading them to suspect they might have a mole amongst them. The film climaxes with the three infiltrating a base and blowing everything (and everyone) away.


Once again having no direct connection to any previous film in the series, this time we're in pure Commando/Missing In Action/Delta Force territory as Malone goes behind enemy lines so he can mow down dozens of unlucky Filipinos with various weaponry. But don't worry! He also gets plenty of opportunities to show off his hand-to-hand skills, and throws plenty of his trademark goofy kicks. This is the part where I make sure to mention that i'm certainly not making fun of Fred "The Hammer" Williamson as I imagine, even at the age of 70, that he could beat my sorry ass all day without breaking a sweat.

Unfortunately Nicholas Hammond doesn't return for this sequel, so instead Williamson is partnered with bland pretty-boy (and really awful actor) Forry Smith who obviously has never played Spider-Man in a short-lived late-70s television show. However, a quick peek at his IMDB profile shows that Smith did play The Green Hornet briefly in Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story so I guess i'll cut him some slack. Smith takes on the brunt of the running, jumping and machine-gun firing in the film. Debra Ward is expected to stand around (success) and look pretty (fail), but I applaud the writer for not saddling Malone with another tired love interest.

We're still definitely in low-budget territory, but the action is ramped up considerably and there's hardly a ten minutes stretch where someone isn't getting punched or kicked. The final act has plenty of gunfire and explosions, and the film benefits when it stays away from the lame dialogue and focuses instead on blowing things up. Production values are slightly better than the previous two films as well.

Image quality is slightly better than Black Cobra 2, though still only at VHS level. There is lots of dubbing still on display, but it's generally not as atrocious as the previous film, nor as prevalent as the first. Unfortunately we're no longer treated to the rockin' soundtrack from the second film as the music is generic action fare.

The best of the three Black Cobra films I have available (there is a fourth, but i've heard WIlliamson only appears in stock footage, and it's helmed by the always uneven Umberto Lenzi), Black Cobra 3: The Manilla Connection is a servicable action film with a cookie cutter plot and a reveal at the end that would be a surprise to only the dullest of viewers. The second film still trumps all in terms of unintentional comedy, but there are a few fun moments here for undiscriminating action fans.

Recommended to fans of The Hammer. Everyone else might want to stay away from all three.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Black Cobra 2 (1988)


After one too many displays of excessive force (this time involving blowing the head off of a hostage-taking biker), Lieutenant Rob Malone (Fred "The Hammer" Williamson) is sent from Chicago (what happened to New York?) to The Philippines in one of those ever-so-common police exchange programs. Once there, he's paired with buttoned-down do-gooder Lt. Kevin McCall (Nicholas Hammond from the 70s TV version of SPIDER-MAN!!!!!) and after the requisite amount of distaste they slowly begin to warm to each other after a search for Malone's stolen wallet ends with them discovering a dead body. It turns out the wallet thief stole some microfilm from Iranian terrorists, and Malone and McCall have to crack this motherfucker WIDE open. Oh, and afterward the Iranians try to blow up a building (containing McCall's kid), and the two have to spend 15 minutes climbing up an elevator shaft so Williamson can smash through some glass and blow the bad guys to smithereens. Wait a sec! He didn't learn anything! The film ends with Malone on his way back to Chicago, having taught McCall that extreme violence is the only proper response to terrorism.


Black Cobra 2 is a better film than Black Cobra. It just is. Part of this is because a bad Lethal Weapon rip-off is slightly more interesting to me than a bad Dirty Harry rip-off, but it also throws in more elements that exploitation fans can enjoy. It's more violent, more profane, and the unintentional hilarity is much more pronounced. Aside from some bloody moments, and a lot of naughty language, this would have been prime MST3K fodder. And it has Spider-Man!

WARNING: Scene may not appear in actual film.

Fred Williamson is back as Robert Malone, and despite (for some reason) now being stationed in Chicago, the early scenes are once again obviously filmed in Italy. The opening action sequence, a great deal of which is on foot, really puts the 50-year old Williamson to the test as he crawls around a parking garage, running after the motorcycle assailant. Obviously feeling some old injuries, you can't help but feel bad for him as he sucks wind. But, he gives it the old college try and he at least seems game to some.. um.. interesting physical challenges. He's also not dubbed this time around, which makes his performance a lot more tolerable.

Malone is given a love interest in lounge singer Peggy Mallory (Emma Hoagland), who is not only incredibly bland and built like a 14 year old boy, but also spouts some ridiculous dialogue as their relationship heats up for no reason in particular. She gets an off screen bullet in the head in what can only be called a mercy killing.

Nicholas Hammond is Spider-Man. McCall and Malone don't really have any chemistry, but the buddy-cop dynamic doesn't grow too stale, and his over-the-top response to his son being kidnapped (with a requisite call to his terrified wife promising to get their boy back while he applies camouflage grease paint) make for some fun moments. The rest of the cast is nondescript and/or terribly dubbed. Particularly McCall's kid who speaks with the voice of an adult woman, which is actually a bit creepy.

It's also a bit jarring whenever a non-dubbed character speaks to a dubbed character, as the sound levels don't match well. An improvement over the ADR in the first film, but still quite rough.

The action is much more bloody this time around, with nice juicy squibs on display whenever Malone decides to shoot a terrorist in the chest with a shotgun (which is quite often). The action scenes are still inept, but Williamson's odd-looking Kung-fu kicks are certainly a sight to behold. It's also considerably more profane than the previous film with a surprising number of "fucks" and "shits" being thrown around. I was most amused by Peter Parker telling a severely beaten Iranian to "Shut the FUCK up!", but your amusement at such things may vary.

Image quality is about the same as the first film, meaning pretty rough. Luckily, the audio is a bit less muffled this time around, and the editing is less hatchet-y. We're also treated to a rockin' 80s musical score which nicely compliments the 80s fashions (skinny ties! Members only jackets!) and hairstyles on display.

A slight improvement on the original, but still a pretty awful zero budget Italian action knock-off. My Spidey sense says to avoid it, but at least we're moving in the right direction for *sigh* Black Cobra 3.

Monday, July 14, 2008

R-Point (2004)

War is hell. One of the world's most brutal truisms that ranks up there with "the only two things certain in the world are death and taxes." That being said, you'd think that any war as a backdrop for a horror movie would work quite well, especially the usual yōkai films we've seen flooding North American shores.

After all, if yōkai films convey anything it is that there are some fates that are worse than death. In such a film with any war as the setting, those that died would probably be the fortunate ones.

R-Point is a Korean film that tells the story of an ill-fated Korean commando unit during the tail end of the Vietnam War. Hardened vet Lt. Choi Tae-in (Gam Wu-seong) leads his platoon leads his troops to an area 150 kilometers south of Saigon in search of another platoon that patrolled the area six months prior to the events of this movie.

Naturally, the first platoon never made it back but Choi's platoon is hand picked to investigate a cryptic radio message from the first platoon that was presumed to be killed in action.

In all respects, this movie out Blair Witches the rather unscary Blair Witch Project, as it succeeds where Blair Witch failed. R-Point effectively conveys just how fragile the human will really is when subjected to a dual assault from the forces of nature and the realm of the supernatural.

R-Point teaches us that war is not hell, because war is not eternal. There are some things that are indeed worse than death.

If your taste for A-Horror is wearing thing these days, go pick this up.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Black Cobra (1987)


Detective Robert Malone (Fred "The Hammer" Williamson) is a hard boiled, take-no-prisoners, loose cannon cop. Between randomly blowing street scum away, Malone protects a fashion photographer (Eva Grimaldi) who witnesses a biker gang's brutal assault. And that's pretty much it. Oh! And Malone has a partner (Vassili Karis) who helps him out before the gang sends him a message by kidnapping his daughter. This leads to this wonderful bit of dialogue from Williamson: "I'm not doing it for you. I'm just doing it. I would do it even if it were Santa Claus' daughter."

Well said.


I'm sure it's just a coincidence that the Sylvester Stallone film Cobra was released in 1986, while the following year we find the first (of FOUR!) films shot in Italy featuring a similar no-nonsese cop called Black Cobra. It's not like the Italian film industry is in the habit of making cheap rip offs of American flicks, right? (Except for the dozens of Italian Exorcist, Dawn Of The Dead, Mad Max, Jaws, Saturday Night Fever, etc. etc. etc. etc. knock offs)

Though in all fairness, Cobra wasn't a huge blockbuster, and the film owes as much (if not more) to Dirty Harry than the Stallone Vehicle. One other thing Black Cobra has going for it is the presence of Fred THE HAMMER Williamson as Detective Robert Malone. Williamson was nearing 50 when this film came out, but the man still bleeds bad-ass, and isn't afraid to get his hands dirty. Though it's comical in action, there's a gunfight in Black Cobra where Williamson swings from a wire, knocking over an assailant. While the actual "tackle" consists almost solely of Williamson ramming his ass against the shoulder of the attacker, I give points for effort. particularly in a film of this ilk.

Speaking of films of this ilk, this is certainly *not* a martial arts film. There's quite a bit of gun play, and Williamson tosses around grenades for good measure, but hand to hand combat is minimal. This is an action movie in the 80s American sense of the word, though filtered through an Italian eye (and budget).

The film itself is blandly (though competently) directed, but the print is really terrible (obviously mastered from a VHS tape) and dark, and the audio is muddy and can be difficult to make out. This is particularly hurtful since the actors (as is often the case in Italian productions) are dubbed, with Williamson apparently being one of the few that provide their own voice. This also appears to be an edited version of the film, as there are some obvious moments of carnage that have been excised (sometimes leaving a few frames behind, making it seem like the film was hacked up with rusty scissors). There is a single breast on display, which was gratuitous but at least woke me up at a particularly slow section of the film.

The plot itself is terribly thin, though Williamson gets a few (mostly unintentionally) funny lines. What's really missing from the film is a sense of fun, particularly considering that we get such a bland group of villains whose motives are anyone's guess. Without a reasonable threat (or suitably maniacal bad guy), we are left with a hard nosed cop being generally dickish for no apparent reason. That can be fun for a while, but wears very thin over 90 minutes.

I better get used to it, though.. I have two more of Black Cobra films coming up in the set.

This one isn't worth your time, particularly with this shoddy image and audio quality.

Monday, July 7, 2008

In Bruges (2008)


Full disclosure: I’ve always disliked Colin Farrell. His resume is filled with bad movies, and when he somehow ends up in a good film he’s usually the worst part in it. However, this film has changed my outlook completely. Colin Farrell is so astonishingly good, so impeccably cast, that I actually look forward to the next Colin Farrell film. Martin McDonagh’s In Bruges is just that good.

Ken (Brendan Gleeson) and Ray (Farrell) are both hit men. I’m pretty sure that this is an occupation that only exists in the movies, but whatever. What makes them different from most hit men, however, is the fact that they seem like fairly ordinary people--kind of like Jules and Vincent in Pulp Fiction, rather than the elite killers found in such films as Assassins. Ray, especially, acts like you think a criminal actually might act. It’s rather refreshing.


Having finished their last job, their boss, Harry Waters (Ralph Fiennes) sends them--sentences them, if you will--to Bruges, a medieval town in Belgium. Ken, the older of the two, is able to make the best out of it, and turns it into a site-seeing trip. Ray, on the other hand, thinks Bruges is purgatory.

Ray is a real shit. He acts somewhat like a child with ADD, and, as I said, it’s Farrell’s best performance. I hesitate to suggest that this might be because Farrell is more like Ray than, say, Alexander the Great. But who knows. In Bruges, he finds only two things that interest him--the chance for sex (which he finds with Chloe, a native of the area) and gawking at a dwarf who’s in town for a film (“They’re filming midgets!” Ray says). When he isn’t around Chloe or Jimmy (the midget), he’s generally pouting or getting himself into trouble. We do learn, however, that there is a reason for his attitude--everything did not go smoothly during Ray’s last mission, and his conscience weighs heavily on him. His petulant attitude, perhaps, disguises the turmoil inside.


Farrel isn't the only great character, though. Brendan Gleeson is always reliable, and plays Ray's grown-up partner with just the right amount of seriousness, while Ralph Fiennes (seemingly on a break from dour period pieces) is suitably intimidating and brutish as their boss, Harry.

Most of the humour in In Bruges comes from Ray, and hits its mark. There’s a great scene--unfortunately spoiled in the trailer--where he tries to tell some obese American tourists that they should avoid the narrow, winding stairs that lead to the top of the medieval church. His lack of subtlety (and the Americans’ lack of good sense) lead to an altercation that should make anyone laugh heartily (except, perhaps, uptight and overweight Americans). All of the humour makes the graphic violence near the end of the film all the more shocking.


In Bruges isn’t without its flaws, though. The ending is a little too perfect, and sometimes that humour falls flat. When going for laughs, McDonagh’s film swings for the fences, and so when it misses, the silence is deafening. While Ray’s obsession with midgets, for instance, is humorous, said midget’s obsession with an oncoming racial war seems tacked on, like McDonagh needed something zany to add to fill space, and it was the best he could come up with.

The Focus Features DVD presents In Bruges in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio, and comes with a few featurettes. Most notably among these is “Fucking Bruges,” a compilation of all the swears in the film. This is good for a quick chuckle, and also draws attention to the fact that In Bruges must be one of the most expletive-filled films out there. I’d highly recommend checking it out.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Shaolin Deadly Kicks (1977) (aka Tai ji ba jiao/The Flash Legs)


After a botched robbery, eight criminals (known as the eight dragons) decide to split a treasure map between themselves and reconvene in three years to claim their reward. Years later two policemen are catching up with the members, and after one's death, Fong Yee (Tao-liang Tan) declares war on the rest of the dragons and starts tracking them down one at a time and collecting their pieces of the map. After saving a young woman from her arranged marriage to a dwarf, Yee soon discovers that her uncle is one of the last of the dragons, leading to an explosive finish as Yee battles the Scarred Dragon (Lieh Lo from Five Fingers Of Death) with his furious array of kicks.


This is more like it. While once again dealing with a pan & scan job that cuts off a great deal of the action (and i'd guess there's at least a couple of minutes missing from the plot), this remains a worthwhile kung-fu effort and keeps the kung-fu coming at an impressive pace . Tao-liang Tan doesn't make for a charismatic lead, but the star of the film is his ability to kick, and his skill is shown off in a number of nicely choreographed battles. The plot gives a reasonable framework to deliver the fights, and though most take place in grassy fields, there is enough variety in the action to keep the audience's attention. The ending is sudden (as is often the case in old-school kung fu films), and the climactic fight between the two leads (along with the lady-friend, played well by Doris Lung) doesn't stack up to some of the earlier fights, but there's enough here for an easy recommendation.

Not a classic by any stretch of the imagination, but a solid kung-fu entry. And it has a dwarf.