Friday, August 18, 2023

Space Feels Like Hell: The Moon (2023) Review

Director: Kim Yong-hwa
Notable Cast: Sul Kyung-gu, Doh Kyung-soo, Kim Hee-ae

When you think of big, entertaining blockbusters from South Korea, the types of works that draw in the masses, there are a few names that leap to mind. But even among the ones that you just thought of, there is no doubt that Kim Yong-hwa came up. 

He's one of the most successful filmmakers, alongside other blockbuster giants such as Ryoo Seung-wan (Veteran) or Choi Dong-hoon (The Thieves). His previous works, like the two part Among the Gods films or even the Chinese co-production Mr. Go, have this formula and local flavor that works both in their region and abroad. Universality is one of the things that makes Kim's films works. They are big, grandiose, and a bit emotional, but I have always found myself to be counted as perhaps one of his biggest champions. So needless to say, I was absolutely ready to take a trip to The Moon. How does this summer blockbuster fair, and is this effects driven extravaganza worth the journey? Let's get into it.

It's the year 2029 and South Korea has embarked on a mission to the moon with a small team and their prized lunar probe, Woori. This captures a lot of eyes globally and just when all is seeming to go well for the team, a sudden solar windstorm wreaks havoc on the crew leaving astronaut Hwang Sun-woo stranded alone, fighting for survival. The team sent this time around had hoped to avoid the disasters that an earlier attempt met with disastrous results. The drama that unfolds around one man's fate brings the tensions of many nations to the forefront and a question that comes to all of our minds is presented to the world, what are our nationalities at the end of the day and what ideologies are we really putting aside to save a life? 

It's a very patriotic question that The Moon explores, and it is this exact sense of nationalism that clashes with its own sense of trying to push a one human race mindset. While I think the sentiment is great and the heart is definitely in the right spot with the film, it's the huge explosion of melodrama that really pushes the film away from a pure entertainment spectacle and it loses itself along the way.

Friday, August 11, 2023

From Shaw to Shining Shaw: The Shaw Brothers Classics, Vol. 1 Boxset - Ranked List (Shout Factory)

Although I’ve spent a solid amount of my time as a writer digging into the massive Shaw Brothers martial arts catalog of films, the current onslaught of Blu-Ray releases from boutique labels like Arrow Video or 88 Films has seen a lot of renewed interest in the classic Hong Kong studio and their output. Yeah, that’s fuckin’ great cause it’s only one more reason for me to revisit them and write about some of the classics that far too many cinephiles overlook. 


Just recently, Shout Factory revealed their own box sets, bringing together large swaths of the filmography of the Shaw Brothers studio. After announcing a Brave Archer set that contains the original three Brave Archer films and the two unofficial sequels, they dropped this gorgeous set on fans. Titled The Shaw Brothers Classics, Vol. 1, this set brought together 11 classic wuxia flicks from the golden age of the studio and it’s one of the year's best releases. 


With a handful of films new to me and a ton of classics that were available previously (either in digital form or from previous DVD releases), here is my official ranking of each film included - with a few additional comments of why each film deserves to be seen. 


11. The Thundering Sword (1967) [dir. Hsu Tseng-Hung]


The Thundering Sword suffers mostly from just being very bland. Despite an intriguing romantic throughline for its lead characters, one of which is played by Cheng Pei Pei - an incredible actress that will be referenced quite a bit throughout this article, this film stumbles into mediocrity at most turns. Lo Lieh pops up early as a bright point to be sidelined for most of the film, and its plot gets widely convoluted by its third act despite its strong set of Shaw stars. For fans, it’s more of a curiosity than a gem from the earth. 


Tuesday, August 8, 2023

An Outsider Bewitched: Poison for the Fairies (1986) Review

Director: Carlos Enrique Taboada

Notable Cast: Ana Patricia Rojo, Elsa Maria Gutierrez, Leonor Llausas, Carmela Stein, Maria Santander


Although I was privy to the work of director Carlos Enrique Taboada before the unveiling of the Mexican Gothic from Vinegar Syndrome, the recent release schedule from the boutique labels perked my interest. The Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched documentary released last year pushed me to dig further to find more Mexican cinema, and this set was as good of a place to start as any. 


Despite its 1986 release year, Poison for the Fairies, the first of three films included in this set, this little gothic Mexican film is a dark, often unnerving horror drama about childhood friends, lost innocence, and the consequences of the small choices made that begin to spiral out of control. Poison for the Fairies is a shockingly relevant and poignant slice of cinema, more akin to the tones and seething realism of 1970s horror than mid-80s, and it’s one hell of a witch’s brew once it's cooking. 


Friday, August 4, 2023

The Thin Line Between Evil and Just: Bad City (2023) Review

Director: Kensuke Sonomura

Notable Cast: Hitoshi Ozawa, Mitsu Dan, Akane Sakanoue, Katsuya, Masanori Mimoto, Taro Suwa, Kentaro Shimazu, Koji Kiryu, Akira Hamada, Arisa Matsunaga, Huh Soo-cheol, Akihiko Kuwata, Hideo Nakano, Kenji Fukuda, Kazuyoshi Ozawa, Daisuke Nagakura, Yoshiyuki Yamaguchi, Kazuki Namioka, Tak Sakaguchi, Tomokazu, Lily Franky, Rino Katase


With the recent boom of boutique labels releasing forgotten classics and foreign films, it is fantastic that auteur directors like Kinji Fukasaku are being discovered or rediscovered by legions of new fans. Although his style and influence could be felt throughout the decades in Japanese cinema, particularly around his work in the yakuza genre, it feels as though there is growing stronger—or, at least, Westerners like myself are more aware of seeing it in modern films. 


Yet, watching Bad City, it becomes fairly obvious that director Kensuke Sonomura has also been to the school of Fukasaku. In its tale of political and police corruption, poisoned by a brewing war between a yakuza outfit and a South Korean one, Sonomura delivers on the seething socio-political ideas that powered classic films like Cops Vs Thugs or Yakuza Graveyard. He then gives it the empowered V-Cinema DIY nature version of that while still polishing it with some impressive action combat reminiscent of The Roundup (The Outlaws) films. 


To say that Bad City is thoroughly enjoyable is an understatement. Bad City is one of the best action flicks of the year, energized by its screen-eating cast and brutal street-level beatdowns. Bad City is a good time.