Monday, February 29, 2016

8 Films to Die For (2015 Series)

Back in 2006, After Dark Horrorfest’s 8 Films to Die For series began and it allowed horror fans (and filmmakers) to get some of their low budget and independent horror films out in a big way. The films all got physical releases on DVD and it was a great way to see some fun new horror films. The series continued on for a couple more years before blooming into After Dark Originals and then somewhat disappearing for a time. In 2015, the 8 Films to Die For line up returned with eight new films for fans to chew on and I was stoked to dig into the films.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny (2016)

Director: Yuen Woo-Ping
Notable Cast: Michelle Yeoh, Donnie Yen, Harry Shum Jr., Natasha Liu Bordizzo, Jason Scott Lee, Woon Young Park, Chris Pang, Veronica Ngo, JuJu Chan, Eugenia Yuan, Roger Yuan

I feel confused. Not because of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny. No, not because of the film itself. I feel confused by the odd series of negative comments, reactions, and reviews to this film. It’s as if fans and non-fans alike had this expectation that this film would be like the first Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. When has a Yuen Woo-Ping film EVER been an arthouse philosophical film maker? It’s almost like there was hate for it before it came out (more on that in a minute) just because “they had the balls to make a sequel.” Well, I guess I’m in the minority. I had a blast watching Sword of Destiny. No, it’s not a spiritual sequel to the original and outside of a handful of references to the original, if you changed the names and just called it Sword of Destiny it could have been just another fun wuxia. This film is far more akin to the Shaw Brothers wuxia films of the late 70s than its predecessor. It’s more Chor Yuen than Ang Lee and not only was I okay with this, I loved it even with some of its obvious faults.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Rage of Honor (1987)

Director: Gordon Hessler
Notable Cast: Sho Kosugi, Lewis Van Bergen, Robin Evans, Richard Wiley, Ulises Dumont, Gerry Gibson

Every time I watch a Sho Kosugi movie, I’m saddened that his career as a leading man in action films wasn’t a longer one. Take Rage of Honor as a prime example, which is getting the deluxe re-release Blu Ray treatment from Arrow Video. Rage of Honor is not a great film, nor is Mr. Kosugi a phenomenal actor that can carry it. Far from it. However, this film is so completely, utterly, and undeniably entertaining that there almost had to be a bet somewhere in how much ridiculous action they were trying to fit into it. It’s non-stop. The action never ends and Sho Kosugi carries it with his stabbing stare and outrageous fight work. It’s amazing to think that in the grander spectrum of silly 80s action movies that Rage of Honor isn’t a top contender for “Most Action Set Pieces Forced Into One Movie” award. Needless to say, I was hooked and loved every minute of it.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Interview With Adam Torel



Written by Josh Parmer

JP: Before we jump into things, what movies have you been into recently? I know you watch a ton of films.

AT: Hmm, I guess some things I’ve liked a lot recently are: Ken and Kazu, Three Stories of Love, Happy Hour, Being Good, and Pieta in the Toilet.

JP: Anything that really stands out of the bunch?

AT: Ken and Kazu probably. A first time, young Japanese filmmaker with a very tight and entertaining genre title done on a minuscule budget. Would compare it to Yang Ik-joon’s Breathless in many ways.

JP: Where did your passion for cinema start, and in particular, your love of Japanese cinema?

AT: I’ve been into cinema since I was very young, and worked at many cinemas and video rental shops as a teenager. I guess I learnt the most working at a shop in Florida in the US called Video Renaissance, which had about 35,000 titles, including thousands of out of print VHS tapes and such. It was heaven. I had insomnia at the time, and with that, plus watching while at the shop, I would watch 8 films a day! 

I would watch a lot of French and Italian titles of the 60's when I was young (I’ve been into 60's culture, fashion and music since a very young age) and from there I got into Japanese 60's films, which opened the door to all other sorts of Japanese cinema. 

JP: Which directors and performers from Japanese cinema stick out to you the most, and why?

AT: I guess since I got into 60's cinema, the directors like Nagisa Oshima, Seijin Suzuki, Yasuharu Hasebe, Yasuzo Masumura were the ones who got me into Japanese cinema and whom I loved from an early age. Then of course genre directors like Kinji Fukusasku and Kenji Misumi had a lot of impact on me. Recently of course, Takeshi Kitano, Shinya Tsukamoto, Sogo Ishii, Sion Sono and Takashi Miike are all very important!

Three classic Kitano films available through Third Window Films.

JP: How did the idea for Third Window Films come about?

AT: From an early age I always wanted to help promote Japanese cinema as much as I could, whether teaching lectures at a nearby University, suggesting titles at the video shop I worked in, or in other ways. At the same there was not much available on the internet or not many ways to find Japanese titles in the West (compared to the Hong Kong or Korean new wave, which were mostly available with English subtitles in one format or another), so I wanted to get into distribution. 

I moved back to the UK (I had been living in the US) and got a job at Tartan Films for a year, but despite my initial admiration for the company, I found working there was a totally different ballgame, so I decided to leave and start up my own distribution company and started Third Window in 2005, at the age of 22. 

JP: Being a huge fan of Asian cinema myself, and buying lots of films from all over the world, I really found myself attracted to your company, but as time goes on, I sometimes feel slightly worried. You take some risky choices in the titles you release, and I completely respect that and am very thankful that you do so, but how dangerous can that be for your company? You have to know going in that certain films aren't going to sell very well. What's your philosophy behind your picking in choosing?

Adam talking about Be My Baby at a festival.
AT: Yes, a while ago, when there were still high street retailers and no VOD, it was much easier to release obscure titles, even getting small theatrical releases (imagine, if you can, that titles like Fine Totally Fine and Funuke played in cinemas! That would NEVER happen now), so it was never as much a ‘risk’ as people would think, as these were obscure titles which no other distributor in the world had interest in taking on, so they weren’t expensive. Nowadays even Takashi Miike titles like Lesson of Evil are a risk! Even in recent years I’ve tried to squeeze in some super indie titles like Makeup Room, Shady, Be My Baby, etc. by sandwiching them between Shinya Tsukamoto or Takeshi Kitano classics, but it’s becoming close to impossible.

In fact, what I really love, is releasing small and unknown titles, but it’s just too tough nowadays and in fact, I’m losing all passion for what I love due to not being able to achieve anything from small titles. I guess that’s why I’ve recently been handling worldwide sales on Japanese titles, as it allows me to get titles into festivals and other distributors without having any risk onto myself, yet being able to get the titles out there nonetheless. 

JP: What are some of your favorite titles in the TWF catalog?

AT: That’s a hard question! I guess titles I’ve been the most proud (due to their success) are ones such as Confessions, Love Exposure, Kamikaze Girls, and Fish Story. Favorites would be, I guess maybe Memories of Matsuko, or Turtles are Surprisingly Fast Swimmers, or Fine Totally Fine. I don’t know, it’s too hard!

JP: How about a least favorite title, if that is possible?

Least favorite would be Teenage Hooker Became a Killing Machine, which I bought at a time when I was doing really poorly with other titles and needed something to sell (of which it did!).

JP: What's been the most rewarding experience for you in your career thus far? and also, which is your favorite and least favorite Third Window title you've released.

AT: Possibly the release of Confessions? I was the first to acquire and release it, and without any other staff, managed to get it into 50 cinemas, then sold massive amounts of DVDs and blu-rays, etc, yet without spending much money and having a poster design which was borrowed by so many other international distribution companies. I think that I really set the ball rolling on that title, and considering of all the other international distributors, that Third Window is really the smallest by far (in terms of money, man-power, etc.) I feel quite proud for what I did on that title. 

JP: So, for something for me personally, and I am sure some people are interested out there, when and how were you introduced to the works of Shinya Tsukamoto, and how has your relationship with him developed throughout the years? He seem so unique a person.

Shinya Tsukamoto
AT: Introduced as in first watched? I don’t remember to be honest. Must have been as a teenager with some of his earlier works, tough his long-time producer and sales agent has been a close friend since I started Third Window, so that helped me get into the position of being able to handle his titles, as I bought Kotoko off her, which probably started it all. As Tsukamoto recently took the majority of his catalog back (international copyrights and such), it allowed the whole restoration work to happen, as I could work directly with him.

He’s a super amazing guy, and working directly with a director who owns the copyright to his work is almost impossible outside of the super super indie scene in Japan. Even directors like Sogo Ishii, whose work I’ve tried to do the same with, have titles which copyrights are held in film committees from years back, which make it super hard to do similar to what I did with Tsukamoto. With Tsukamoto I suggested the idea a few years ago and he was very interested and since it was hassle free we just worked together on all aspects without needing to get other companies involved, so it was a fantastic experience.

JP: Are there any plans to do anymore Tsukamoto titles in the future? I know you've openly hinted at Vital, once the rights lapse.

AT: Yeah, I really wanted to do Vital next, but just found out the rights are held by Tartan until like 2024! So that’s impossible and a shame, as I don’t expect Tartan to release on blu-ray!

JP: With the older Tsukmaoto releases and your recent and forthcoming releases of the Takeshi Kitano films (which Hana-bi looks gorgeous by the way), is this going to become something more regular with TWF? More directors to look into? They seem to selling well.

AT: Yeah, though as much as these are all great classics from the past and big loves of mine (Hana-bi is in my top 3 of all time), being very honest, I don’t really enjoy it too much… They sell decently and I’m sure many people are happy about their releases, but at the same time there are so many great companies like Arrow, Eureka, etc. who handle more classic Japanese cinema to a much higher level than I, and were I to start focusing on that aspect of distribution, then who would be releasing new Japanese cinema, especially independent titles? Well, I guess nobody is, as there isn’t much of a market left due to massive video retail price decreases and VOD, but if it all disappears then I’ll feel that all I’ve done over the past 10 years would have been in vain…

JP: Shifting gears a bit, talk about your love of music. I see where you are constantly doing DJ'ing gigs. Where did it all start there, and what are some of your favorite artists?

AT:  Like movies, I’ve been into music since a very young age, and also into finding out about bands and artists who never made it big and trying to introduce them to people, which is what I guess I do with DJ-ing. I’ve been collecting records since I was a teenager and have about 5,000 or so, most of which are rare 60's and 70's soul 7 inches. 

DJ Adam
My favorite band are The Impressions and favorite album is The Young Mods Forgotten Story by The Impressions, but some of my favorite 7 inches which I own the originals of (and regularly put them into my DJ sets) are: Roy Roberts – So Much in Love (Sugar), Coco and Ben – Good Feeling (Earth World), Montclairs – Hey You, Don’t Fight It (Arch), Fortson and Scott – Sweet Lover (Pzazz) and Lil Major Williams – Girl, Don’t Leave Me (Palladium)

JP: You have done a bit of production work (Land of Hope and Fuku-chan of Fukufuku Flats), but recently you fully financed and independently produced your (Third Window Films) first feature film, Eiji Uchida's Lowlife Love. It was a success through a Kickstarter campaign and some lost beloved records of yours, but it's seemed to paid off. Tell us a bit about how that came to be, and the process. 

AT: Yeah, selling those records was super tough! I’m not lying when I say I shed many a tear, but can’t be helped I guess. Still have a lot of my favorite tunes so I try not to think about the ones I sold! Fuku-chan and Land of Hope were huge failures (financially, despite critical successes) and I had terrible experiences in the Japanese film committee system, so if anything I learnt a huge amount! With both Fuku-chan and Land of Hope I had worked on the idea of building up the directors name internationally, so producing a title would mean that there was already an outlet plus a financial back-up plan internationally if it failed to recoup domestically, so I took that same idea with Uchida Eiji by handling Greatful Dead and also becoming close to him as a person and professional in the process. (cont'd)...

Lowlife Love director Eiji Uchida with Adam Torel
AT (cont'd): I respect him a lot and he said that he wanted to make a new film and have me produce it, so we decided to keep it super independent and not having any film committee nonsense, but at the same time trying hard to keep the quality high. Luckily both him and I have loads of contacts in the industry so I raised the money with crowdfunding in both the UK and Japan, sold a bunch of records and called in favors from many actors and professionals to get it under way. It was a super tough shoot, but if you think about it, there’s nowhere else in the world where you can get such a talented and famous cast together with a high quality technical team (we shot with the new Red Dragon camera, which is only used in top films in Japan, not like in the West) and shoot a feature for such a small amount (our budget was under £30,000 and we paid everyone!).

JP: So, will we see more production work from TWF? 

AT: I plan to do a little more on the independent side here, probably with Uchida again, but want to take a break for a while and recoup both financially and mentally before doing too much more… I’d like to start a family at some point so want to focus on that over the next few years!

JP: Are there any possible upcoming titles you could mention, for the fans?

Ken and Kazu

AT: well, there are the 3 Kitanos out for the first few months of 2016, then Uzumasa Limelight at the end of April before Sion Sono’s Love and Peace in July. There’s also 2 more Kitanos: Kids Return and Scene at the Sea out later this year plus the Japanese indie title Ken and Kazu.

JP: You've talked in great length about the state of Japanese cinema, and how complicated and ridiculous it is about its self-containment. What do you see in the future of Japanese film, and do you think the doors will open more for getting films out to a more international audience? 

AT: Maybe the Olympics will help, plus if the 'Cool Japan' fund focuses a little more on film, but if anything it’ll just be the usual big budget titles which continue to be seen worldwide. When I say the Olympics, it’s mostly to do with if Japanese learn to, or practice speaking English better, as one of the big stumbling blocks for the promotion speakers in the independent scene and their of Japanese cinema overseas is the lack of English and lack of understanding about the international market. It’s not just cinema which is self-contained, but Japan is really more of an island and self-contained society than most people realize.

JP: What do you think about Japanese cinema appeals more to the U.K versus something like Korean cinema? I've heard Korean films tend to not perform as well for you guys.

AT: I think Korean cinema appeals much more to an international market as their focus is on technical quality, which is at a level miles above Japan. Also their marketing internationally, including better quality posters and trailers help them achieve much more. It’s just that I still think Japanese have better stories and more originality, while Korean cinema is too genre orientated with a lack of young and independent directors. If only they could mix the two, Japanese originality and storytelling with Korean technical quality…

JP: So what's next for you?

AT: Focusing this year fully on international and domestic promotion of Lowlife Love.

The whole gang of Lowlife Love
JP: If you had to pick 1 film and 1 album to spend the rest of your days with, what would they be?

AT: Young Mods Forgotten Story by The Impressions / Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters

JP: And lastly, to end lightly, what is the single most heavily underrated, or unknown film, to you?

AT: Super tough! Something like The Man Who Stole The Sun? I guess it’s not really unknown considering it’s a major Toho film, but it should be much much more widely seen internationally considering the fact it’s got such a cast, story and cult status (director only ever made 1 other film) behind it. 

Thank you Adam!!!

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Lost in Hong Kong (2016)

Director: Xu Zheng
Notable Cast: Xu Zheng, Bao Bei’er, Zhao Wei, Du Juan, Sam Lee, Eric Kot

Lost in Thailand was a surprisingly well made comedy, it only got better on repeated viewings, and – perhaps the most important to the studios behind these kinds of films – it made a shit ton of cash. Naturally, that means sequel. So it was up to writer, producer, director, and actor Xu Zheng to make sure that the sequel met all of the expectations to appease fans of the original while adding in a bit of something new to the mix. The results are Lost in Hong Kong, a respectable sequel that desperately tries to recreate the things that worked in Lost in Thailand without actually being a sequel. While there are things that certainly work in the film, it often feels like a faded carbon copy of its predecessor in structure and the new elements at hand in the film don’t quite fit in. While Lost in Hong Kong went on to still make a shit load of cash in China too, it’s hardly as good or as funny as it might have been.

Witch Who Came from the Sea, The (1976)


Director: Matt Cimber
Notable Cast: Millie Perkins, Lonny Chapman, Vanessa Brown, Peggy Feury, Jean Pierre Camps, Mark Livingston, Rick Jason, Stafford Morgan

The first two films I watched in Arrow Video’s American Horror Project box set showcased two ends of the artistic horror spectrum. One end was in the gory absurd (Malatesta’s Carnival of Blood) and the other in the thoughtful atmosphere (The Premonition). The third film, The Witch Who Came from the Sea, rests right between the two as a mixture of style. It’s a rather unnerving and creepy film that focuses on crafting a character study for a young woman dealing with trauma in some very unique (and violent) ways. The blend of horror pre-slasher elements with artful character dialogue and atmospheric build makes it the pearl of this set and it’s a film that is likely to leave a lingering mark long after it has finished with its themes and momentary flashes of brilliance.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Premonition, The (1976)


Director: Robert Allen Schnitzer
Notable Cast: Sharon Farrell, Edward Bell, Jeff Corey, Chiitra Neogy, Richard Lynch, Ellen Barber, Danielle Brisebois

Going into the second of the three films included in the American Horror Project Vol. 1 set from Arrow Video and I’m already seeing the massive diversity that this series is going to bring to the table. While the first film I reviewed, Malatesta’s Carnival of Blood (see the review HERE), was obvious in its cult appeal, The Premonition would indicate a cult appeal in a very different way. Instead of a gory and edgy horror flick, this little film is more about crafting an artful tone and ambiance than being a straight up horror tale. At times The Premonition bounds between being a drama, a crime thriller, and a supernatural horror film and it makes for a rather intriguing and layered film experience. While the mixture might not always settle together perfectly, the execution of the film seems to be of a much higher caliber than I expected going in – leaving it to be a rather fun surprise.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Lowlife Love (2016)

Director: Eiji Uchida

Notable Cast: Kiyohiko Shibukawa, Denden, Shugo Oshinari, Kanji Tsuda, Beni Ito, Yoshihiko Hosada, Maya Okano, Chika Uchida, Kanji Furutachi, Houka Kinoshita

I had the pleasure of seeing an advanced screening of Eiji Uchida's newest film, courtesy of Adam Torel, the producer of the film, almost two months ago. I felt very honored to see it so ahead of time, and didn't really know what to expect going into the film. I had followed its production from the get go. Torel's company, Third Window Films, completely 100% funded this film all on their own, marking TWF's full film produced to call their own, via Kickstarter and various other means of obtaining the funds, including the offing of some of Adam's own personal vinyl collection. Dedication right there. I'm bringing this up prior to reviewing the actual film, because this film was shot so fast and rapidly, that I honestly worry it may not be up to snuff with some other films they've distributed, or Adam's produced previously, or even Uchida's previous work for that matter, Greatful Dead, which I adore, but it quickly washed my worries away, and gladly so.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Malatesta's Carnival of Blood (1973)


Director: Christopher Speeth
Notable Cast: Janine Carazo, Jerome Dempsey, Daniel Dietrich, Lenny Baker, Paul Hostetler, Betsy Henn, Herve Villechaize, William Preston

“I don’t understand anything that’s going on around here, Kit. I feel like a fly caught in a spider’s web. I keep looking for the spider, searching for him before it’s too late.”

The above quote is from some of the dialogue that pops up in Malatesta’s Carnival of Blood and I’m not sure there is any moment in the film where the audience truly connects more with our protagonists then when this statement is uttered. Even before the movie started, Arrow Video felt inclined to include a little introduction by Stephen Thrower who, essentially, warns the viewers that the following movie is going to be hard to digest and it’s one that needs a certain mindset to be enjoyed…even for cult horror fans. He’s certainly not wrong as the following film was indeed, a bit hard to digest. Malatesta’s Carnival of Blood is a testament to the creative will power of the low budget horror films of the 1970s (something I’m sure I’ll repeat as I continue to dig into the first volume of American Horror Project) that earns its merits by being more creatively insane than really a well-made film. Like Mr. Thrower prepares you for, if you go in with the right mindset it’s a delightful little horror gem, but if you do not…prepare to be devoured by the spider hiding in the room.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Mutilator, The (1984)

Director: Buddy Cooper

Notable Cast: Matt Mitler, Ruth Martinez, Bill Hitchcock, Connie Rogers, Frances Raines, Morey Lampley, Jack Chatham, Ben Moore

The problem with the success of a certain genre or subgenre is that it tends to saturate a market and when that happens, there tends to be a lot of gems that are overlooked and buried as time passes. When it comes to the slasher boom of the 80s and the advent of home video, there are a ton of buried gems out there. Lucky for those of us who were not old enough to see these films in the 80s, there has been a ‘collector’s boom’ of companies hunting down these lost gems and giving them the ol’ spit shine for cult cinema fans. Late last year, Arrow Video delivered a home run release for the rare slasher Blood Rage and it’s only fitting that they may have topped that release with their latest slasher gem The Mutilator. While the film itself might divide slasher fans with its cheesy elements and formulaic approach, the release itself is locked, loaded, and ready to impress.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Deadpool (2016)

Director: Tim Miller
Notable Cast: Ryan Reynolds, Morena Baccarin, Ed Skrein, Gina Carano, TJ Miller, Brianna Hildebrand, Stephan Kapicic, Leslie Uggams

The superhero movie craze only seems to be getting crazier as time goes on instead of collapsing under the saturated market it has created. And while Marvel still pumps out blockbusters like it was gumballs out of a gumball machine for children, there was always a portion of genre that was left out – the non-family friendly superheroes, aka the rated R kind. It’s not like R-rated superhero films haven’t existed previously or have all been duds, but Deadpool, the focus of this review, just made a lot of money its opening weekend and it has people perplexed and excited. While the vulgarity of the film and thus its R-rating plays into its modern appeal, it’s hardly the only reason that this film has done so well. Deadpool is funny, fast-paced, and must smarter than the relentless Deadpool memes that flooded the internet as the popularity of the character increased over the last few years. Most importantly in a time when superhero movies saturate the market, Deadpool feels refreshing.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Fuku-chan of FukuFuku Flats (2014)

Director: Yosuke Fujita

Notable Cast: Miyuki Oshima, Asami Mizukawa, YosiYoshi Arakawa, Kami Hiraiwa, Toshiyuki Kitami, Kanji Furutachi, Tateto Serizawa

Sometimes a film comes along that you are obligated to watch, though deep down you really have no interest. You keep trying to hype yourself up, only to let that steam dissipate and your mind travel elsewhere. Suddenly you are pushing a deadline and are forced to sit yourself down and watch a film for review. You fall in love, laugh, shed a couple of tears, and laugh some more. When the credits roll, you cheer aloud, for you just had one of the happiest film viewing experiences of your life. You look back at yourself prior to seeing the film and wonder why the hell you weren't excited before. You're an idiot. You are me! Joking aside, I don't really understand why I had prior doubt before seeing this, but looking back, I wish I would have sought this out immediately. For my sin, I will now share with you the utter delight that is, Fuku-chan of FukuFuku Flats!

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Dog Soldiers (2002)

Director: Neil Marshall
Notable Cast: Sean Pertwee, Kevin McKidd, Emma Cleasby, Liam Cunningham

While Neil Marshall might have crafted a horror household name for himself with his deliriously effective monsters-in-a-cave film The Descent, his career started with the just as effective – if not more fun – werewolves vs. soldiers film, Dog Soldiers. With the recent Scream Factory re-release of the film on Blu Ray, it was high time that this cult film get a review here on Blood Brothers and what better time of the year to do so than now. For those of you that have seen it, this review hopefully just reaffirms your already undying love for the low budget action oriented horror flick. For those who haven’t seen it, hopefully this review convinces you to go out and immediately purchase it. Dog Soldiers is a lean and mean flick that takes the best elements of the original Assault on Precinct 13 and slams it together with the darkly comical werewolf hijinks of Silver Bullet.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Sheba, Baby (1975)

Director: William Girdler
Notable Cast: Pam Grier, Austin Stoker, D’Urville Martin, Rudy Challenger, Dick Merrifield, Christopher Joy, Charles Kissinger

As I mentioned in some previous reviews, 2016 is the year that I start to explore some of the genres that I haven’t explored in more expansive ways. For an example, I’ve never been the expert in blaxploitation here at the site, but the cult appeal of this robust genre has always interested me. Luckily, Arrow Video just released a very slick new version of the Pam Grier film Sheba, Baby and considering my new resolution for the year it seemed like a good match. Well, perhaps it's not so great as Sheba, Baby seems to be a fairly awkward film overall. The release is great, the high definition transfer looks phenomenal and the special features are impressive for collectors of the genre, but the film itself leaves a lot to be desired.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Estranged (2016)

Director: Adam Levins

Notable Cast: Amy Manson, Simon Quarterman, James Cosmo, Eileen Nicholas, James Lance, Nora-Jane Noone, Craig Conway

If there is any genre that’s the most formulaic in its attempts to “trick” its audience than the psychological horror flick, I’m not so sure what it is. Whether it’s supernatural in essence or more of a grounded thriller, the psychological horror film is one that I immediately go into looking for the hook. When it comes to Estranged, I went into the film looking for a hook, but the film was executed so strongly that I ceased to solely look for clues and allowed the film to take me for the ride which was ultimately the best way to go into it. Estranged is atmospherically thick, brutal at times, and it unfolds in some great ways that showcase a style that’s an interesting mix of 70s horror in the vein of Polanski, but with a decidedly modern edge to it. The twist didn’t need to hook me, I was already hooked.  

Monday, February 8, 2016

Pray for Death (1985)

Director: Gordon Hessler

Notable Cast: Sho Kosugi, James Booth, Donna Kai Benz, Norman Burton, Kane Kosugi, Shane Kosugi, Matthew Faison

For cult film fanatics, there is an almost sacred place for the ninja movie boom of the 80s that will never be touched. In a way, this dedication to what results as a ton of mediocre B-movies is a special one that the films cater themselves towards. The recent re-release of the Sho Kosugi ‘classic’ Pray for Death by Arrow Video showcases this concept in full. Nothing about Pray for Death is all that special, nor is the film actually all that good even. It’s generic in many ways and yet the film knows that it is this way and it plays up its camp to some oddly serious levels which  in turn feeds right into the fan base for these kinds of films. As a film, Pray for Death rarely inspires awe (of the good or bad kind) and plays things in the most 80s-hollywood-interpretation of a ninja film as possible. Which, in its own way, is ridiculously charming in true B-movie fashion. As a fan of these kinds of movies, it’s hard to say that I didn’t enjoy every minute of the film, warts and all.

Land of Hope (2012)

Director: Sion Sono

Notable Cast: Isao Natsuyagi, Naoko Otani, Jun Murakami, Megumi Kagurazaka, Yutaka Shimizu, Hikari Kajiwara, Denden

On March 11th, 2011, a massive earthquake and following tsunami devastated the country of Japan. The entire nation suffered and a large chunk of its citizens continue the suffering caused by nature that very same day. It was a disaster no one expected, and sent shock around the world. Local filmmaker Sion Sono (Cold Fish, Love Exposure), was instantly inspired to make two films from this unfortunate event: Himizu, a more angry film about confused youth in this time, and this film, the quiet, desolate, but slightly hopeful (unavoidable), Land of Hope.

The story here is quite simple. An earthquake happens, causing a nearby nuclear station to explode, thus making the area and it's surrounding areas, inhabitable. The main characters, an elderly couple played wonderfully by Isao Natsuyagi and Naoko Otani, are set in their ways and wish not to move, so much so that they stay put, despite the evacuation line being put right across their front yard. The man is a farmer, and his business is his business, and he intends to keep it that way. The two stay, but their son (Jun Murakami) decides to bounce. The son's wife, played by Sono's wife and muse, Megumi Kagurazaka, nails her performance as usual. Her character finds out she is pregnant, and still staying in the infected zone with her in-laws.

"I ain't going nowhere!"

I quite enjoyed this movie. For some weird reason, this and Himizu tend to have a divided audience, no pun intended, of either one loves Land of Hope and hates Himizu, or visa versa. I personally do not understand the debate and division of such preference, as I find the films to be two completely different creatures, both with pros and cons, though both are minor in quantity of said cons. I will speak of what I like about the film first and foremost.

The cast here is excellent and all believable as the family in this dire and awful situation. From the constant bickering, to the more tender and subtle love, they truly give off a realistic family vibe, which is what had to be most believable in this picture, and it really is. As previously stated, the couple is perfect. The more subtle, quiet in nature mother, who wants to remember her youth and passions before the hazards take her into the afterlife, and the husband, a grumpy old pissed-off hoot that you just want to slap at times, but deep down sympathize with and understand his refusal to leave, no matter how crazy it may seem.

"Good ole' shopping in the hazmat day!"

Megumi (above), as praised above, really does quite well in her role. Most of her characters before this that she had played prior to this were really sexual in some way, whether more internal or openly, but none of that either way you view it is present in this film. What we get here is a subtle, but raw realistic portrayal of a woman who wants nothing more to live, and once she is aware, protect her soon to be child. She also sports a pretty dapper hazmat suit, so there is always something to shine on with that in a film.

There are some qualms with this film, though few and far between, and maybe only one to speak of that is worth it. The time. This film is quite long, clocking in at a hefty 134 minutes in total, and I really can see that being a turn off for some people. Now, length of film is in no way a problem for me, as long as it makes since within the context of the film, and to a degree it does here. Destruction, aimless wandering, but sometimes the slow air becomes a little too stale for its own good, and has you wondering when the next fragment of cinematic gold will happen. This guy (Sono) made Love Exposure, which sits in at around 4 hours and keeps you there the whole time, so obviously time isn't an issue, but it has to be done right, and at times this falters a bit within its own rhythms.

One of Sono's finest.

In the end I found exactly what I was looking for in The Land of Hope, a quality and more quiet film, from a quality and typically loud filmmaker. I cannot complain with his decisions to make this film (+ Himizu) when he did, as an artist often finds inspiration within some of the toughest times, personal or national. The result here in particular is a fantastic film, few issues aside, that has and will stay with me for the remainders of my days as a reminder, it could always be worse, but even when it is, keep true to your nature and carry on. I don't want to get into my personal philosophy and such, but this film speaks to the true nature of human beings, and that is something worthy of praise. Highly recommended.

Written by Josh Parmer

The Land of Hope is available on blu-ray and dvd courtesy of UK distributor Third Window Films.

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Q&A With Director Pang Ho-cheung

The Intro:

As promised, and I apologize to you, the reader, for taking so long. Here is the interview / Q&A with Hong Kong director Pang-Ho Cheung, but 1st I just want to give a shout-out and thanks to Veronica Bassetto for making this interview happen to the effect it did, with multiple translators helping to translate from Cantonese to English on their side of things. We had no one to help on our end, so high praise to Pang and his team for all their hard work. 


JP will refer to Josh Parmer, written in black, and red in bold for director Pang Ho-Cheung (PHC).

The Q & A:

JP: I think 2015 has been a great year for movies. What are some stand out titles for you, or just films you've been into recently?

PHC: The documentary, Batkid Begins, to me is the most outstanding film in 2015. It is a really touching film. Sometimes, I like the documentaries more than feature films, as it involves more true feelings. I think Batkid Begins is one of the best movies I’ve watched thus far.

Image from the documentary, Batkid Begins.

JP: Any local films that have stood out to you recently?

PHC: I prefer to differentiate the movies by their good or bad stories only. Whether it's a local production or not, to me, is not really important.

JP: So what made you want to be in the film industry? Where did it all start for you?

PHC: John Woo’s A Better Tomorrow Trilogy inspired me to join the industry. In the very beginning, I dreamed of becoming a movie star, but most of my attempts to be an actor had failed. So I shifted my goal and started off to be a television screenwriter, and eventually become a film director.

JP: I've recently revisited a lot of your films, and seen a few for the very 1st time, and one thing I noticed is how varied your catalog is. You do comedy, drama, violent thrillers, and you do them all well, with signature flair. You never seem to be bound by a genre and mix a lot of things up in all of them. What is the deciding factor in what type of projects you do?

PHC: I actually like including various genres in my film works, just as I preferred having a buffet than a specific cuisine when I was a kid. I concerned more with if the film is enjoyable than if it can suit a specific genre. We should always think out of the box and not be constrained by any genres.

Pang Ho-cheung sporting his favorite jacket!

JP: There has always been an edgier, darker side (usually in the humor) to your films. It helps set you apart from other directors working in Hong Kong today. You never seem to strive for doing what's popular. Do you have a particular desire to see other filmmakers (veterans and newcomers on the rise) to think outside of the box?

PHC: I think the Hong Kong industry is now under a transitional period. The quality of Hong Kong movie is not decreasing; only that Hong Kong directors have moved somewhere else to make their films. Although they are making movies outside Hong Kong, they are also bringing in various elements and style to the market, creating an impact to the local industry.

JP: Speaking as a fan of Hong Kong cinema, I think there has been a great decrease in the amount of quality films coming out, even in the more martial arts or thriller driven genres the country is known for. Where do you think the state of Hong Kong is right now, in terms of cinema?

PHC: In my opinion, Hong Kong’s movie is now under a transforming period. As I mentioned before, the quality of Hong Kong movie is not decreasing, but Hong Kong directors indeed make their films somewhere else. No matter where they produce/shoot their films, they still keep the Hong Kong essence in their films, and those movies still carry on the Hong Kong spirit.

JP: Though I am not able to read, due to the language barrier, I noticed when digging around on your site, that you have published a lot of your films in the form of paperback. Is this you converting your films to novel form at some point, or are your screenplays usually published for the public to read?

PHC: I am publishing my screenplay collection soon. As per I would like to show the original scripts and ideas to my audiences. This can also be a good reference for people whose career aspiration is to become a director. For example, everyone knows Columbus’ achievement, but if you got a chance to read his diary, Diario de Navegacion, then you will be able to further understand the reason behind his every decision.

Movie novels are usually a re-creation of the story from the film. I personally seldom re-write the movie novel by myself, instead they are usually written by my co-playwright or other writers. Unless it has an original novel, like one of my works Trivial Matters.

Collection of published Pang Ho-cheung screenplays.

JP: Aside from some of the more over-the-top delivery in some of your earlier works, for comedic effect, what made you want to bring a more naturalistic approach to the way your performers deliver dialogue? It's always so down to Earth, sometimes filled with vulgarity, but most importantly, it feels real. Now, I am sure I can't quite truly appreciate it, considering I know zero Cantonese, but when I watch a Pang Ho-cheung flick, I feel like I am just right there among the people. Was that a conscious decision early on, or is it just something that feels right?

PHC: When I design the dialogues, especially for comedy, I usually ask myself whether or not foreigners could also understand the humor too. The punch line can always be in verbal gags or local culture, thus can easily make Cantonese speakers laugh. Yet, despite from only depending on the punch line / gimmick, I also consider on how to enhance the comedic conflict, by actors’ gestures and other visual elements, as such for those who cant understand the language and could also enjoy the humor when they watch the film.

JP: You are an artist who likes to keep himself busy putting out content for the fans, and you do a lot of different things in the entertainment business. Acting is something you haven't really done a whole lot of. I read that you were co-starring alongside Derek Kwok in Chapman To's directorial debut, Miserable World. I haven't been able to find any real news on it,so I am assuming it hasn't begun shooting yet. How do you feel about taking on a new challenge as a leading actor?

PHC: It is indeed a pity that this project has been cancelled already due to investment issue, but there’s another film project in development, which I am planning to participate in as the main actor. I wanted to be an actor at the very beginning of my career, so I would say I still have the fantasy to act on screen.

JP: Going back to directing, which of your works are you most proud of and why?

PHC: I like Isabella the most. The leading actor and actress had excellent performances,  and you could see the excellent sparks between the two from their performances, and I put lots of effort to finish this movie. I seldom watch the movies I've directed, except this one.

Isabella (2006)

JP: What made you decide to pack up and open shop in Beijing? I think it was a smart move, and Love in the Buff proved to be a smash hit.

PHC: After the production of Love in the Buff, I wondered how I could further understand the mindset of Chinese youngsters if I want to continue to produce co-production movies. Obviously, it is easier for me to achieve if I live in Beijing.

JP: Speaking of the Love in a Trilogy (I don't know how to refer to it), you recently announced a 3rd film was being developed. Is there anything we can expect from it, or are the details still on the hush side of things?

PHC: Many are expecting this, but indeed I don’t have any plans so far.

JP: If you had to pick one specific genre of film you haven't gotten to dip your toes into and make something within it, which would it be?

PHC: As a fan of action movie, I’m pretty eager to make one in the future, especially since I have never tried the genre so far.

JP: What's been your favorite moment out of your entire career (on-set or off)?

PHC: I started off my career as a fiction writer, so I always like the process of writing. The most favorable moment to me are the times that I am developing on a new story, where I create everything beyond my imagination. Sadly, that imagination in the script usually got manipulated when the film production starts.

JP: Your most recent venture, Women Who Flirt, was your 1st time making a Mandarin speaking movie. What was that experience like, and were there any difficulties, if any, such as the possible language barrier?

PHC: To me, a story is a story, so a change of language does not create any obstacles to my way of telling the story.

Women Who Flirt (2014)

JP: Though I can't speak on a personal level about the movie, as I have yet to see it, tell us a little bit about your involvement in the recent film, Lazy Hazy Crazy. It isn't a Pang Ho-cheung film, per se, but it most certainly feels like something I could have seen you making.

PHC: Lazy Hazy Crazy is only a film that I produced and cannot be classified as A Pang Ho-cheung film. From the very beginning, I promised the Director, Luk Yee-sum, that I wouldn't interfere with the creative directions of this project when I took up the role as the producer. Director Luk and I have been working together for a long time. She was the screenwriter of many of my movies, including Love in the Buff, Vulgaria and Women Who Flirt, etc. I believe because of this, we share a lot of common ways of story telling.

JP: Finally, on a fun note (though not if you were really in the situation), if you were stranded on a remote island, and for some reason there was a nice HDTV with a magical non-realistically working media player attached, and the tv worked as well... what would be the absolute one film you just so happen to have on you, that you can watch on repeat for the rest of time, and be happy with, or at least until you get rescued?

PHC: I’ll bring Shawshank if I’m being trapped on an uninhabited island.

Actually I was talking to you, but it's over now Mr. Pang.
Thank you so much!

Written by Josh Parmer

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Top 20 Shaw Brothers Films

For Lunar New Year, we wanted to do another Shaw Brothers focused article like the one we did last year  and the biggest request was a sort of definitive ‘best Shaw Brothers’ list. While doing a top twenty list about the iconic Hong Kong company seemed obvious, if not necessary, I didn’t want to just throw down a list of my personal favorites. So in a moment of inspiration, we decided to pool our knowledge of the Shaw Brothers catalog with those super fans around us and other dedicated writers to create a Kung Fu Komittee. Members of this select group all submitted their own personal top ten lists for films from the studio and then the list was weighted (their top pick received ten points, their second pick received nine points, their third pick received eight points, and so on), and then the results tallied to present a Blood Brothers' Brethren Top 20 Shaw Brothers list!