Monday, January 28, 2019

The Prodigal Boxer (1972)

Director: Ulysses Au-Yeung Jun

Notable Cast: Mang Fei, Maggie Li Lin-Lin, Pai Hung, Wong Ching, Kurata Yasuaki, Sun Lan, Tung Choi-Bo, Sze-Ma Wah-Lung

Also known as: Kung Fu Punch of Death, Kick of Death, Fong Sai-Yuk

Previously we covered two other films by director Ulysses Au-Yeung Jun, the very entertaining double feature of Secret of the Shaolin Poles and Shaolin Drunken Monk. Both were surprising successes in terms of entertainment and quality, so the director quickly made it on my short list to find more of his work. Thus, we start here with The Prodigal Boxer. Starring Mang Fei, who was also the star of Secret of the Shaolin Poles which is often released in the US as The Prodigal Boxer 3 for marketing, the film follows him as the folk hero Fong Sai-yuk whose youthful nature gets him caught in the crosshairs of two brothers of a rival school, played by Wong Ching and the legendary Kurata Yasuaki.

Sunday, January 27, 2019

Sleepy Eyes of Death 12: Castle Menagerie (1969)

Director: Kazuo Ikehiro
Notable Cast: Raizo Ichikawa, Naoko Kubo, Shiho Fujimura, Kayo Matsuo, Saburo Date, Shinjiro Ehara, Hideko Yoshida, Asao Koike, Atsumi Uda, Machiko Hasegawa

Raizo Ichikawa made the Sleepy Eyes of Death films. His performance, even when the scripts were patchy or the direction uneven, kept these films afloat throughout this portion of the series. He embodied the anti-hero characteristics and the razor-sharp expressions that betrayed his almost nonchalant, devil-may-care attitude. It’s because of his brilliant work that this twelfth entry, Castle Menagerie, has a tragic aura to it. There is a lot in this film about death and finding oneself face to face with a mirror image of one’s own flaws, a reflection that is both the same and inherently different. Sleepy Eyes of Death 12 is also Ichikawa's last portrayal of Kyoshiro before his unfortunate passing. Knowing this and considering the themes and visual styling of the film, the haunting aura of this film along with some of its bolder choices with the narrative and plot make it one of the best films of the franchise. A sad reminder of just how fantastic Ichikawa is as an actor and how quickly ones flaws can bring about their passing.

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Glass (2019)

Director: M. Night Shyamalan
Notable Cast: James McAvoy, Bruce Willis, Samuel L. Jackson, Anya Taylor-Joy, Sarah Paulson, Spencer Treat Clark, Charlayne Woordard, Luke Kirby, Adam David Thompson

Even five years ago, Glass was an unthinkable film. If you told me that we would be on the third part of an Unbreakable trilogy and the third film in M. Night Shyamalan’s renaissance with a theatrical audience just five years ago I would have probably laughed myself into a heart attack. Yet, here we are in 2019 with Glass, M. Night’s third superhero film and the third film of his in a row to see a significant box office success. It’s unexpected and, while I often think M. Night’s early career can be a bit overblown, something of a welcome return to see him return to genre films and produce interesting pieces of cinema. Glass was something that I ended up being very excited to see.

Oddly enough, I’m not the biggest fan of Unbreakable, the first part of this trilogy. It’s seemingly anti-superhero style to delivering a superhero origin story is both wildly bold and awkwardly disconnected which, while massively respectable, doesn’t inherently hit me the way it did for so many other critics. Split, the surprise sequel/side-quel, is another story. Split was a film that I adored. It was rooted in a fascinating blend of genre concepts and intimate character work. Glass is strangely enough very much a sequel to both Unbreakable and Split in tones, delivering some oddly cold material, but stemming from a punchy genre concept that once again massively benefits from a riveting performance from James McAvoy. While the mixture at times can be a bit different than expected, actively avoiding some of the tropes of the genre while taking a flank to embrace others, Glass is a massively entertaining film that ends up being much more of a hybrid and natural progression of seeing its previous two entries melded together. It’s easy to see why many critics are lambasting the film for that mixture, but by the time the end credits rolled it felt like it was exactly where this series wanted to go even if some of the choices can be outlandishly hit or miss.

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Death Duel of Kung Fu (1979)

Directors: William Cheung Kei, Gwon Yeong-sun

Notable Cast: John Liu, Don Wong Tao, Eagle Han Ying, Kim Cheong-Ja, Charlie Chan Yiu-Lam, Chung Fat, King Lee King-Chu, Wu Chia-Hsiang

Also known as: Showdown of the Master Warriors, The Swordsman in Plains

After seeing Secret Rivals and its various sequels, I wanted to hunt down a copy of Death Duel of Kung Fu. The reason? The first Secret Rivals used the chemistry between John Liu and Don Wong Tao remarkably well and Death Duel of Kung Fu featured the two martial artists as the two leads that would ultimately team up (again) to face off against the evil villain. Truthfully, I had no expectations beyond that for the film. If it could entertain, I would have been happy. However, what I didn’t expect is for the film to attempt to add in quite a bit of plot intrigue and dramatic heft to the mix in the way that it did. Perhaps it’s a bit too ambitious for the quality of actors and budget it had, but the effort goes a long way and the rest, well…the rest is the entertaining kung fu that I wanted from it.  

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Hammered in the Neck: Hammer's Dracula Franchise Part I

There is a beauty, style, and look to classic Hammer horror films that only that studio contains. There are only a handful of times in the history of cinema that a studio has defined themselves so steadfast, even when they experiment, one can immediately tell who made it by the style and tone. Hammer is one of those. For this latest franchise article, we were asked to cover some of the major Hammer studio releases and it seemed only fitting to start with the one that most people recognize: Dracula. Spanning multiple decades, the Dracula series is often times as iconic as the original Universal series and it certainly helped solidify both Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee as genre cornerstones. Truthfully, it was a pleasure to be asked to go back and watch this franchise once again and write this series of articles. Not that my words do it much justice, but even if I can inspire one to revisit the films, then I will have done my duty.

Due to the length of this franchise, it only made sense to split it up into multiple articles to prevent having one massive piece that people will tire of reading by the time they reach the third or fourth film. Since there are nine entries, it made sense to evenly split the articles into three films each. Naturally, we will be going through the series in chronological order. Part I will cover the first three films.

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Into the Dark: New Year, New You (2018)

Director: Sophia Takal
Notable Cast: Suki Waterhouse, Carly Chaikin, Kirby Howell-Baptiste, Melissa Bergland, Michelle Haro, Isabella Acres, Bianca Lopez, Mia Ella Clyburn

Hulu and Blumhouse’s horror anthology series, Into the Dark, has already provided a handful of fantastic little indie/intimate horror films through the last few months, but their latest “episode” (their first of 2019 that was technically released prior to New Year’s Eve in 2018) might be one of the best thus far. New Year, New You leans into a couple of interesting directions, looking to balance out an old school style with modern messages, and the results are overly impressive. It’s not a stretch that some horror fans may find the old school and very meticulous approach to building the film is a bit of a drag and there are a few choices that may seem a tag heavy-handed, but for my money, director Sophia Takal brings her A-game to this film and delivers a memorable way to continue this series.