Saturday, October 17, 2020

Possessor (2020)


Director: Brandon Cronenberg

Notable Cast: Andrea Riseborough, Christopher Abbott, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Rossif Sutherland, Tuppence Middleton, Sean Bean

 

When Brandon Cronenberg exploded on the scene with his debut feature-length film, Antiviral, he firmly launched a bright red flare into the night sky. I am here. The Cronenberg name is in good hands. However, the length of time between that film and his latest, Possessor, stated something else. Perhaps the strength of that debut was a fluke? Now that Possessor has found a small, but dedicated theatrical release through Neon and Well Go USA, it becomes apparent that the time between films was worth it. Possessor is an incredible piece of in-depth, harrowing cinema. It’s a film where the intensity of its atmosphere is only matched by its bursts of abrasive violence and stark visuals. Brandon Cronenberg has delivered a modern horror film that matches some of the best work of his father, a true high-water mark, and Possessor is truly a statement film.

 

Sunday, October 11, 2020

Fantastic Fest 2020: Bloodthirsty (2020)


Director: Amelia Moses

Notable Cast: Lauren Beatty, Greg Bryk, Katharine King So, Michael Ironside

 

Well, it took a bit longer than expected, but now we have it. Werewolf films are, at least in the opinion of this reviewer, something of a repetitive subgenre. When the execution is there, the films can be a wonderful use of metaphor or representation for social and character-driven elements, but the overall repeated focus of lycanthropy as a physical manifestation of an interior force gets a bit tiresome after a while. When it’s good, boy howdy, is it good, but too often films in the genre are all bark and very little bite. Yet, this is the perfect time in horror cinema to partner the werewolf transformation with character-driven artistry. Bloodthirsty has no qualms in bounding right into it. Fortunately, the execution of the film is remarkably strong with plenty of atmosphere to choke on and the focus on characters makes for an effective watch. It’s a slow film though and its minimal approach to its werewolf elements skirts around delivering on some of its promises. Still, Bloodthirsty is the perfect film for the atmosphere and art driven focus of the current scene.

 

Wednesday, October 7, 2020

Mile High Horror Film Festival 2020: The Cleansing Hour (2020)


Director: Damien LaVeck

Notable Cast: Ryan Guzman, Kyle Gallner, Alix Angelis, Chris Lew Kum Hoi, Daniel Hoffman-Gill, Emma Holzer

 

Since the release of The Exorcist, the number of exorcism films released has been astounding. The waves of popularity in the genre comes and goes with the tides, but often it’s just a retread of the same concepts, plots, characters, and ideas. Occasionally there are some intriguing slants to the proceedings, such as the weird South Korean exorcism meets Blade hybrid Divine Fury or strong execution to carry it like The Last Exorcism, but often times its simply an exorcise in exorcism that goes through motions. Then, of course, there’s The Cleansing Hour. It’s oddly a film with a meta-layered commentary about the redundancy and familiarity of the tropes where it feeds into its own formula with such an energetic and poppy manner that it comes off as, dare I say, charming. It’s often very familiar, but its strength comes from the chemistry of its characters along with a somewhat scathing observation about the nature of modern streaming entertainment. It’s a highly entertaining ‘demon fucks with people dumb enough to fuck with demons’ flick and it knows to play up the gimmicks with a sly smile even while working through the main points.

 

Tuesday, October 6, 2020

Jiang Ziya (2020)


Directors: Teng Cheng, Wei Li

Notable Cast: Zheng Xi, Yang Ning, Tute Hameng, Yan Meme, Hi Guanlin, Shan Xin

 

After the immense success of Ne Zha for Beijing Enlight Pictures, the studio was quick to unveil their follow up film, one in the same ‘cinematic universe,’ Jiang Ziya. In fact, the studio must have been so confident in the success of Ne Zha that this second film was meant to be unleashed only 7 months after its predecessor. Unfortunately, there was a, uh, pandemic that occurred, and Jiang Ziya’s February release was pushed back until October 1st for theaters. On the plus side of that, it’s completely and utterly worth the wait. Jiang Ziya is easily one of the best films of the year. Incredible animation imbues a challenging fantasy epic, beating with a heart of gold and told in such a gorgeous manner that I couldn't help but be completely encapsulated in its tale of redemption, deception, and defiance. This Fengshen Cinematic Universe might be one of the cornerstones of animation right now and this film, in particular, cements Beijing Enlight as one of the major players in quality cinema.

 

Monday, October 5, 2020

Mile High Horror Film Festival: Alone (2020)


Director: John Hyams

Notable Cast: Jules Willcox, Marc Menchaca, Anthony Heald

 

As a big fan of John Hyams, particularly after the incredibly underrated Universal Soldier films he crafted to reinvent the franchise as dark, philosophical, ultra-violent works of existential debates, the fact that he would tackle a survival thriller-horror had me all atwitter. With Alone, he strips down the genre to its bare minimum and then perfects it, hammering home the core emotional state of the situation rather than trying to slyly inject an asinine angle on it. Only in the hands of a talented cast with a viscerally subtle director could Alone work as well as it does, but Hyams brings together in an impactful manner that makes it one of the best films of the year.

 

Saturday, October 3, 2020

Mile High Horror Film Festival 2020: Unearth (2020)


Directors: John C. Lyons, Dorota Swies

Notable Cast: Allison McAtee, Adrienne Barbeau, Marc Blucas, Brooke Sorenson, Rachel McKeon, PJ Marshall, Monica Wyche, Chad Conley

 

One of the big US premieres of Mile High Horror Film Festival, Unearth is aimed to make some indie horror waves in the community. Following in the steps of one of the popular movements in horror currently, which happens to be the slow burn and atmospheric horror that is often (and irritatingly) referred to as ‘elevated horror,’ there is a sense of message and purpose to the film that ought to ring strongly with those who align with this style. While there is not a lot of information or marketing out for the film at this point, making my usual analysis of the context in this opening paragraph a bit moot, keep the sense of artistic approach that directors Lyons and Swies use in mind as the industry preps to back the film for a bigger release in the future. Unearth is a film dripping with intriguing layers, naturalistic characters, and a wild last 20 minutes that ought to have Lovecraftian fans’ ears burning. On the other hand, it’s also one that takes its sweet, sweet time establishing the characters, plot, and stakes to get there – doubling down on the SLOW in slow burn.

 

FANTASTIC FEST 2020: Queen of Black Magic (2020)


Director: Kimo Stamboel

Notable Cast: Hannah Al Rashid, Ario Bayu, Adhisty Zara, Muzakki Ramdhan, Ari Irham, Ade Firman Hakim, Sheila Dara Aisha, Tanta Ginting, Miller Khan, Imelda Therinne, Salvita Decorte, Giulio Parengkuan, Shenina Cinnamon, Yayu A.W. Unru, Ruth Marini

 

When they announced that Kimo Stamboel’s solo directorial effort, Queen of Black Magic, would be one of the films I had the opportunity to watch at the virtual Fantastic Fest this year, my heart skipped a beat. Quite frankly, it was probably the film I was most eager to see. A loose remake of the 1981 bonkers horror classic, the combination of one of the Mo Brothers and writer (and fantastic director in his own right) Joko Anwar was easily a lethal combination that warrants excitement. To put it bluntly, Queen of Black Magic lives up to the expectations. It’s a raucous cinematic experience, powered by a potent balance of atmospheric tension, gag worthy gore, and effective bent narrative storytelling. For fans of either Kimo’s work, solo or with the Mo Brothers, or Joko Anwar, then Queen of Black Magic cannot be recommended enough.

 

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Mile High Horror Film Festival 2020: Slaxx (2020)


Director: Elza Kephart

Notable Cast: Romane Denis, Brett Donahue, Sehar Bhojani, Kenny Wong, Tianna Nori, Erica Anderson, Stephen Bogaert, Jonathan Emond

 

“Small price to pay for an awesome ass.”

 

Having worked as a retail manager for a decade or so, there was immediately an intriguing humorous element to the concept of Slaxx that caught my attention. If you have ever worked in the retail world, why wouldn’t you want to see a horror comedy that satirizes the overwhelming consumerist nature of modern society? I fuckin’ did. This is where Slaxx fits. It’s a low-budget Canadian horror comedy brimming with awkward humor, bursts of gore, and plenty of social commentary for those looking to consume a film of this nature. It’s sharp when it wants to be, charming throughout, and just strange enough in some of its choices to remain memorable beyond the credits.

 

It’s no secret to anyone that follows Blood Brothers that horror comedies are, to put it lightly, not my favorite. Satire, on the other hand, is one of the kinds of comedy that does perk my ears which is what initially drew me to Slaxx. Telling the story of a young woman, Libby, she is the new hire brought on board to complete a floor set for a big brand name clothing company. The problem is that their new line up of jeans just might be bloodthirsty living creatures out to devour the staff. Can the quirky people that work in the store survive the night?

 

Monday, September 28, 2020

Mile High Horror Film Festival 2020: Don't Click (2020)


Director: G-Hey Kim

Notable Cast: Valter Skarsgard, Mark Koufos, Catherine Howard, May Grehan, Samantha Hart, Ry Barrett

 

There is a sense of discovery to watching films at a film festival. Perhaps films that have not been seen before or ones that have completely flown under the radar for the majority of film watchers. Unless you work for one of the major news outlets, more than likely there is going to be a handful of intriguing discoveries made while attending a film festival. Mile High Horror Film Festival is no different. It’s been a handful of years since I had the pleasure of attending this one and while 2020 has certainly made it a wholly unique virtual experience, once again it’s a place to find unique films. Don’t Click is the first of such films. While the film occasionally suffers from its limited budget and other hit or miss elements, it’s also a film that takes a wild swing in trying to combine a plethora of lofty ideas while simultaneously injecting a bit of social commentary into the mix. It’s an intriguing combination that proves to be the perfect kind of film festival discovery.

 

Sunday, September 27, 2020

Fantastic Fest 2020: Action U.S.A. (1989)


Director: John Stewart

Notable Cast: Barri Murphy, Gregory Scott Cummins, William Hubbard Knight, William Smith, Cameron Mitchell, Ross Hagen, Hoke Howell

 

Although I have yet to actually attend a Fantastic Fest in person, I will admit that being able to see some of the films from this iconic film festival from the comfort of my home has been kind of nice. Don’t misunderstand that statement, I am a huge theatrical release supporter and once we get to a point in the pandemic that I feel it is safe for myself and others to go back to festivals I will be there in a heartbeat, but for the time being the ‘virtual festival’ is kind of convenient in regards to seeing the movies. Being able to partake in my first ‘Secret Screening’ at Fantastic Fest 2020 is still fun and the fact that they chose to showcase a new 4K restoration of the relatively unheard and lost action film, Action U.S.A., only deserves a round of applause. While the film will certainly play gangbusters with a crowd, even with a movie audience of 1 (and a couple of choice adult beverages) Action U.S.A. is a damn riot.

 

Black Test Car (1962) / The Black Report (1963)


There are quite a few directors that I’ve always wanted to dig into, but between lack of availability to their films, money, and time, I have yet to really work my way through their filmography. Yasuzo Masumura is absolutely one of those directors. A wild and very diversified filmography makes him a fascinating artist, but most of his material has yet to receive proper releases. Perhaps that will end soon. With a slick duel release of his films, Black Test Car and The Black Report, Arrow Video is making a claim to continue their daunting task of hunting down the great and often forgotten cuts of cult Japanese cinema. Both films come in the same package with the Arrow Blu Ray, so for the sake of consistency with the release, both films will be discussed here as the fantastic double feature it is. They also represent two films in the Daiei ‘Black series’ and perhaps there is hope that Arrow has the rights to the rest of the 11 films in that series. Nonetheless, let’s discuss the two films from this latest release.

 

Saturday, September 26, 2020

Random Acts of Violence (2020)


Director: Jay Baruchel

Notable Cast: Jesse Williams, Jordana Brewster, Jay Baruchel, Niamh Wilson, Simon Northwood

 

The boom of comedian type actors, writers, and filmmakers making the leap into horror lately is fascinating. Not that the change-up of genre is shocking, in so many ways comedy and horror have an incredible number of elements in common, but that’s more or less for a fully separate discussion. What makes it fascinating is that the industry is not only making the connections between the two, but it – in some regards – is fully embracing it. Between the rise of Jordan Peele as one of the faces of modern horror to the combination of David Gordon Green and Danny McBride on Halloween ’18, the combination has proven to be successful in quality and in the box office.

 

Perhaps this is why it was a bit shocking to see Jay Baruchel’s sophomore effort not garner more attention. Random Acts of Violence, also written by the long time Seth Rogan gang collaborator, sees the actor/writer/director strut into the slasher genre with a modern sense of style in spades. Telling the story of a comic book author Todd (Jesse Williams) who is struggling to write the last chapter of his slasher comic Slasherman, he takes his boo, his manager, and an intern on the road to promote the comic while desperately trying to come up with an ending to the series. When a real slasher killer, the inspiration for the comic, starts to follow them on the road and recreating the kills from the comic, the group and Todd will have to reckon with reality, fiction, and how the two eventual collide in bloody ways.

 

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

The Honeymoon Phase (2020)


Directed by: Phillip G. Carroll, Jr

Notable cast: François Chau, Tara Westwood, Chloe Carroll, Jim Schubin

 

Why is it we are so happy early in a relationship, and why doesn’t feeling last? That’s the question that starts The Honeymoon Phase, and although it doesn’t necessarily persist through the film thematically, it does stand as an interesting launching point for a slow burn sci-fi thriller. There is a persistent, uneasy feeling throughout the movie making it clear there is more beneath the surface, though the film is mostly careful and glacial with revelations, the threatening aura feels laid bare early.

 

Tom and Eve (Jim Schubin and Chloe Carroll) are a young couple going through some financial difficulties, especially since Tom is a writer with a years-long case of writer’s block. Eve discovers a study offering fifty thousand dollars to newlyweds to stay in a home together for thirty days. Seeming simple enough, they decide to pretend to be married for the money. Everything seems to be going along well early, save a bit of uncharacteristic aggressive passion from Tom, until one-night Eve sees Julie, another test subject she met earlier, frantically pounding at her door begging to be rescued from her husband. The door won’t open and Eve is forced to watch as Julie’s husband attacks her and drags away the body. Even worse, no one believes that it happened. Even the security footage betrays Eve as she begins to think that maybe she’s under threat as well.

 

Saturday, September 19, 2020

Unhinged (2020)

Directed by: Derrick Borte

Notable cast: Russell Crowe, Caren Pistorius, Jimmi Simpson, Gabriel Bateman

 

There is a tendency in film where disaffected men forgotten by society rebel and make some grand statement that boils down to “I am here,” usually while spouting some sort of nihilist street philosophy. Some of our greatest films are in this mold, from Scorsese classics Taxi Driver and The Last King Of Comedy, to their strange love child Joker and everything in between, this is a reasonably well-tread trail. It’s not a bad thing, but the tendency towards making these disaffected men the protagonist created a certain personality of moviegoer that has had the effect of changing these characters into cultural heroes instead of the portrayal of tragedy that they’re supposed to be. More simply? Tyler Durden is a bad guy. Plain and simple. He’s a domestic terrorist and an emotionally manipulative sociopath. To say nothing of the aforementioned Joker. Both enjoy a weird cultural hero status that’s always sat weirdly with me. I think it’s the protagonist that’s the issue in this case, in the sense that these character studies tend to follow the character being studied. Unhinged takes a different and exciting angle with that character type by shifting the focus to the victim of insane, unhealthy rage.

 

Sunday, September 13, 2020

Peninsula (2020)


Director: Yeon Sang-ho

Notable Cast: Gang Dong-won, Lee Jung-hyun, Lee Re, Kwon Hae-hyo, Kim Min-jae, Koo Kyo-hwan, Kim Do-yoon, Lee Ye-won, Jang So-yeon, Moon Woo-jin

 

In 2016, South Korea fired one hell of a shot into the arm of zombie cinema. That shot was Yeon Sang-ho’s horror with heart film, Train to Busan. A loose sequel to his animated zombie flick, Seoul Station, Train to Busan came out with a bang. Immediately it was making lists for best zombie films, best modern horror films, and best films PERIOD for the year and the decade. I was a big fan myself and its international success only laid the groundwork to spawn a sequel. Fast forward to four years later and the follow-up, also directed by Yeon Sang-ho, has now been unleashed in theaters. Peninsula, or as it has been stylized for the US release Train to Busan Presents: Peninsula which I refuse to use as its title, is quite the fascinating next chapter of this series. It’s a high-octane shotgun blast of an action flick with a loose heist narrative based in the world of Train to Busan and, while mileage may vary for audiences going in, it never, ever, ever ceases to entertain.  

 

Monday, September 7, 2020

Gamera: The Complete Collection (2020) [Gamera: Guardian of the Universe, Gamera 2: Attack of Legion, Gamera 3: Revenge of Iris, Gamera the Brave]

Growing up in a Godzilla household, there was always the mindset that Gamera was just a Big G knock off. The flying, fire eating turtle certainly came out in the wake of Godzilla stomping through the Japanese box office, but for much of the Western cult film fans Gamera was seen as a joke. Godzilla’s first film received a Criterion release, but Gamera’s first film was mostly known because of Mystery Science Theater 3000. Yet, just in my lifetime, there has been a resurgence in viewing Gamera as its own merits and as a series with its own themes and tropes. There was certainly help from the strength of the 90s reboot trilogy, but even the original run has had a revitalization worthy of revisiting.

To give even more power to this reclamation of everyone’s favorite jetpack kaiju, Arrow Video has amassed a massive new collection of all 12 of Gamera’s films. With the original run of 8 films, the 90s trilogy, and the final film – Gamera the Brave from 2006, this collection features them all. This series of reviews for the set will go briefly through each entry and then recap at the end thoughts and opinions on the set itself. Considering the number of films included, this series of articles will definitely be as massive as Gamera but will serve as a guide to all the films.

Horrible Imaginings Film Festival: The Return (2020)


Directed by: BJ Verot

Notable cast: Richard Harmon, Echo Porisky, Marina Stephenson, Sara Thompson


Haunted house movies are one of the, if not the, oldest and most venerated sub-genres in the entirety of horror. From The Amityville Horror to Poltergeist, House On Haunted Hill to Paranormal Activity and everywhere in between. The hardest part of one of these movies at this point is doing anything even remotely interesting with them. The trouble with being the original effects genre is that you literally have to reinvent the wheel over and over again in order for it to be effective. Or, more simply, when you see someone looking in a bathroom mirror, you know the next beat is going to be some horrid specter staring out of the mirror as soon as the room vacates. Some of these scares are so completely ubiquitous you can see some variation at the haunted house your neighbor down the block throws together every year. It’s the reason The Return comes as such a pleasant surprise. It feels like a legitimately fresh take and marks an exceptionally auspicious feature film debut for Canadian director BJ Verot.

 

Sunday, September 6, 2020

Horrible Imaginings Film Festival: Luz: the Flower of Evil (2020)


Directed by: Juan Diego Escobar Alzate

Notable cast: Conrado Osorio, Andrea Esquival, Yuri Vargas, Sharon Guzman

 

There is a dreamlike quality to Luz: The Flower of Evil that many films aspire to and never quite achieve. In the effortless fashion of a David Lynch or Jodorowsky, Luz creates a world with internal, consistent logic that is both horribly familiar and terrifyingly alien. Every frame of it looks like an oil painting, like a sort of perverse lost Norman Rockwell “Hidden Columbian Religious Cult” collection. It’s almost hard to even call Luz a horror movie in a modern sense of the term, as it owes more to something like the original Wicker Man or The Holy Mountain than anything even close to a slasher movie. It means that it evokes a different kind of horror, something existential.

 

Friday, September 4, 2020

Horrible Imaginings Film Festival: Dead (2020)


Directed by: Hayden J Weal

Notable cast: Tom Sainsbury, Hayden J Weal, Jennifer Ward-Leland

 

Horror and comedy work well together because of a similar sense of pace and revelation. A dependence on surprise. They, whoever “they” are, even say that laughter is actually a type of expression of fear, our minds reacting to unexpected stimulation. A common route is the inherent violence of slapstick or an extreme childish humor, an effort to offset what’s happening on screen. New Zealand horror comedy Dead goes a different way, with light, character-based and situational comedy. It’s a refreshing mood and an interesting take on the otherwise fairly well-tread territory.

 

Marbles (writer Tom Sainsbury) is a low energy stoner making ends meet as a spirit medium, helping people’s loved ones communicate any final messages and pass on. This is presented immediately and factually, as Marbles takes a mysterious injection that grants the ability, and the film admirably wastes no time on any kind of dull subplot doubting his power. After one such session, he finds himself stalked by the ghost of an uptight cop, Tagg (Director Hayden J Weal, Love And Time Travel) who demands Marbles solve his murder, the seventh in a serial murder spree. After Marbles’ mother indicates she’s selling the house he grew up in, a home with memories tied to his recently departed father, he decides to help Tagg in hopes of reward, enough to buy his home outright.

 

Thursday, September 3, 2020

Red Peony Gambler 7: Here to Kill You (1971)


Director: Tai Kato

Notable Cast: Junko Fuji, Koji Tsuruta

 

As we reach the final stretch in reviewing the films in the main Red Peony Gambler series, it’s fascinating to see how each entry takes the basic formula, themes, and characters and then adds just enough individualistic pizzazz to set them apart from one another. Even if I was binge-watching them all in a row, there is a sense that many of the entries would pop due to these small and often unique tones. With that in mind and the general roller coaster ride that goes with the quality of the films (most are solid with just nuanced shifts of effectiveness to their storytelling,) the seventh entry of the series, Red Peony Gambler 7: Here to Kill You, is a shockingly impressive entry. The story is impressively relevant to this day, there are plenty of key sequences to appreciate, and there is an emotional journey in Oryu’s story that makes it one of the more poignant entries. It’s not without its flaws, but for fans, this one easily stands out as one of the franchises best.

 

Wednesday, September 2, 2020

Horrible Imaginings Film Festival: The Brain That Wouldn't Die (2020)


Directed by: Derek Carl

Notable Cast: Rachael Perrell Fosket, Patrick D. Green, David Withers, Robert Blanche

 

Remakes are a tricky business at the best of times. You have to respect the original material, and try to put a spin on it to justify retreading the territory. That second part is more vital than it may appear on the surface, and luckily we have Gus Van Sant’s Psycho as shorthand that spares further explanation. The genre of the fifties and sixties sci-fi horror has been a fertile ground for remakes with its combination of earnest (if over the top) acting, high concept (if silly) stories, and low budget cheesy special effects. The Brain That Wouldn’t Die was certainly ripe for a new take, and freshman director Derek Carl puts his passion for the original on display in a satire on the era that maintains the existential dread Inherent to the concept.

 

Monday, August 31, 2020

The New Mutants (2020)


Directed by: Josh Boone

Notable cast: Maisie Williams, Anya Taylor-Joy, Alice Braga, Charlie Heaton

 

The New Mutants is one of those movies that people thought was cursed. Not in the sense of Poltergeist, but in the “finished but maybe never released” sense. The House Of 1000 Corpses, John Dies At The End, Roger Forman’s Fantastic Four kind of way. Two of those three came out eventually, and as of this week, it’s three out of four. A troubled production, reshoots far after principal photography, and the Disney buyout of Fox were all major factors at play here. None of this has any particular ultimate bearing on the quality of the movie. But any reviewer would be remiss not to mention it. That combined with the roller coaster flying off the rails feeling that is the year 2020 makes this movie a wild release. A theatrical only release when some major markets still aren’t allowing open theaters? (Full disclosure, I live in one such market, and saw this film at a drive-in). But how does it stack up as an adaptation of a beloved series, and more simply as a movie?

 

Saturday, August 29, 2020

Black Rainbow (1989)


Director: Mike Hodges

Notable Cast: Rosanna Arquette, Jason Robards, Tom Hulce, Mark Joy, Ron Rosenthal

 

“We steal if we touch tomorrow. It’s God’s.”

 

Quite frankly, when Arrow Video announced that they would be releasing a new Blu Ray release of Black Rainbow, I had very little expectations. Arrow has recently been tipping their hat in the direction of the slightly supernatural dramatic thriller, in particular, their release of Apprentice to Murder works as a perfect double feature with this one, and it’s something of a lost genre that deserves a bit more attention. Black Rainbow is a film that ably slides through the various elements of genre, delivering on just enough dramatic heft, thematic commentary, character study elements, and an assassination plot to be a thoroughly enjoyable film with just enough layers to mark its audience. It’s never a film that defines itself as the most stylish or most intense, but it’s subtlety in its depths and strength in its small moments make it an overlooked diamond film from the late 80s.

 

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Zombie for Sale (2020)


Director: Lee Min-jae

Notable Cast: Jung Jae-young, Kim Nam-gil, Uhm Ji-won, Lee Soo-kyung, Jung Ga-ram, Park In-hwan, Shin Jung-geun, Oh Eui-shik, Goo Bon-woong

Also Known As: The Odd Family: Zombie for Sale

 

Now that South Korea has solidified themselves as a place that delivers some fantastic zombie films, including the recently released Peninsula which is raking in some serious dough at the foreign box office, it only makes sense that a western distribution company would grab a zombie comedy (zom com) to capitalize on the boom. The subject for this review is Zombie for Sale and the distribution company in question would be Arrow Video. Now, as a preface to this review, I should mention that I am not the biggest fan of comedies, nor am I the biggest fan of zombie films. Thus, a zom com is not the kind of cinematic experience that I necessarily look forward to. Just go look at my review for Yummy from a couple of months ago. Yet, as soon as Zombie for Sale started marching through its familial caricatures, silly set up, and eventual eruption into zombie chaos, the film revealed itself as fully engaged with its material and charm oozing out of most sequences.

 

Through the charming execution of its broadly painted concept, Zombie for Sale is able to navigate so many of the usual tropes and pitfalls of the genre-bending style. The film is firmly rooted in its comedy first, a tactic that allows the story and narrative, about a questionably shady family who stumble onto a zombie wandering around their small town, to establish its characters and quirky setting. While the initial zombie appears immediately in the narrative and plot, the manner that he stumbles around, being chased by a dog for a large portion of the opening sequences, or haphazardly trying to kill people with little success, is fully played for comedic bits. The tactic works though since the cast and crew seem fully dedicated to selling the tensely humorous relationships for the family and the little world that they live in. Highlights of this portion of the film, prior to their discovery and attempts to capitalize on their newfound zombie and his powers, is all through their banter and interaction. Right down to how the film has one character explain zombies to his father by having him watch clips from another South Korean zombie flick, Train to Busan.




The horror of the film rarely rears its head until the final act, when the full out zombie apocalypse starts to spread, and even then the film is more focused on the dramatic impact of the family trying to survive and find a way out than it does on the horror set-pieces. There are some entertaining moments to the rising action of the film, but horror fans will probably not find a ton to love as the film focuses on its other genres. When it is aiming for horror and tension, it’s mostly the zombie basics of being swarmed and the potential of being devoured. Due to its strong direction, some great cinematography, and entertaining performances, Zombie for Sale gets away with far more than it should have in these regards. It's notable though that the comedy comes first, second, third, and the horror comes fourth. It's not inherently a terrible choice, particularly since the comedy and performances carry so much weight, but it's something to be aware of for people walking into this film for the first time. 

 

As with so many of Arrow’s releases, Zombie for Sale is a fairly stacked release in terms of features. The full list is below and for anyone interested in South Korean cinema, zombies, or comedies, then this release comes highly recommended. The most valuable feature I found was the fun video essay by Pierce Conran for his analysis on satire in South Korean cinema which adds a glorious layer to the film for multiple rewatches.

 

Ultimately, Zombie for Sale is a film utterly powered by charm and strong execution of its silliness and social commentary while using the zombie formula to explore its themes and ideas. There is very little true horror to the viewing experience which is something to note for fans looking for that perfectly balanced zom com, but it’s not a deal-breaker thanks to its strong sense of visual punch, entertaining set pieces, and relentlessly firing banter and jokes. Truthfully, while not a perfect film, Zombie for Sale is the best zombie comedy since Shaun of the Dead, just for the sheer energetic outpour of its style, tone, and delivery. It’s highly recommended.

 


ARROW VIDEO FEATURES: 

High-Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation

Original uncompressed Stereo and 5.1 DTS-HD MA options

Newly-translated English subtitles

Brand new audio commentary with filmmakers and critics Sam Ashurst and Dan Martin

Q&A with director Lee Min-jae from a 2019 screening at Asian Pop-Up Cinema in Chicago, moderated by film critic and author Darcy Paquet

Eat Together, Kill Together: The Family-in-Peril Comedy - brand new video essay by critic and producer Pierce Conran exploring Korea's unique social satires

Making-Of Featurette

Behind-the-Scenes footage

Original Trailer

Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly-commissioned artwork by Mike Lee-Graham

FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Collector's booklet featuring new writing by Josh Hurtado



Written By Matt Reifschneider

Thursday, August 20, 2020

Gamera: The Complete Collection (2020) [Gamera Vs Jiger, Gamera Vs Zigra, Gamera: Super Monster]

Growing up in a Godzilla household, there was always the mindset that Gamera was just a Big G knock off. The flying, fire eating turtle certainly came out in the wake of Godzilla stomping through the Japanese box office, but for much of the Western cult film fans Gamera was seen as a joke. Godzilla’s first film received a Criterion release, but Gamera’s first film was mostly known because of Mystery Science Theater 3000. Yet, just in my life time, there has been a resurgence in viewing Gamera as its own merits and as a series with its own themes and tropes. There was certainly help from the strength of the 90s reboot trilogy, but even the original run has had a revitalization worthy of revisiting.

 

To give even more power to this reclamation of everyone’s favorite jetpack kaiju, Arrow Video has amassed a massive new collection of all 12 of Gamera’s films. With the original run of 8 films, the 90s trilogy, and the final film – Gamera the Brave from 2006, this collection features them all. This series of reviews for the set will go briefly through each entry and then recap at the end thoughts and opinions on the set itself. Considering the amount of films included, this series of articles will definitely be as massive as Gamera, but will serve as a guide to all the films.

 

Relic (2020)

Directed by: Natalie Erika James

Notable cast: Emily Mortimer, Robyn Nevin, Bella Heathcote. Jeremy Stanford

 

I've said before, both briefly in writing and many times broadly in my life, that the reason I love horror as a genre more than any other is that it's the only genre that can tell any kind of story. This is for a few reasons, it and comedy share pacing concepts, and it shares drama's allegorical abilities. It shares action's spectacle and still brings a flavor uniquely its own. It's why the genre ranges from titles like Gingerdead Man to The Silence Of The Lambs. I have always felt, however, that it's greatest strength narratively (there are psychological benefits to enjoying horror as well, as it's a safe space to explore the darker emotions of life) is that of metaphor. By exploring the horror that's generally popular at any given time you can see what society at large was afraid of. Relic uses horror as a lens to explore some of the most fundamental fears that exist, and I think that feat alone makes it worth viewing.

 

Blood Machines (2020)

Directed by Seth Ickerman

Notable cast: Elisa Lasowski, Anders Heinrichsen, Christian Erickson, Joëlle Berckmans

 

It would be both easy, and understandable, to want to call Blood Machines surreal, to say that's it's an experiment of style over substance. I don't even think you could call someone wrong for saying so, although I don't agree. For one, the plot is firmly rooted and consistent with its lore. Admittedly, it's exceptionally dense lore with no entry point, no exposition, only what you infer from itself and its predecessor (we'll touch on that momentarily), and what you osmose from official sources and a little bit online. In a way that would make it more in line with something like Primer, though not as pretentious or narratively satisfying. More emotionally so perhaps.

 

Monday, August 17, 2020

Bloodstone (1988)

 Director: Dwight H. Little

Notable Cast: Brett Stimely, Rajinikanth, Anna Nicholas, Charlie Brill, Jack Kehler, Christopher Neame

 

For those of you that grew up in the home video boom of the 1980s and early 1990s, there are going to be a handful of films that have a nostalgic power that trumps the actual quality of the film. For many, it’s films of their childhood or ones with strong memories attached to them. Sometimes it’s one moment, perhaps a man with a silly voice saying “The Bloodstone, please.” Perhaps that last example is more personal for me than a general one for the masses, but it’s the reason that Bloodstone always stuck with me. When the opportunity to revisit this childhood memory came about, thanks to a new Blu Ray release from Arrow Video, I was happy to leap into Bloodstone and see if it could live up to the fun feelings and brilliant cover artwork of my memories.

 

Memories can be tricky, huh?

 

Monday, August 3, 2020

Gamera: The Complete Collection (2020) [Gamera Vs Viras, Gamera Vs Guiron]

Growing up in a Godzilla household, there was always the mindset that Gamera was just a Big G knock off. The flying, fire eating turtle certainly came out in the wake of Godzilla stomping through the Japanese box office, but for much of the Western cult film fans Gamera was seen as a joke. Godzilla’s first film received a Criterion release, but Gamera’s first film was mostly known because of Mystery Science Theater 3000. Yet, just in my life time, there has been a resurgence in viewing Gamera as its own merits and as a series with its own themes and tropes. There was certainly help from the strength of the 90s reboot trilogy, but even the original run has had a revitalization worthy of revisiting.

 

To give even more power to this reclamation of everyone’s favorite jetpack kaiju, Arrow Video has amassed a massive new collection of all 12 of Gamera’s films. With the original run of 8 films, the 90s trilogy, and the final film – Gamera the Brave from 2006, this collection features them all. This series of reviews for the set will go briefly through each entry and then recap at the end thoughts and opinions on the set itself. Considering the amount of films included, this series of articles will definitely be as massive as Gamera, but will serve as a guide to all the films.

 

Saturday, August 1, 2020

The Wind (1986)

Director: Nico Masterokis

Notable Cast: Meg Foster, Wings Hauser, David McCallum, Robert Morley, Steve Railsback


Now, it may come as a surprise to no one – particularly those who have followed Blood Brothers for a while, but I am not one of Nico Masterokis’ biggest fans. The cult Greek director has his merits as an entertaining one, grasping onto whatever trend is currently popular and delivering his own brand of knock off, but for this reviewer that’s mostly what he delivers – knock offs. This isn’t necessarily such a bad trait, although I will never sing the praises of Island of Death as long as I live, and it can produce some interesting films. The Wind, for example, is one of those movies. A strange mixture of European thriller and American stalk and slash, this little horror flick delivers on a variety of moments. While the ultimate result is perhaps a bit too tame for either parts of its concoction, the mixture is intriguing enough that cult fans should certainly dig up this one. The Wind doesn’t blow nearly as hard as it might have.

 

Legacy of Lies (2020)

Director: Adrian Bol

Notable Cast: Scott Adkins, Honor Kneafsey, Andrea Vasiliou, Yuliia Sobol, Anna Butkevich, Martin McDougall

 

Well, say what you will about 2020, but it has not stopped the massive run of films that Scott Adkins is having in the last handful of years. With only a handful of misses in the run, Adkins continues to impress and his latest, Legacy of Lies. A multi-national film, although the Ukrainian and Easter European influence can most certainly be felt in the tone and use of its setting, there is a sense of seriousness and darker atmosphere that makes it a perfect counterbalance to Adkins’ other action highlight of the year, Debt Collectors. Legacy of Lies pulls heavily from the modern meets old school tonality that has become its own style in the 00s, but the combination of some sharp direction, great characters, and Adkins’ impactful screen presence makes it one of the highlights of a rather dismal year in action cinema.

 

An ex-MI6 agent, Martin (Adkisn) finds himself caught between American and Russian agents when an old case, one that left him and his daughter widowed comes back to life. With his daughter (Kneafsey) is kidnapped, he will have to team up with a shadow of his past (Sobol) to unravel the missing threads.

 

Thursday, July 30, 2020

Gamera: The Complete Collection (2020) [Gamera Vs Barugon, Gamera Vs Gyaos]

Growing up in a Godzilla household, there was always the mindset that Gamera was just a Big G knock off. The flying, fire eating turtle certainly came out in the wake of Godzilla stomping through the Japanese box office, but for much of the Western cult film fans Gamera was seen as a joke. Godzilla’s first film received a Criterion release, but Gamera’s first film was mostly known because of Mystery Science Theater 3000. Yet, just in my lifetime, there has been a resurgence in viewing Gamera as its own merits and as a series with its own themes and tropes. There was certainly help from the strength of the 90s reboot trilogy, but even the original run has had a revitalization worthy of revisiting.

 

To give even more power to this reclamation of everyone’s favorite jetpack kaiju, Arrow Video has amassed a massive new collection of all 12 of Gamera’s films. With the original run of 8 films, the 90s trilogy, and the final film – Gamera the Brave from 2006, this collection features them all. This series of reviews for the set will go briefly through each entry and then recap at the end thoughts and opinions on the set itself. Considering the number of films included, this series of articles will definitely be as massive as Gamera, but will serve as a guide to all the films.

 

Monday, July 27, 2020

Yummy (2020)


Director: Lars Damoiseaux
Notable Cast: Maaike Neuville, Bart Hollanders, Benjamin Ramon, Clara Cleymans, Annick Christiaens, Eric Godon, Joshua Rubin

When it comes to the (shiver) zom com, I’m a rather unforgiving critic of the genre. Comedies are rarely my thing and the zombie sub-genre is so played out at this time that, as I mentioned in my review for Blood Quantum, it’s something of a chore for me to jump into again and again. Yet, Shudder has been something of a wonderful well for finding exclusive material that is, even at its worst, intriguing. It’s the latter that eventually lead me into pressing play to stream the Belgian zom com Yummy to begin with. While the film certainly features some decent pieces to it that will appease fans of gore gags, goofy side characters, and insane setups, it’s also a film that rarely hits the heart of its narrative in a way that lifts it above the gags.

When a couple decides to go to a cheap clinic for a breast reduction surgery (with the wife’s mother tagging along for support,) they accidentally stumble into a facility that also happens to be testing drugs that reanimate the dead. When an accident unleashes a zombie into the facility, everything quickly dissolves into chaos and the couple, along with a handful of other survivors is tasked with escaping the complex.

Sunday, July 26, 2020

Gamera: The Complete Collection (2020) [Gamera, Gammera the Invincible]


Growing up in a Godzilla household, there was always the mindset that Gamera was just a Big G knock off. The flying, fire eating turtle certainly came out in the wake of Godzilla stomping through the Japanese box office, but for much of the Western cult film fans Gamera was seen as a joke. Godzilla’s first film received a Criterion release, but Gamera’s first film was mostly known because of Mystery Science Theater 3000. Yet, just in my lifetime, there has been a resurgence in viewing Gamera as its own merits and as a series with its own themes and tropes. There was certainly help from the strength of the 90s reboot trilogy, but even the original run has had a revitalization worthy of revisiting.

To give even more power to this reclamation of everyone’s favorite jetpack kaiju, Arrow Video has amassed a massive new collection of all 12 of Gamera’s films. With the original run of 8 films, the 90s trilogy, and the final film – Gamera the Brave from 2006, this collection features them all. This series of reviews for the set will go briefly through each entry and then recap at the end thoughts and opinions on the set itself. Considering the number of films included, this series of articles will definitely be as massive as Gamera but will serve as a guide to all the films.

Saturday, July 25, 2020

The Beach House (2020)


Director: Jeffrey A. Brown
Notable Cast: Liana Liberato, Noah Le Gros, Jake Weber, Maryann Nagel

As I mentioned in a previous review just a couple of months ago, but 2020 seems to be the perfect year to use horror films to work through the insecurities, fears, and emotions that a rapidly changing world has pressed onto society. Perhaps it's just this sense of impending doom that really makes The Beach House such an impactful watch. It doesn’t help that the film sincerely hits the atmosphere and many of the feelings that being thrust into a global pandemic inspires. Does this make it a film that works because 2020 is upon us? Timing is certainly part of it, but it’s also a film that is so inherently well made and executed that even without the parallels it would have been a devastating and suffocating cinematic experience.

A young couple, Emily and Randall, go to his father’s beach house to reconnect and hammer out the dents in their relationship. Unfortunately, another couple, one of his father’s friends, is already staying there for the weekend. The two couples decide to stay for a couple days together and just enjoy the company. Too bad it’s also on the night that something in the ocean is unleashed from inside the Earth.

Friday, July 17, 2020

Throw Down (2004)


Director: Johnnie To
Notable Cast: Louis Koo, Aaron Kwok, Cherrie Ying, Tony Leung Ka-Fai, Jordan Chan, Eddie Cheung, Calvin Choi

It’s always a good day at the Blood Brothers offices when there is a new Johnnie To Blu Ray release. It’s even better when it’s one of his often-forgotten films like Throw Down. The icing on the cake happens to be when it’s a Masters of Cinema release from Eureka. While Johnnie To remains one of my favorite directors, this genre shifty film from Hong Kong’s Godfather of the modern auteur is one that has not made it into my collection until this latest release. I was missing out. For all of you out there that have seen it before, I’m ashamed that you haven’t peer pressured me into seeking this film out before. Nonetheless, the sin has been forgiven, and Throw Down remains a true hidden gem in his filmography. Featuring an entire battalion of memorable performances, a bevy of fantastic set pieces, and a bold and fascinating salad of genres, this film is an artful and wholly entertaining cinematic experience that showcases all of the intriguing elements of a Johnnie To film in one package. 

When a young and hotheaded Judo fighter, played with an invigorated energy by Aaron Kwok, arrives at a small night lounge, he unwittingly finds himself embroiled in the strange life of a down and out Judo champion, Sze-to Bo, played by Louis Koo. The latter is in debt and a drunk, but the combination of this young fighter and a down and out singer, in a blissfully charming performance from Cherrie Ying, could give him the courage to find his way again. 

Monday, July 13, 2020

Enter the Fat Dragon (2020) [Blu Ray Review]


At one point, in early 2020, the new version of Enter the Fat Dragon looked to be one of the more exciting and intriguing releases of the year. Now that most of the theatrical system has been completely stripped of life, it may be one of the few releases that the US sees from the normally booming Chinese market. Still, it’s always a welcome addition to the collection when a Donnie Yen film hits Blu Ray and any fan of the actor will want to add this one to theirs.

While you can read my full review for the film HERE, the gist of it remains the same: Enter the Fat Dragon is a highly entertaining action comedy that blends modern effects with old school slapstick martial arts set-pieces. Granted, it’s a film that’s not for everyone as the comedy is very broad with plenty of pop culture references and outlandishly convoluted set ups, but the action is so blissfully fun that it powers through the more tentative narrative and character elements that can bog down the plot. It’s hardly a perfect film, but there is a lot of heart, humor, and high-flying kicks to keep most martial arts fans amused.

The latest Blu Ray release for the film, courtesy of our friends over at Well Go USA is a slick a fantastic addition to the collection. The film doesn’t have any special features outside of some trailers, but the fantastic picture and sound quality on the Blu – for a film with plenty of big visuals like its finale, it’s the best way to experience the film. If you don’t have a Blu Ray player, there is a DVD version available too.

Enter the Fat Dragon is out now from Well Go USA.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Sunday, July 12, 2020

Gundala (2020)


Director: Joko Anwar
Notable Cast: Abimana Aryasatya, Tara Basro, Bront Palarae, Ario Bayu, Lukman Sardi, Fariz Fadjar, Aqi Singgih

Not to make any mass assumptions, but I would venture to guess that a large swath of our readers here are like me, relatively unfamiliar with Indonesian comic book heroes like Gundala. This is not to say that there are not those who are very familiar with multi-decade spanning ‘Son of Lighting’ hero who can speak on length to the history, context, and commentary of the famous superhero, but it’s not me. My introduction to this hero is through this latest film incarnation, Gundala, and it’s essentially through the famous Indonesian director Joko Anwar that brought it to my attention. As a fair warning, I just wanted to make it clear that my knowledge of the character, his stories and his history is very basic and I will solely try to review this latest film on its own merits.

Although Gundala is not the first film version of the character, from my understanding there is one that was released in the early 80s, having a major director like Anwar and a major star like Abimana Aryasatya attached to this latest rendition only bodes well for the film. Some strong marketing, including a solid US trailer for the film, essentially puts the hero and this film firmly on the international stage. In an age where the superhero film rules all, it’s quite a fantastic idea to introduce an entire generation (internationally) to the character.

Thursday, July 9, 2020

Solid Metal Nightmares: The Films of Shinya Tsukamoto (2020)


When it was announced that Arrow Video was going to be releasing a box set of auteur director Shinya Tsukamoto films, it was incredibly hard to get the staff here at Blood Brothers to focus. Oddly enough, I was perhaps the one that was the least versed in the director and I was still ecstatic to leap into this set, titled Solid Metal Nightmares: The Films of Shinya Tsukamoto. The most daunting thing about the set was not burning our way through the ten films included with it, but trying to convey our thoughts on the immensity of this set. Thus, to cover all ten films and go over the actual release itself, we decided to divvy up the films. Ten films, three writers, one insane director. So, please, accept our apologies for the size of this article, but it was inevitable. This is a massive set to cover and we wanted to at least attempt to do it justice. Each film will feature its rating at the end of its section and then the box set rating will be at the very end.

Sunday, June 28, 2020

The Mad Fox (1962)

Director: Tomu Uchida
Notable Cast: Hashizo Okawa, Michiko Saga, Ryunsosuke Tsukigata

One of the best things that Arrow Video and their sister label Arrow Academy has done in the last few years is that they have really dug into classic Japanese cinema for release in the west. While Criterion certainly whets the whistle with their Akira Kurosawa releases and a few other key ones (notable for this review will be the Samurai Trilogy,) Arrow has picked up the pace and delivered iconic releases for both genuine classics and those of the cult variety. The Mad Fox represents a bit of both of those worlds. Directed by Tomu Uchida, a prolific director that is finally getting more of his films beyond the previously mentioned Samurai Trilogy released here, The Mad Fox is both a gorgeous classic medieval Japanese dramatic tale and one where the fantasy elements edge it further into genre territory than expected. While the film is certainly well executed in a variety of ways, it’s also one that has a rather intriguing and often baffling script that makes it uniquely odd. For those who want to dig into Uchida’s filmography or perhaps just watch a wild cinematic experience, The Mad Fox certainly delivers for both of those groups.

It should be mentioned at this time that, while I have seen my fair share of Japanese films, the romantic and fantastical dramas of the early 60s are very much not something I am well versed in and, thus, The Mad Fox is something of a punchy way to leap into it. For that reason, if you are in the same boat as myself – I cannot recommend this Blu Ray enough simply for Jasper Sharp’s commentary that truly helped me understand what film I just watched, why it makes some of the choices that it does, and why this film deserves some attention. Not that a film should require someone to guide its viewer through the entire thing, but for someone that is not well versed in the mythos, fantasy elements, or time period of The Mad Fox – it’s a must listen.

Saturday, June 20, 2020

Inferno of Torture (1969)


 Director: Teruo Ishii
Notable Cast: Yumiko Katayama, Teruo Yoshida, Asao Koike, Masumi Tachibana, Mieko Fujimoto, Haruo Tanaka

One of the beautiful aspects of director Teruo Ishii, the king of cult himself, is that he always rides this meticulous line between pure exploitation, bonkers film making, and thoughtful artistry. Each film leans in one direction over the other, but when it’s in balance the material can be astounding. Arrow Video has been rather dedicated to the auteur Japanese director in the last year or so, although one their first US releases was his insane Meiko Kaji fronted effort Blind Woman’s Curse, and with each release one gets a better sense of why he has the dedicated following that he does in filmland. While this latest release for his 1969 effort, Inferno of Torture, is definitely one that fans will want to add to their collection, it’s also one that struggles to find the previously mentioned balance in a way that is best for the story it’s telling. It’s ripe with his visual flair for bold design and it features a third act that’s blissfully intense, but it’s elongated setup and eye-rolling extensive exploitation sequences can be a bit of a chore to sit through at first.

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh (1971)


Director: Sergio Martino
Notable Cast: Edwige Fenech, George Hilton, Alberto de Mendoza, Ivan Rassimov, Conchita Airoldi, Manuel Gil, Bruno Corazzari, Carlo Alighiero

Over the last few years, as I continue to explore the various genres of cult Italian cinema, there was a director that stood out as one of the more fascinating voices of the time period for his diverse work and incredible visual and tonal abilities. That director is Sergio Martino. One of the highly regarded genre classics that had alluded me was his erotic thriller, The Strange Vice of Mrs Wardh. Fortunately, the film finally received a gorgeous Blu Ray release from Severin recently (fully uncut too) and it unquestionably lives up to the hype surrounding it. Although the film roots itself in many of the tropes and formulas of the giallo, it’s a film that often deviates ever so slightly from it to deliver its stronger qualities. Mainly, it plays on the expectation of the genre and how seductress is used in the erotic thriller.  Playing on these expectations, The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh creates an enthralling tale of lust, love, life, and death in a way that feels fresh even when planting its foundations firmly in the conventions of a murder mystery.

Following the exploits of the young wife (Fenech) of a diplomat, the film chronicles the arrival of an evil ex-lover, the potential new mister, and her crumbling marriage to her husband on her life. When a killer of women starts knocking off well-off ladies in town, she starts to believe that perhaps one of the men in her life just might be the killer.

Monday, June 15, 2020

Woman on the Beach (2006)

Director: Hong Sang-soo

Notable Cast: Kim Seung-woo, Ko Hyun-jung, Kim Tae-woo, Song Seon-mi


** This review copy was provided by Grasshopper Film **

The seventh film in Hong Sang-soo's library of works is one that I actually hadn't seen in the decade long obsession I've had with him, but thanks to this film seeing life once more through the newly restored 4k version, done by the Korean Film Archive, and being released by the aforementioned wonderful folks at Grasshopper Film, I was able to finally explore one of the few films of his I hadn't. Just how is Woman on the Beach? In a word, it is brilliant, and I think in part that has to do with the surprisingly straightforward approach to both the narrative and it's structure.


Kim Jung-rae is a director whom is currently writing a screenplay for his next film, but he finds himself struggling to complete it. He invites his friend, Chang-wook, to come out to the west coast to a beach where the two can relax and he can finish his project over a weekend. The problem is Chang-wook had already made prior plans to visit his girlfriend Moon-sook, but after some convincing and agreeing to let her tagalong for the weekend, Chang-wook agrees and the three set off towards the beach. After a small love triangle forms, a leaning for desires previously established seems to shift and flourish between director Kim and Moon-sook. Here, things begin to change between everyone involved and the story really stays simple all the way through, but Hong gives us so much time getting to know everyone here and these are some of his most fleshed out characters to date. I thought Kim was played to perfection by Kim Seung-woo (Yesterday). He is a typical male that seems to have a one-track mind in most of Hong's works, but then as the story unfolds and the characters develope, we see a lot of layers and complexities in Kim that make him one of the standout characters in any Hong outing. I really didn't like him at times, but he felt so layered and the same can be said for Moon-sook, who is portrayed brilliantly by Ko Hyun-jung. She works in the film industry as a composer and her attraction to director Kim is pure and instead of just being an object of desire, there is a serious albeit fractured connection between the two. I absolutley loved seeing the ups and downs between Kim and Moon-sook and found myself wrapped up in all their crazy feelings.


Technically speaking Woman on the Beach looks great. The beach setting and the overall atmosphere seems to be brimming with warmth at first but as things go along you begin to feel the chill of the ocean air settling in. The music is typically quirky in Hong's film, and while that is certainly no exception here, there are some very great moments accompanied by rather serious pieces of piano and orchestra that added yet again another layer to the overall effectiveness. Even a smaller moment, involving a dog that is a recurring bit throughout really stood out and is in part strengthened by the accompanying musical piece.

I absolutely adored Woman on the Beach and am very honored to have had an opportunity to see the newly released 4k restoration. The film looks fantastic, but more importantly the film is fantastic and is potentially my new favorite film by master Hong. It's his most straightforward structurally, but easily packs more of an emotional wallop than anything else he's done. I think it easily one of his masterpieces. An extraordinary and complicated love story brilliantly told.

Written by Josh Parmer