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September 29, 2006


Who can you trust? No one, apparently. Malaysian director, Afdlin Shauki, learned this lesson when a production runner took off in the company Mazda with $60,000 worth of lighting gear in the back...and never came back.

The naive crew filed a missing persons report on him, and that's when they learned that the guy had a record for possession of stolen goods. There was a happy ending a few days later when someone spotted the van and the crew went and got their vehicle and lights back, but the thief was nowhere to be found although the cops were seen grabbing him earlier in the day. When asked, the cops said they had no one by that name in custody...and Shauki figured it was better not to ask too many questions.

Can you trust Japanese people? I thought you could, but now these skyfishing DVDs have me wondering if they're on the level. Skyfishing is a bit like air guitar, only for fishing, but the people who sky fish say that they're fishing real, invisible, flying fish unlike people who play air guitar who don't believe they're actually playing a real, invisible, super-cool guitar.

Now two DVDs have been released focusing on Kozo Ichikawa, a 64-year-old skyfisher who says he's great at the sport but he's too old to take reporters with him to the really good spots, and that he catches the fish with his bare hands and lets them go so he doesn't have any samples to show. And why does he do this?

"They feel so good to touch," he says.

You can't trust Shido Nakamura (FEARLESS, PING PONG) who was arrested for drunk driving recently. He was fined 200,000 yen and in the process it was revealed that his real name isn't Shido Nakamura. It's Mikihiro Ogawa.

Thank god for the Hong Kong stars, because they continue to do exactly what's expected of them.

Jackie Chan uses his son's traumatic childhood to advertise his latest movie, ROB-B-HOOD.

Donnie Yen seems clueless that these actors were probably trying to kill him.

And Cheng Pei-pei scores one for China when she bags on Zhang Ziyi in an interview. ("I know she has worked hard [at acting]. I can't say she has not improved at all, but I expected more.")

Thanks to the consistency of Hong Kongers we'll close out the week with a soothing image of Hello Darth Kitty.

Hello Darth Kitty

September 29, 2006 at 11:58 AM in News | Permalink | Comments (5)


More festival news from a sharp-eyed reader who sends in the Sitges Film Festival (Oct. 6 - 15) line-up for this year. Sitges is the number one genre festival in the world and the movies begin on page 7 of this downloadable .pdf.

September 29, 2006 at 10:50 AM in News | Permalink | Comments (0)


Park Chan-Wook's I'M A CYBORG (AND THAT'S OKAY) While we've been over here talking about Nic Tse and Donnie Yen's hair, the Canadians at Twitch have been beavering away and posting things called "news". A summary of what you may have missed:

A trailer for THE RESTLESS, a martial arts fantasy flick from Korea's Cho Dong-Oh and a bunch of the crew from MUSA: THE WARRIOR.

A teaser trailer for Park Chan-Wook's I'M A CYBORG (AND THAT'S OKAY) which looks like it's getting a 12/06 release.

Trailers and links to the official website of Toei's big budget kamikaze movie OREWA KIMI NO TAMENIKOSO SHINIYUKU written and executive produced by the governor of Tokyo, Shintaro Ishihara.

A trailer and stills for Shinya Tsukamoto's NIGHTMARE DETECTIVE.

September 29, 2006 at 09:40 AM in Trailers | Permalink | Comments (0)

September 28, 2006


an 84 minute mess called THE PROTECTORSo how did the Weinstein Company's release of THE PROTECTOR do at the US box office? This was the widest release any Thai film has ever received in North America, and the film was terrible: not great to begin with, but re-edited into incomprehensible mush.

Here's a handy comparison chart that I made myself with scissors and glue:

screens: 1,541
# of weeks: 2.5
total: $11 million
per screen average: $3,266

ONG BAK (2005)
screens: 387
# of weeks: 11
total: $4.5 million
per screen average: $3,449

# of weeks:18 weeks
total:$11 million
per screen average:$1,461

HOUSE OF FLYING DAGGERS is a tough one to compare it with, since it started in limited release and then expanded, which threw off its per screen average (which was something like $22,000 on its opening weekend). But from this I get the picture that there's a limited audience for Asian action movies no matter what kind of publicity you put behind them. You seem to top out around $10 million. I would think this means we should expect many more limited releases in the future. The Weinsteins should be so lucky to get the press and the cash from a $10 million grossing release, and if they plan accordingly they can limit their losses. If the numbers are right they only need around 400 prints to hit their magic number. And that's a good thing, because it means now that the marketplace has been defined we can expect to see more movies get released.

THE PROTECTOR might have legs, but I doubt it. It's had a 50-60% drop-off for each week it's in release. So we're probably seeing the end of its box office life right around now.

(all numbers courtesy of Box Office Mojo)

September 28, 2006 at 12:53 PM in News | Permalink | Comments (11)


Demonstrating its new role as China's sidekick, Hong Kong announced that it would submit THE BANQUET as its "Best Foreign Film" entry to the Oscars. China has been trying to choose between THE BANQUET, CURSE OF THE GOLDEN FLOWER, CURIOSITY KILLS THE CAT and THE ROAD for its Oscar submission so it helped that they had somewhere to dump THE BANQUET that would let them save face but would also keep them from having to submit a movie that's gotten, largely, not-so-great reviews from the foreign press.

And, of course, the very rich Huayi Brothers company president swore that THE BANQUET would be submitted for an Oscar this year by China, so now that the shine is off their film Hong Kong is a useful escape valve for embarrassed SARFT officials.

God forbid they try to submit ELECTION 2 which will most likely be getting a US release around Oscar time.

Now rumor has it that China will probably submit Zhang Yimou's CURSE OF THE GOLDEN FLOWER. Yesterday I talked about how there were rumors that SARFT thought a big period movie would be the wrong thing to submit to Academy voters but now the word is that it's exactly the right thing. Stay tuned.

Incidentally, Taiwan is submitting BLUE CHA CHA, the acclaimed story of a woman just released from prison, if anyone cares.

And check out the over-sized poster for THE BANQUET after the jump:


September 28, 2006 at 11:10 AM in News | Permalink | Comments (7)


The film festivals keep announcing their line-ups. Is there anything we can do to stop them? There are so...many. Must...fight.

Looming on the horizon like the Death Star is RomeFilmFest (Oct. 13 - 22), the giant new contender in town that has managed to anger/scare/threaten every other European film festival with its size (95 movies), and its money. Plus it's allied as a "cultural partner" with the Tribeca Film Festival, instantly sweeping away any misconceptions about what side of the good/evil debate it's on. Although, I have to say, I can't get too frightened about a festival that's screening AKEELAH AND THE BEE.

Like Tribeca, Rome has a pretty anemic Asian line-up but that doesn't mean there aren't some good films in there. Shinya Tsukamoto's NIGHTMARE DETECTIVE is in competition, as are AFTER THIS OUR EXILE (Patrick Tam) and THE GO MASTER (Tian Zhuangzhuang). Out of competition you've got two films from the Philippines (surprisingly): HALFLIFE (Briccio Santos) and SUMMER HEAT (Brillante Mendoza). Then there's RIDING ALONE FOR THOUSANDS OF MILES (Zhang Yimou) and HOW IS YOUR FISH TODAY (China, Xiaolu Guo).

In Japan, there's the Tokyo International Film Festival (Oct. 21-29) and Tokyo Filmex (Nov. 17-26) getting announced. Tokyo International Film Fest is screening AWAKING (Junji Sakamoto), Yoji Yamada's LOVE AND HONOR, CRICKETS (Shinji Aoyama) among others.

Filmex opens and closes (respectively) with STILL LIFE (Jia Zhangke) and I DON'T WANT TO SLEEP ALONE (Tsai Ming-liang). There'll be screenings of Kiyoshi Kurosawa's latest, RETRIBUTION, THE HAPPINESS (Masahiro Kobayashi), and more.

(Thanks to Jason Gray and a sharp-eyed reader for the info)

September 28, 2006 at 10:16 AM in News | Permalink | Comments (1)

September 27, 2006


promo art for DRAGON TIGER GATE

Did you ever date someone who was dumb? Like, really dumb? Their politics were all wrong, their opinions were annoying, their deeply held beliefs were as sound as a styrofoam cup and every time they opened their mouth it just hurt your head? But they were drop-dead gorgeous and had the sexual appetite of a love-starved lynx. And because they were so good looking, and because they did things in the bedroom that you’d only ever read about, you kept coming back, again and again, despite your better judgement. It was shallow, it was selfish, it was wrong...but it felt gooood.

That’s DRAGON TIGER GATE. Stupid and shallow but really, really hot and crammed with hard bodied action.

Based on Tony Wong’s long-running 70’s comic book, DRAGON TIGER GATE is the BATMAN FOREVER of Hong Kong action movies, only better looking and you get more fighting: it gives comic books a bad name.

The plot is as disposable as a Kleenex. Dragon Tiger Gate is a super-righteous martial arts school run by Hong Kong legend, Yuen Wah. Top student is Tiger, played by Nic Tse who once again demonstrates that he is cooler than Jesus.

Donnie YenWhile dining out in an enormous restaurant that looks like it was built by investors who wanted people to fight in it (enormous, under-decorated, multi-leveled banquet halls full of breakaway walls and tables), Tiger gets into some nonsense over a plaque that has great sentimental value to a bunch of gangsters. Someone must fight! Enter Donnie Yen, playing Dragon, an enforcer for one of the crime gangs who seems to have been promoted through the ranks due to some seriously impressive hair. No matter how hard he kicks, or how fast he punches, one of his bangs is constantly draped photogenically over his right eye like he’s some kind of kung fu Veronica Lake.

As we learn in the first of what are to become an endless series of flashbacks, Dragon and Tiger were brothers but they were separated at an early age because they spent more time than was healthy combing each others' hair. Now, the two of them are on different sides of the law but by the time the movie ends they will have been brought together by their martial arts skills, their devotion to righteousness and their love of hair care. Both of these man-boys sport long, flowing locks with supernaturally long bangs hanging down to their chins.

Fun fact: Donnie Yen does the action choreography in this movie, and he is also the co-producer which probably explains why he, as a 43 year old man, is playing a character in his early 20’s. Hollywood lesson of the day: if the producer wants to play a character 20 years younger than himself, then the producer will be playing a character 20 years younger than himself.

Tiger and gang (he has a gang, but they’re a fun gang of pals, not an evil gang of criminals like Donnie Yen’s crew) head on over to another “fight in me” restaurant, followed by director Wilson Yip’s camera that gets there by vaulting over rooftops, flipping around doors, slinking through walls and tiptoeing behind other patrons dining in private sushi rooms. This is one acrobatic camera and its athletic antics are endlessly inventive and you never get tired of them, unlike the plot, which the filmmakers get tired of right about...NOW.

Unfortunately, Dragon shows up at the restaurant to get back the plaque. Fortunately, he turns out to be a righteous guy and he has half of the medallion that Nic Tse’s Tiger has, proving they’re brothers. Unfortunately, he punches Tiger to take back the plaque. Fortunately, he doesn’t hit him too hard because he has a grudging respect for Tiger. Unfortunately, another bad guy in his gang has drugged Tiger’s gang so the fight isn’t fair. Fortunately, Dragon gets angry about this and beats up his own gang. Unfortunately, this winds up upsetting all the other patrons. Fortunately, one of the patrons is Turbo, played by Shawn Yue, who is instantly identifiable as a lead character in this movie because he obviously spends way too much time on his hair. Unfortunately, it turns out the plaque was a gift to Dragon’s boss from a guy named Shibumi. Fortunately, like I said, by this point director Wilson Yip is as tired of the plot as we are and he basically abandons it letting brief, pointless dialogue scenes serve as place-fillers between the action, which is plenteous.


While Wilson Yip and Donnie Yen’s previous movie, the hardcore SHA PO LANG, built up its doomed story brick by blood-soaked brick and saved almost all its action until a remorseless final reel, DRAGON TIGER GATE scatters action scenes liberally across the entire movie. And they’re good. Fists fly, bad guys get blown about by supernatural fist power, poses are struck, choppers are bent out of shape, gangs of henchmen bought on sale rush up and down hallways and staircases.

It’s all wire-fu, and Nic Tse and Shawn Yue aren’t martial artists, but Donnie Yen has spent his career developing a style of action choreography that’s like some kind of disgusting, eminently watchable chameleon. It sucks up every fight style it sees and replicates it, eating up screen space like a true showman, with combatants’ feet barely touching the floor while they unleash an arsenal of moves from muay thai, wu shu, and professional wrestling.

But between the fight scenes you get nothing, except for some gorgeous photography (every scene is bathed in a warm, golden light as if the actors were rotisserie chickens under a heat lamp) and some deliriously bad drama nuggets, including the best romantic scene in a swimming pool since Elizabeth Berkley swam laps with Kyle MacLachlan in SHOWGIRLS. Donnie Yen’s Dragon is beloved by Rosa, an evil girl in his gang whom he once saved. How did he save her? The rescue gets referred to so often that I expected something dramatic, but when the inevitable flashback finally rolled around it turns out she was just stuck in a tree. Now she’s been sent to kill him in a swimming pool, but it’s her birthday and she wants nookie instead. But Donnie doesn’t do nookie so she asks him to give her a tattoo real quick. Whipping out traditional tattooing needles, Donnie/Dragon goes to work on her back, probably planning to do a “Kick Me” sign, but instead settling for an SS lightning bolt. She’ll never get that off. He probably told her it was a pretty, pretty unicorn but every time she goes to the pool she’ll wonder why people stare.

Towards the end of the movie we suddenly meet the bad guy, a fellow in black armor named Shibumi, which sounds like a popular 70’s  board game for the whole family. (“Shibumi!” “Aw, mom, you won again?!?”) Shibumi is played by the voice of Louis Koo and by a series of interchangeable stuntmen stalking around in a crappy set of black armor that looks like Darth Vader’s footie pajamas. What is Shibumi so mad about? Why does he want to beat up everyone? His hair. One glance at his wiry, unmanageable locks and you know that every time Donnie, Nic or Shawn’s silky tresses blow seductively in the breeze it just kills him. Some people have great hair and some people don’t, but it would help if the people with good hair didn’t stand around on breezy rooftops or strut around with a technician towing a high pressure air hose who constantly makes them look like they’re in a shampoo commercial. Which is exactly what Shawn, Nic and Donnie do. When Shibumi busts into the Dragon Tiger Gate to beat people up it’s as if he’s convinced that they’ve got a bottle of Pantene’s secret formula hidden somewhere and he’s going to have it or his name isn’t ...Shibumi!  (“Yay! I won! I won!”)

hair care jealousyThis reason (hair care jealousy) for going after the Dragon Tiger Gate kids is as good as the reason the movie offers (still not sure what that is) and if you need a plot that’s any more solid than that to go between your fight scenes then this isn’t the movie for you. If you are going to watch DRAGON TIGER GATE may I suggest drinking? You and your pals can make a great game out of this movie. Here’s how to play:

1)    Whenever the film pauses to give a panting close-up to a Nokia product or to demonstrate how it works, take a drink.

2)    Whenever a cast member stands on the roof of a building, or sits on the railing of a high balcony, take a drink.

If you’re not falling down and/or passed out by the end of the first thirty minutes then you’re an alcoholic. So to make it challenging for you:

3)    Every time you get bored waiting for the ridiculous plot and posing to come to an end so you can see another gorgeously photographed scene of people hitting and kicking each other, take a drink. In fact, take five.

DRAGON TIGER GATE is all the bad relationships I wish I’d had, and all the animalistic physical action I longed for as a teenager, rolled up into one package. It should be sold in a brown paper wrapper, and you should not let your girlfriend, wife, husband or boyfriend find your DTG stash. Because it’s dirty. And it’s wrong. And it’s good. But in all the wrong ways, obviously. But that’s okay. You’re just going to watch it. You’d never marry it. Honestly.

September 27, 2006 at 08:30 AM in Film Reviews | Permalink | Comments (25)

September 26, 2006


Oy vey! Turkey's smash hit action movie, VALLEY OF THE WOLVES: IRAQ, that takes on the US forces in Iraq, and stars Gary Busey and Billy Zane, is coming to America! The ever-reliable master list of upcoming releases shows it slotted for a November 3 release from a US company called FilmMates.

I can't wait! Expect hundreds of boring op-ed pieces to sprout up in newspapers like toadstools. Maybe I can get on TV again!

September 26, 2006 at 01:45 PM in News | Permalink | Comments (0)


Over on LoveHKFilm they've got a review up for Lau Ching-wan's MY NAME IS FAME. Not only is it a good review (the movie sounds a little like Derek Yee's showbiz comedy, VIVA EROTICA), but the movie stars Lau Ching-wan and is directed by the awesome Lawrence Ah Mon (aka Lawrence Lau) who made classics like SPACKED OUT, GANGS and QUEEN OF TEMPLE STREET.

September 26, 2006 at 12:42 PM in Film Reviews | Permalink | Comments (1)


Studio Ghibli's TALES OF EARTHSEAA sharp-eyed reader directs our attention to a passage in ScreenDaily's review of the new Ghibli movie, TALES FROM EARTHSEA:

"However, although Disney has a US distribution deal with Ghibli, Stateside audiences won't be able to see Earthsea until 2009, when the copyright on the Sci-Fi Channel's Earthsea TV series (the subject of much criticism by Le Guin) runs out."

2009? I'll be looking forward to that.

September 26, 2006 at 11:21 AM in News | Permalink | Comments (0)


The Pusan International Film Festival (Oct. 12 - 20) and the Chicago International Film Festival (Oct. 5 - 19) have both just announced their line-ups. Let's take Chicago first, simply because it's smaller and therefore easier to chew:

PAPRIKA - Satoshi Kon's new animated film

JASMINE WOMEN - older Zhang Ziyi film no one's seen yet.

TAKING FATHER HOME - it looks like one of those sentimental Chinese pics like GOING TO SCHOOL WITH MY FATHER ON MY BACK.

SUMMER PALACE - Lou Ye's banned film.

LITTLE RED FLOWERS - Zhang Yuan's exceptional story about schoolkids in China.

THE HOST - Bong Joon-Ho's monster-sized monster movie.

DIRTY CARNIVAL - Korean gangster movie.

HOST AND GUEST - a truly terrific Korean art film that's funny and savage. We wanted it in this year's festival in NYC but the slots all filled up too fast and we ran out of room.

KING AND CLOWN - Korea's massive word-of-mouth hit.

TIME - I think this is the North American U.S. premiere of Kim Ki-Duk's latest.

THE UNFORGIVEN - the movie about the harshness and inhumanity of Korea's military that earned lots of hate from the country's armed forces.

INVISIBLE WAVES - the latest collab between Chris Doyle, Tadanobu Asano and Pen-Ek Ratanaruang.


SYNDROMES AND A CENTURY - the latest art meditation from Thailand's Apichatpong Weerasethakul.

- the truly terrific cab driver movie starring Thailand's Mum Jokmok. It would be a great movie if only it wasn't for that cyborg rape scene...

And as for Pusan? There're more movies than I know what to do with. The latest from Shinya Tsukamoto. Patrick Tam's new movie. A slew of premieres from the Philippines. Just go check it out.

September 26, 2006 at 10:39 AM in News | Permalink | Comments (4)


CURIOSITY KILLS THE CAT, starring Carina Lau So what China will go to the Oscars this year? My money is on Old Timey Time China with CURSE OF THE GOLDEN FLOWER doing a qualifying run in Beijing as you read this, and with Zhang Yimou, Gong Li and Chow Yun-fat attached since they're all easy-to-recognize names.

THE BANQUET could be the other movie since it's just played the major festivals, stars Zhang Ziyi and is based on HAMLET, another easily-recognized name.

But the previously-mentioned racy movie, CURIOSITY KILLS THE CAT, starring Carina Lau, is making a bid for being China's Oscar submission for Best Foreign Film and it's set in Modern Fast Zippy China. Telling the story of weird events occuring in a luxury apartment building the movie has submitted its application to be a nominee to SARFT and it might carry the day. Apparently, SARFT officials are getting worried that Academy voters are sick of Old Timey Time China.

(Read more over on 24 Frames per Second)

September 26, 2006 at 09:19 AM in News | Permalink | Comments (3)


Tetsuro Tamba One of Japan's major screen presences passed away yesterday: Tetsuro Tamba died at the age of 84. With well over 300 movies in his filmography, Tamba appeared in two of the greatest Japanese movies of all time - HARAKIRI and KWAIDAN - as well as dozens of so-so flicks, artfilms, and mainstream movies. Western audiences know him best as Tiger Tanaka in the James Bond film YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE, or as Grandpa in Takashi Miike's HAPPINESS OF THE KATAKURIS.

He was also a pivotal figure in Japan's Great Spirit World Cult.

You can read obituaries here and, more memorably, here.

September 26, 2006 at 08:56 AM in News | Permalink | Comments (1)

September 25, 2006


Exiled Johnnie To's EXILED got great reviews at its festival screenings but the fun doesn't stop there. Hot on the heels of acquiring Bong Joon-Ho's THE HOST, Magnolia has picked up the North American rights to EXILED. No news about a release date, yet, but it's hard not to be excited.

Magnolia has had a tough time with some of its Asian releases in the past but here's hoping that a one-two punch of EXILED and THE HOST in 2007 will make them so much money they have to throw it all into a big room and swim around in it like Scrooge McDuck.

EXILED has a pretty barebones (but good looking and free of annoying Flash) website up over here featuring lots of pretty, sepia-toned stills.

The Hong Kong release date for EXILED, which stars Francis Ng (among others), has been set for October 19, when it will go up against another Francis Ng movie: WO HU. A Wong Jing project, WO HU looks like one more installment in the recent spate of triad/cop movies from Wong Jing, although with Eric Tsang and Shawn Yue in the cast it can't be all bad. You can watch a trailer of WO HU and marvel at how it looks exactly like the love child of INFERNAL AFFAIRS and ELECTION.

And as a final tidbit, Simon Yam has been talking to the Hong Kong Mainland Chinese press and saying that there will be two sequels to Johnnie To's PTU and that he's involved with them.

(Thanks to a sharp-eyed reader for all the news. And thanks to Little Sam for posting the WO HU trailer)

September 25, 2006 at 02:45 PM in News | Permalink | Comments (4)


Gandhi fights pirates While riding the bus from Pune to Mumbai, Indian actor Dilip Prabhavalkar (who plays Gandhi in the huge Sanjay Dutt comedy hit, LAGE RAHO MUNNABHAI, currently in theaters) was shocked to see that the in-bus entertainment was a screening of LAGE RAHO MUNNABHAI. It was a pirated disc!

Leaping into action he dialed the film's director on his cell phone, the director called the United Copyright Protection Association, and at King's Circle, Mumbai, the bus was raided by a squad of cops, pirated copies were seized, arrests were made, and suspects were taken into custody.

What's most astonishing to me about this story was that Dilip Prabhavalkar was riding a bus in the first place. That puts Nic Cage to shame.

(Thanks to Al for the heads up on this one)

September 25, 2006 at 01:44 PM in News | Permalink | Comments (0)


MAUNDY THURSDAY Korea's Chuseok holidays are here, which is when a slew of big, fancy movies hit the screens all over the country. THE HOST is still at number 4 (having taken in an astonishing US$76 million in just 7 weeks) but a bunch of lightweight movies are in holding the other top five slots, and they're about to be stomped like fluffy bunnies trying to take on Godzilla.

Last year, Chuseok saw the release of APRIL SNOW (huge overseas, so-so at home), MARRIED TO THE MAFIA 2 (critics hated it, audiences loved it) and DUELIST (not a ton of money, but it did okay and created a minor cult). So what's coming this Chuseok?

Darcy, at KoreanFilm.org takes a look at the three big movies:

- MARRIED TO THE MAFIA 3 - he didn't see it, it probably stinks, but there's already a MARRIED TO THE MAFIA 4 on its way so it doesn't really matter, does it?

- MAUNDY THURSDAY - Song Hye-Sung (FAILAN) does a big, glamorous movie about capital punishment starring Kang Dong-Won (DUELIST) and Lee Na-Young (PLEASE TEACH ME ENGLISH) . Darcy says: "The film pulls its political punches and may have too much Christian imagery for some, but as a nice-looking tear jerker with a bit of directorial restraint, it's not bad."

- RADIO STAR - Lee Joon-Ik made KING AND THE CLOWN which became a massive word-of-mouth hit in Korea and he can basically make any movie he wants to make now. So what movie does he want to make? A sentimental comedy about a rock star growing long in the tooth who moves to a small town in the country and learns all about friendship. Starring Ahn Sung-Ki and Park Joon-Hoon (who last crossed swords in Lee Myung-Se's NOWHERE TO HIDE) Darcy found himself surprised by this one: "After seeing it, I'm convinced it's going to be a huge hit. Yes, it's sentimental and somewhat predictable, but Lee and his regular screenwriter Choi Seok-hwan's strengths in storytelling manage to overcome all of that...I can't say that on a personal level it's one of my favorite films of the year, because it's just not my style, and I don't think the film has any real international potential, but within the context of Korea it's a slam dunk."

WAR OF FLOWERS - Choi Dong-Hoon made THE BIG SWINDLE which was much-loved by critics but didn't really set the world on fire at the box office but now he's made this flick which is about the super-complicated Korean card game of hwatu. Darcy sez: "The buzz after yesterday's press screening (which I missed, unfortunately) was electric, with people saying that it surpasses THE BIG SWINDLE on several levels."

Read his full thoughts over at KoreanFilm.org

September 25, 2006 at 12:28 PM in News | Permalink | Comments (0)


Cage factor As tanks rolled in Thailand last week, as the military seized power in that country's 18th coup d'etat since 1932, as friends emailed me from Thailand to let me know what was going on and that they were okay only one thought burned in my brain: was Nic Cage safe?

For those of you who don't track Cage's movements around the world using maps and bits of paper, Nic Cage was in Thailand shooting the Pang Brothers remake of their first big movie, BANGKOK DANGEROUS (which sports the working title BIG HIT IN BANGKOK).

Cage, who said recently that he was "half-asian" thanks to having worked with John Woo on FACE/OFF and to being married to a Korean-American, has a private plane waiting to ferry him away at the first sign of coup trouble, but otherwise he is - despite the total disinterest in his fate on the part of the Western press - sitting tight. The production is on hiatus while the coup settles down.

I am very depressed that the only person to cover this story is Yahoo! Canada, and Wisekwai.

But, thanks to my savvy editor, I now know that Army Archered covered this story on his blog at Variety, as well. He speaks with the movie's producer, William Sherak, and this is one of many, many wonderful quotes in the post: "Hong Kong beauty Charlie Young is the femme lead and the role calls for her to be deaf. "It's a very special relationship with Nicolas," said Sherak. "It's a very special story."

There you have it, folks, straight from the producer's mouth: it's very special.

(I was out of the country last week - could you tell? - and so I may have missed some media coverage of Cage's condition. If anyone saw some, please let us all know.)

September 25, 2006 at 11:44 AM in News | Permalink | Comments (0)


Feng Xiaogang is, apparently, raking in the bucks across Asia. His Zhang Ziyi movie, THE BANQUET, sucked up 40 million yuan in China on its opening weekend, coming within 9 million yuan of DRAGON TIGER GATE's total box office takings. Up until now, DTG has been the number one Chinese movie in China in 2006 but it seems almost inevitable that THE BANQUET will kick its butt and take the number one place, then prance around the ring pumping its fists in the air and shouting, "Number One! Number One!"

Feng is already prepping his next movie THE ASSEMBLY which is set to start shooting on October 6 (with a US$10 million budget) and with a planned release for late 2007. The movie is a war flick set during the end of China's civil war and the start of the Korean War about a commander who is ordered to fight until he hears the assembly call...but the call never comes. Fight! Fight! Fight! Ack, everyone dies. Oh, the humanity!

Feng is a big fan of Korea's giant war film, TAE GUK GI, and he went to that movie's director, Kang Je-Gyu, and asked for advice. Kang turned Feng over to his production company, MK Pictures, who will be handling special effects, make up and cinematography for the war scenes.

September 25, 2006 at 10:26 AM in News | Permalink | Comments (0)


I love Chinese audiences because they hate every major Chinese movie that comes along. They're like that parent who looks at the A on your report card and says, "Where's the A+?"

When CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON came out they all made fun of Chow Yun-fat's accent. When HERO came out Chinese audiences said that it either had no story or was a justification of the One China Policy. When HOUSE OF FLYING DAGGERS was released I can't remember many nice comments, and everyone in China took turns kicking THE PROMISE. All these movies made money in China, but it was almost like everyone felt they had to buy a ticket so they could hate on the films.

Now, THE BANQUET is out and it's getting mixed reviews as well with plenty of hate as a garnish. But there is one upcoming Chinese movie that is getting positive word of mouth. One movie that in some freakish twist no one in China seems to hate. Yet.


It's screening in Beijing right now to qualify for a "Best Foreign Film" Oscar nomination and China's press doesn't know what to make of the fact that people seem to like the movie. They say it's got good actors, a good story, and it looks nice. Even Gong Li is so moved by these comments which are, relatively speaking, like a big sloppy wet kiss from Chinese audiences that she's busting out all over:


(Thanks to MonkeyPeaches)

September 25, 2006 at 09:53 AM in News | Permalink | Comments (7)

September 21, 2006


Ronny Yu directs Jet Li in FEARLESS

The director of FEARLESS, THE BRIDE WITH WHITE HAIR and BRIDE OF CHUCKY recently made some time to speak over the phone to plug this Friday's release of FEARLESS (you can read my review here). But despite the fact that this was a promotional event, Ronny Yu was an absolute joy to talk to. Unafraid of stating his opinion and eager to talk about absolutely everything the only criticism I have is that he didn't laugh at my Jean Claude Van Damme joke and that I didn't come better prepared with more controversial questions.

So what was it like to go back and shoot a movie in Hong Kong after being in Hollywood for ten years?
I think it was like anything else: you’ve been away for a while so you have to readjust to the system. Working in China or Hong Kong, there is no defined system in place for making movies. You don’t have to have a lot of preparation, especially when dealing with all the action sequences. I’ve gotten used to storyboards, but they do it on the spot and come up with all the choreography right there. In Hollywood, everything has to be prepped so that you can coordinate between the photographer, the action choreographer, the director, the various department heads. I think that’s because in Hollywood you have a much bigger budget than you have in China, where the budget is very limited. But overall, you know, moviemaking is the same all over the world. You just have to adjust your thinking and adjust to the physical aspect of doing the work.

Hong Kong has a very unique system of filming action where the action directors are very involved, often picking camera angles and participating in the editing. Can you talk about the role of the action director in a movie like FEARLESS?
First of all I don’t know how this whole system came about. In my movies, in all the years I worked in Hong Kong, I never had an action director. I thought it was below me. There’s only one director. This system has survived somehow but it reflects the laziness of the director. No director should have another director doing his work for him. I think this came about back in the 60’s when they were credited as “action choreographer” but they soon figured out that they were doing all the work. The director would just say, “Give me five minutes of fighting here,” and then they’d be off at home eating their dinner while the action choreographer did all the work. It was an unfair system, and later on some high-powered choreographers demanded that since they have to do all the work anyways, they wanted the “action director” credit.

Yuen Wo-ping (center) on the set of FEARLESS On FEARLESS I went along with all this because of marketing. Yuen Wo-ping has such a fantastic reputation based on all his previous work that the distributor thought this would have a lot of marketing value. And I have such a high degree of respect for Yuen Wo-ping that I had no problem going along with it. If you look at the credits of FEARLESS in the worldwide release you have Yuen Wo-ping as the stunt choreographer and he’s also the second unit director. I think this is more accurate, because sometimes he has to do shots on his own that are second unit and he designs the stunts.

Working together, he and I talk about the story and we talk about the tone and we come to an understanding. We didn’t storyboard the action scenes because that’s not how Yuen Wo-ping works, except of course for the visual effects shots where you need to plan them carefully. All the action was designed on the set on the day of shooting and luckily we had Jet Li as a leading man which makes life easy for me. I’m there during all the action scenes, even though I know some directors pass on this responsibility and let the action director do everything. I did all the editing myself, too. Some directors let the action director edit their sequences, but by that standard then why no let the photographer who shot the movie edit it? Why not let the costume designer edit it? The director can just take a holiday. To me this is disrespectful to the artistic value of the movie, and it’s unfair to make the action choreographer do so much work. Directors do this who are lazy or have no vision. If you don’t know action and can’t direct an action scene then don’t direct an action movie.

Was it a difficult decision to cut 40 minutes from the movie?
It was tough. I think it was tougher for Jet. I remember I had to convince him, he felt really bad. We had worked on the script together. We spent a long time living with this story. But when you make a mainstream, commodity movie you have people saying that the market cannot support a 2 hour and 40 minute action movie, a foreign movie, a Jet Li movie. It’ll never happen – that’s what I was basically told. So in order to bow to commercial demands I had to comply. It was a terrible experience. How do you reconstruct the movie after taking out so much? Fortunately I have a good attitude about life: it’s not meant to be fair. You make a choice. Do you want 2000 theaters and millions of people watching your movie? Then there’s a price to pay. If you can accept this philosophy you’ll be happier. Was it the right decision? I’ll never know because the 2 hour and 40 minute movie was never released, although I just finished up my extended director's version that will come out on DVD by the end of the year.

There are so many different accounts of Hua Yuan Jia's death. Why did you decide to go with the poisoning story for the death of Hua Yuan Jia?

For dramatic reasons. I did a lot of research and there’re a lot of different descriptions about how he died, but none of them make sense. The most popular version points the finger at the Japanese. This version says that Hua accepted a challenge from a Japanese karate master and in a very short time he broke his arms and defeated him. That same night he was invited to dinner with the fighter and his doctor. Hua had asthma and during the meal he was coughing so badly that the Japanese doctor offered him some medicine. He took it for three months and died. When an English doctor examined him at the autopsy he found that all of his internal organs were damaged from the medicine. He'd been poisoned. That doesn’t make any sense. If you take cough medicine and it's not working then you probably stop taking it the next day, sooner if it's making you feel bad. You wouldn't take it for three months. So I thought, "How am I going to shoot this ending?" I decided to forget about the historical fact since there were no historical facts. And we weren't making a documentary about Hua, this was more of a chance for Jet Li and I to explain the spirit of Chinese martial arts. So like I said, everything serves the story and I changed the ending to enhance the dramatic effect.

You saw a lot of movies as a kid and I wondered if there were any actors or movies that had a lot of meaning for you from that time?

I went through different stages. When I was young I was so intrigued by action movies because they made me feel like I’m 10 feet tall and I saw all the Shaw Brothers movies with Jimmy Wang Yu who was my hero. Later on I really enjoyed King Hu's movies because he changed the genre. And then later in life I got to watch a lot of Mainland Chinese movies, and I especially love all of Zhang Yimou's movies.

How have you succeeded in Hollywood? It seems like something difficult for Hong Kong directors to do. And you didn't have to make a Jean Claude Van Damme movie. How'd that happen?
A lot has to do with my own philosophy. When I was 8 months old I got polio, so right off the top I’m a little bit handicapped. You learn to accept that. In the beginning you have a lot of anger: why can’t I play soccer or football? Why can’t I start a fight? Slowly you learn to accept that: this is life. I have to go on this journey, so I accept any challenge. Challenges are a motivation for me to continue. I didn’t study film but I love film. It’s my father’s doing. I didn’t have friends because of my handicap so he would just drop me at the cinema every day during the summer holiday and I watched tons of movies. I realized a director had the power to transport an audience to a different world and all the audience's pain, all their problems, can be forgotten for two hours. I wanted to do that but my dad didn’t agree because it wasn’t regular work.

Later I got into the film industry and started making movies. When I pick a project the motivation is not that I have something to say and you need to listen - I just want to entertain, it’s my duty to entertain people for two hours in that dark cinema. All along I’ve been accused of being a sell-out but I believe a movie is designed to enterain. I don’t care what they say. That mind set got me through cutting 40 mintues of FEARLESS.

Making these B-movies in Hollywood is fun. I wanted to try to make them as entertaining as possible. And I get to learn. Being an artist is the most painful job because you need to convince the audience to come in and watch your movie. You have to ask them to come in and sit through your movie. It’s a commercial thing. You make a choice and everybody has the right to make that choice, but once you make that choice you have to stick to it. My choice is to make mainstream entertainment and I have to accept that. Just like I have to accept polio. I have to take 100 steps to get somewhere, I have to accept it. That’s fine. That’s the choice you make early on.

I still don’t think I’m successful. I wish I could be Spielberg and every one of my movies strikes gold. One very important element in filmmaking is that it’s a collaborative art. You have so many artitsts working on a movie: photographers, actors, writers, art department. So I always hire people who are more intelligent and more talented than me. If you accept that moviemaking is collaborative you make your life a lot easier.

Can you talk a little about working with these actors?
I think he’s still crazy after 10 years, but I think it’s all relevant. He’s such a talented actor and he has so much creative energy that maybe the industry doesn’t allow him the opportunity to express himself. I love that he’s crazy, and I learned a lot from him. I learned not to build a boundary when you try to be creative, just let it all out and then try to put it back. That’s what he said to me and I truly agree with him. But the trick is that you have to have a way to pull back, otherwise you’re just a crazy horse.

Shido Nakamura (FEARLESS)
I love his face. I love his acting skill. I really love his training in Kabuki. He has the body language. I was told japanese actors were very professional, and he's the only one I've ever met and he takes his art very seriously. We had a fantastic time. Yuen Wo-ping trained him for 2 weeks, just basic movies and jumps, because he understands the camera. That helped sell his skills onscreen. Also, he studied Mandarin. He didn't want his fans to think he copped out so he worked really hard on that.

Just now, when you mention him, I get goosebumps. I think a good movie comes about when the director and actor really understand and respect each other and that's what I had with him. I have that same experience with Jet. He was such a kind human being, it doesn’t matter how talented you are, you have to be a kind person. You can pretend, but the audience can read it. He would accept other people’s opinions and express his own opinions. He didn’t have a huge ego. And he was very generous with his fellow actors and actresses. He was a great collaborator. He would try anything. If I came up with something different he would say, ”Yeah, yeah, yeah - let’s see if it works." Leslie and Jet share that positive energy. It makes me miss him so much. All those memories. All those long hours shooting on the set. It all that comes back.

What are you doing next?
Right now I'm preparing the adaptation of an anime, BLOOD: THE LAST VAMPIRE. This was meant to be a long time ago, but I couldn’t find the time. We're still casting. We’re looking for Asian actors. Hopefully we’ll be able to start in January.

September 21, 2006 at 02:40 AM in Interviews | Permalink | Comments (12)

September 20, 2006


FEARLESS comes out this Friday and here's the previous review on Kaiju Shakedown. And you can also read a fistful of reviews from a bunch of other folks.

September 20, 2006 at 02:10 AM in Film Reviews | Permalink | Comments (3)

September 18, 2006


COPS VS. THUGS (1975) After body slamming his way into the Japanese consciousness with his five BATTLES WITHOUT HONOR AND HUMANITY movies, Kinji Fukasaku decided to show the other side of the coin. He’d already mapped the geography of the modern day yakuza so now he needed to show things from the cops’ point of view. The result is two corruption-flavored poison pills - COPS VS. THUGS (1975) and YAKUZA GRAVEYARD (1976) - and both movies show the police as so morally compromised and rife with corruption that they may as well be the yakuza.

If you thought Abel Ferrara’s BAD LIEUTENANT touched the bottom of the long dark well of corrupt cop movies then Fukasaku’s two police flicks will show you that you merely reached the top of the layer of scum on the bottom of that particular pond. There’s a lot of digging through ooze you can do before you actually reach the lower depths.

COPS VS. THUGS is by far the more satisfying film with Kurashima cop, Kuno (Bunta Sugawara from the BATTLES series) maintaining a comfy truce with the yakuza via his sworn friendship with Ken (Hiroko Matsukata, also from the BATTLES series), a yakuza who actually appears to have an IQ. As tensions escalate between Ken’s Ohara family and the rival Kawade, Kuno steps up to the plate to help wipe out the Kawade organization.

YAKUZA GRAVEYARD sees new Osaka cop on the block, Kuroiwa (Tetsuya Watari, Suzuki Seijun’s TOKYO DRIFTER) go from being a two-fisted reformer to becoming a sworn brother of bullet-headed, ultraviolent yakuza, Iwata, who uses Kuroiwa’s death wish to enlist him in the Yamashiro family rolls as they take on the Nishida clan. Unfortunately, the Nishida’s are being supported by the police department and any attempt to take them on is liable to be met with insane levels of police-sponsored violence.

YAKUZA GRAVEYARD (1976)Outwardly the two flicks are carbon copies but in the details they distinguish themselves and which you prefer has more to do with you than any particular lack of quality in the movies. Both are shot through with eye-popping, apparently accidental frame compositions and both contain enough acting horsepower to wipe out the competition.

I prefer Bunta Sugawara’s Kuno (COPS VS. THUGS) to Tetsuya Watari’s Kuroiwa (YAKUZA GRAVEYARD). Kuno starts the movie a corrupt bastard and ends it the same way. He believes that the best way to police the yakuza is to become a yakuza and he delivers witnesses to them, looks the other way when they gun down their rivals, and breaks the law on a regular basis. Kuroiwa, on the other hand, starts out as the new cop in town who gets up the noses of his accomodationist new bosses by aggressively going after the yakuza, even the ones his department has promised to protect. Left out in the cold by his fellow cops he winds up looking like a refugee from a Euro arthouse film, lying on the floor of his filthy bedroom, laying any piece of tail that comes with trouble attached, and fueling up on tall brown bottles of Kirin Ichiban until he decides to swap sides and become a yakuza himself. His change in allegiance doesn’t seem particularly well-motivated and besides, he’s declaring that Iwata is his sworn brother and Iwata isn't a patch on the hyper-intelligent, dangerously handsome Ken from COPS VS. THUGS.

For your dollar, COPS VS THUGS has the far more believable storyline, but YAKUZA GRAVEYARD is the winner for far-out setpieces: drug induced freak-outs, enormous fights, so many drive-by shootings it starts to feel like a night out in Compton. Both movies are out on new discs from Kino and both of them look good. So light up a pack of cigarettes, crack open a Kirin and get ready to rumble as Fukasaku makes the point that cops, yakuza, politicians and the press are all just gangs fighting it out in the streets.

(Note: Kino's discs contain great transfers and the original trailers for the movies, but not much else)

September 18, 2006 at 02:08 AM in Film Reviews | Permalink | Comments (0)

September 15, 2006


A long time ago the Washingtonienne blog got optioned to be a TV show, and Slate came to me and asked me to write about the exciting life of a blogger and how it could make a compelling TV series. I wrote it, but they never published it, the pop culture engine having moved on. But here, for your amusement, is my article on the exciting life of what goes on behind the scenes at Kaiju Shakedown. Note my annoying tendency to sound like Bridget Jones.

I am a blogger, which means that I make more money and lead a more exciting life than you. In today’s world, I could have a book, a TV show, a podcast or 15 minutes with the President whenever I want whereas all you get is a house, kids and a career that has dignity and meaning. A lot of my old friends know that I blog and when they saw that the Washingtonienne blog was being turned into a TV show their first question was: “Grady, can you turn Kaiju Shakedown into a TV show, too?” Of course I can. In fact, I spend so much time pouring cold water on producers’ pants that it’s eating into my blogging. “But Grady,” they continue. “Your blog is about the Asian film industry and although it’s insightful and frequently hilarious don’t you think it has a limited audience in America?” Uh, no. This kind of question is the reason why they’re my old friends.

Not that I have anything to prove, because I don’t have to prove anything to anyone but myself, but here’s a typical week in the life of Kaiju Shakedown so you can see that it contains all the thrills and drama that you, the American people, want to see on TV.

Early blogger gets the worm, and am up at 10AM typing away. Something in kitchen doesn’t smell good but forgot about it when I notice that rival blog, Twitch, has run a piece linking to a trailer for MEMORIES OF MATSUKO. I linked to that first and they know it. So why couldn’t they link through Kaiju Shakedown, my adorable and Variety-sponsored blog? The only person who sponsors them is a tacky DVD wholesaler. Develop further distaste for Todd who runs Twitch. Actually, maybe it is beyond distaste by now and has matured into dislike? Remember meeting Todd once and he didn’t seem so great. Wish I could put unflattering photo of him online without people misinterpreting that as bitterness rather than a desire for accuracy and fairness in journalism. If people saw how old he is they would turn against him. Feel betrayed and hurt.

Noticed that many readers of Kaiju Shakedown, my unique and well-written blog, seem to think that I am Indian superstar Shah Rukh Khan. Feel good about this until I realize that I am not Indian superstar Shah Rukh Khan. Considered passing self off as Shah Rukh Khan but realize big difference, viz. he is Indian. Become lethargic. Kitchen still smells bad. Has something died in there?

Wife asks what I’m doing. Working, I say. That’s not working, she says. Then she attempts to show off by calculating hours spent blogging vs. money made blogging. Winds up comparing me to sweat shop laborer making Nikes in China. I point out that Nike does not have factories in China. Score! I win. Bring up possibility of sex. Rebuffed Reason: she claims I do not wash enough because I spend all my time blogging for my uplifting and inspirational blog, Kaiju Shakedown. I feel this is an unfair characterization. Spend time online. Take article from Twitch and don’t give them attribution. Pigeon lands on windowsill and stares at me reproachfully. Why must everyone persecute me?

Post hot item about Ekin Cheng breaking up with Gigi Leung. Cancel errands (laundry, groceries, Blockbuster, meet with producers to talk about interactive WebTV show based around ground-breaking and spiritually-advanced blog, Kaiju Shakedown) anticipating wave of fan comments about article. Wait. Wait. Continue waiting. Finally someone posts a comment. It is an ad for herbal Viagra. Consider deleting ad but decide to leave it. Maybe it’s some kind of sly commentary on auto-posted blog Spam by one of my cutting edge readers? What smells so bad in the kitchen?

Angry email from Todd this morning demanding I put in a link to his blog (the badly-designed and spiritually desolate Twitch) because I have “stolen” one of his posts. Did you know that Todd has a baby? Maybe even three, I can’t remember. Someone told me this once. What kind of blogger has a baby? Todd’s kind, I suppose. That’s why he’s so jealous of me because you lose your figure after you have a baby. Think about this for so long that I wind up posting a two-year-old news item by accident. Instantly receive six comments pointing out that article is out of date and inaccurate. Where were these people when I broke the Ekin/Gigi break-up story? So much negativity in the world. Same negativity is probably reason there is all this trouble in Iraq. I get choked up thinking about plight of the Iraqi people and how it mirrors my life. Similarities are scary when you think about it.

Kitchen situation totally out of hand. Wife asks what is going on in there. I say I am not the keeper of the kitchen. She points out that since I work from home I am responsible for house. Makes annoying quotation marks with fingers when she says “work”. Feel oppressed by this. Point out that since she’s home now and obviously so obsessed with it maybe she should look in kitchen. After investigation she finds frozen pizza I forgot in the oven. She gives me a pointed look. I try counter-argument: maybe if she used oven more this kind of thing wouldn’t happen. Receive second, more complicated, look. I can detect bits of anger, rage and pity mixed in with a large amount of exasperation but can’t quite sum it up with one word. Throw out pizza. Day ruined. Unable to blog.

Read other blogs. Decide this is “homework” for my cutting edge and ergonomic blog, Kaiju Shakedown. Forget shower, again. Kitchen still smells. Why is this? Decide that other bloggers seem happier than me. Become even less happy. This is hardly fair. Todd has posted something on his ridiculous site about Ekin and Gigi breaking up. Has attracted 22 comments. Ha. They are probably all ads for herbal Viagra. Not that he needs it. He has three babies. Become despondent. Yearn for frozen pizza. Realize there is an almost-new one in garbage. Ponder ethics of situation. Decide that the week has been so bad I can reward self with a drink. Then I reward self with runner up award drinks. Decide that beautiful and Christ-like blog, Kaiju Shakedown, would probably sweep any awards show that was judged fairly and so reward self with all the drinks. Run out of Alize before I run out of categories. Consider going to store for more rewards but decide to pass out on laptop instead so I can be up early and ready to blog. Hopefully I will not drool.

How about them apples? Can you not wait for the television show? Seriously, I am excited just typing this up. I’m thinking Michael Rapaport from “The War at Home” might be good at this. Please, comment on this article as I plan to show it to a producer who’s considering starting a comic book that he’ll leverage into a feature film and then franchise into a TV series all based around the greatest blog on the planet, Kaiju Shakedown.

September 15, 2006 at 02:43 AM in News | Permalink | Comments (25)

September 13, 2006


YAKUZA PAPERS (aka BATTLES WITHOUT HONOR AND HUMANITY) box set Between 1973 and 1974, Kinji Fukasaku unleashed his five film YAKUZA PAPERS (aka BATTLES WITHOUT HONOR AND HUMANITY) series like a pack of rabid dogs and, like Hiroshima’s ruined Genbaku Dome (a shot of which closes every installment in the series) these movies are a shattered, shattering, smoldering ruin that looms large over Japan’s filmscape, saying everything there is to be said about the yakuza movie.

It’s a 634 minute movie, split into five parts, that teaches an alternate history of post-War Japan: one where honor died in one mushroom cloud and humanity died in the other. It’s the story of a country built on greasy whorehouse handshakes and backroom deals; a country where politicians need criminal muscle to get out the vote and then need said muscle to stand far, far away when the press photographers come calling; a country where who you pay off is more important than who you are.

It’s a grand, glorious gun opera and the best way to see it is all at once, one movie after the other smacking you in the head like a hammer. When you pick yourself up off the floor you’ll be bloodied and bruised and your skull will be splitting open with all the plotlines, characters, sub-plots, gang names and knotty alliances you’re having to keep straight, but your nerves’ll be buzzing. To sound like a snotty English major, it’s like reading Shakespeare’s "War of the Roses" cycle all in one sitting. You start doing it because you’ve perversely decided it’s good for you. You finish doing it because the project takes on a life of its own. You could stop after one, but by the time you finish the second you’re too far in to turn back and when you get to the third you’re out of control: you have to know what happens next.

Fukasaku dedicated his early directing career to overturning the myth of the noble yakuza which was carved into celluloid during the 1960’s in hundreds of movies that saw Takakura Ken (or a reasonable facsimile) reassert the ideals of chivalry and honor by hacking apart dozens of dishonorable opponents from a rival gang like so many roast chickens. A young director with a lot to prove, Fukasaku read the memoirs of Kozo Mino, a Hiroshima gang boss, and then hit the streets with a cast of dozens and the goal of proving that honor was like old gum: something you scraped off the bottom of your shoe. The club he’d use to kill this myth was BATTLES WITHOUT HONOR OR HUMANITY (1973).

Widescreen was the industry standard in Japan at the time but rather than using it to depict epic vistas, Fukasaku dropped his cameraman into crowded black markets and hellhole bars where the only light came from bare bulbs shaded with sheets of old newspapers. This movie isn’t so much handheld as hand-tossed with the camera whirling around, zooming dangerously, and turning on its side. Starting in 1949 it focuses on Shozo Hirono (shark-faced Bunta Sugawara) a soldier returned from the war who winds up joining the Yamamori family with a bunch of brothers and rising through the ranks.

A lot has been made about how confusing these movies are, and you’d be hard-pressed to find a more hermetic, closed-off world than THE YAKUZA PAPERS. It has its own cosmology, its own particular gods and demons, and it plays like a soap opera for men full of sweaty faces seen in close-ups, terse conversations, sudden votes, cigarettes ground out in anger, and opportune phone calls. But it’s also a series that’s as alive as Frankenstein’s monster freshly juiced up on lightning. The first movie starts with a lingering pan across the Hiroshima mushroom cloud, moves on to two impromptu arm removals complete with high pressure blood sprays, a rape committed by drunk GIs and the violence inches up from there until the delirious finale that makes the massacre at the end of THE GODFATHER look like an understatement. And the confusion is part of the fun. Just hang on and don't sweat the small stuff. It'll all get worked out by the end.

Shot one year after THE GODFATHER, which was a causative factor in studio Toei greenlighting Fukasaku’s film, the differences couldn’t be starker and they’re all summed up in the opening scene of BATTLES. THE GODFATHER begins with its shot of Marlon Brando hovering in the murk of his study and moves on to a complicated wedding scene that outlines the characters' relationship to each other. In BATTLES WITHOUT HONOR AND HUMANITY, Marlon Brando is replaced with the A-bomb before the movie moves into a complicated scene set at a black market that outlines the players for us, but these aren’t presented primarily as people with emotional connections but as wild dogs fighting over the scraps fallen off their masters’ table and their connections are economic, not social.

BATTLES WITHOUT HONOR AND HUMANITY was a hit, and Fukasaku made two more installments in 1973 and two more in 1974. But, again, unlike THE GODFATHER which traces the rise and fall of Michael Corleone, Fukasaku is painting a broader picture that ignores people in favor of portraying power. You don’t have to understand which family is fighting which to get a feel for the map that's being drawn. This is a movie concerned with history, not with feelings. Feelings happen, but they’re a by-product of power plays, not the focus of the movie.

BATTLES WITHOUT HONOR AND HUMANITY 2: DEATHMATCH IN HIROSHIMA turns Bunta Sugawara into a supporting character in the story of a young thug, Yamanaka (Kinya Kitaoji), who falls in love with his boss’ niece and gets his long-delayed wish to be a kamikaze pilot granted when he’s turned into a trained attack dog by said boss while a scarily-tanned Sonny Chiba, hand surgically attached to his crotch, struts the streets and kills at random. The mood is more psychological and the yakuza family conflicts are much reduced and easier to follow.

This flick also features one of the few lead roles by a woman and it’s easy to see why there aren’t more of them in these films. Dropped into the blood-slimed power struggles, Meiko Kaji (LADY SNOWBLOOD), howls like a flayed cat dropped in salt water. She ends the movie doubled over in psychic pain with scalding tears being pulled our of her eyes by fishhooks and except for a few bit players we won’t see women in the series again.

But that’s not to say there aren’t plenty of characters to sink your teeth into. To use that word again, this is a line-up that’s downright Shakespearean. The great villain of the piece is the treacherous Boss Yamamori who’s as liable to burst into tears as order a hit, and he’s matched in ruthless cunning only by his plump, cheerful wife. Sonny Chiba literally rips the scenery to shreds in his role as Otomo and Hiroko Matsukata as a tubercular bad guy with a good heart in the final two films holds your eyeballs like glue.

The greatest weakness of the first movie is also its greatest strength: Bunta Sugawara’s Hirono is the main character and his double-breasted purple suit is the center of gravity around which the rest of the cast revolves. But he doesn’t rise to the top. By the end of the first movie he’s fallen totally out of favor in the gang.

Relegated to supporting status in BATTELS WITHOUT HONOR AND HUMANITY 2: DEATHMATCH IN HIROSHIMA, Hirono’s slowly making his comeback because, as he drolly puts it, “I know a lot of people.” In BATTLES WITHOUT HONOR AND HUMANITY 3: PROXY WAR, the most compelling of the five movies, he gets a tragic comeuppance that makes you yearn for the villain of the piece to be punished. Gang wars are brought to a sudden halt by a suddenly rejuvenated police force in BATTLES WITHOUT HONOR AND HUMANITY 4: POLICE TACTICS and then things come to a realistic but somewhat anticlimactic conclusion in BATTLES WITHOUT HONOR AND HUMANITY 5: FINAL CHAPTER as Kinya Kitaoji returns as a totally different character, Matsumura, a young, sweat-less android who wants to transition the yakuza from street gangs to political action groups that make their money more legitimately.

Watching all five movies is an exhausting ride but it’s worth it. If you go in expecting a typical movie narrative, forget it. Go get a hotdog instead. The idea of setting up heroes and villains and then having the hero triumph in the last reel is thrown in the trash like a prom night baby. These movies are charting a social movement, from back alley fighters to the men whose back alley deals built Japan, powered industry and charted the course of politics. Personal stories aren’t all resolved, because they’re never all resolved in real life and besides, the real story on Fukasaku’s mind is where power went in postwar Japan. And that story runs in tracks that needs the blood of people for axle grease, but it doesn’t so much need people. If you're looking for something that provides traditional narrative satisfaction then you're in the wrong place.

Despite the size and scope of Fukasaku's achievement it's the details that make these movies come alive and keeps them from becoming stale history lessons. In a later scene in the series, Bunta Sugawara is cooling his heels in a jailhouse corridor when an old enemy is brought by on his way to court. They sit on the bench together for a few minutes, chatting about how they came to this point. Behind them snow blows in through a broken window and these two once-great gang bosses curl their toes in pain: they used to have the police in their pockets, but now they’re only issued slippers to wear in the heart of winter. It’s a telling, tiny detail of what happened to power in Japan. It went from the personal power built on fists, to corporate power wielded by men in comfortable offices. And the people who put them there can’t even keep their feet warm. And after five movies and gallons of bloodshed, that's the point Fukasaku is making.

(Buy yourself the box set of THE YAKUZA PAPERS and treat yourself to a day of movies that'll blow your teeth out.)

September 13, 2006 at 02:01 AM in Film Reviews | Permalink | Comments (12)

September 12, 2006


Panna Rittikrai is Thailand's most famous action choreographer thanks to having one of his students turn out to be a little guy named Tony Jaa. But his career before ONG BAK and TOM YUM GOONG (aka THE PROTECTOR) isn't very well known. As part of the publicity push for THE PROTECTOR he agreed to do a very brief email interview, and my thanks to the publicity folks at the Weinstein Company for making this happen. And if you want to see his best work yet, check out BORN TO FIGHT, either in one of the many versions that are out there or when it makes its bow on a special edition DVD from the Dragon Dynasty label.

How did you start out in the movie business in Thailand?
My first step in the movie business was to apply for the stunt position at Colisium Film. 
At that time, Mr. Kom Akkadej wanted to shoot a film called PETCH TUD YOK and he hired me as a stunt man and assigned me to teach Kung-Fu to Sureewan Suriyong who was considered the queen of action movies. Then, I became a stunt choreographer for the film called PHAYAKYEEGEY. Last but not least, I became the director of my own movie called BORN TO FIGHT in which I also played in a leading role.
(note: he's referring to the first BORN TO FIGHT. See below.)

What was the first movie you made where you felt the audience really saw what you were trying to do with action choreography?
The answer is the original BORN TO FIGHT which I both directed and acted in. In this movie, I intended to present the genuine action scenes which looked very real and risky.

What were some of the influences on your action style?
My action style was influenced by Bruce Lee. My early works were also influenced by Akira Kurosawa. However, at the present time, Steven Spielberg is my idol.

Can you talk about the movie you made with Tony Jaa before ONG BAK?
It was a low-budget movie in which I wanted to mainly present Tony Jaa. However, I could not wrap up the project because of the shortage of financial support. I also thought that movie lacked uniqueness. When I made ONG BAK, I realized that the uniqueness that I had looked for is Muay Thai.

You've made BORN TO FIGHT twice now. How are the two versions different?
They are very different. The first version had a very low budget but still the concept of the two are similar. In both, we planned to show the action scenes, the stunts and to make them exciting and realistic.

How would you describe your particular brand of action choreography? 
For my style of choreography, I try to utilize natural abilities. I prefer realities to techniques. I want to show that we have real fighting talents which are different to other foreign stars with big budget productions. Although our productions can be compared to them on budget, we do have talented actors who can show their natural abilities. 

What projects are you working on now?
There is the new title, CHOCOLATE. We will also have ONG BAK 2, and POWER KIDS.

Proust it's not, but I'm hoping that this is the first of many interviews that Panna Rittikrai starts giving to the Western press. He really did create the modern Thai action industry out of nothing and it'd be interesting to learn more about his early days. If anyone has info on some of the earlier films he mentions then please sing out.

Update: Here's the trailer for SPIRITED KILLER, an early Panna Rittikrai/Tony Jaa film.

September 12, 2006 at 01:41 AM in Interviews | Permalink | Comments (1)

September 11, 2006


Hana I feel sorry for the people who run Twitch, I really do. They are Canadians.

This means that they are mostly married homosexuals who are forced to recycle everything they throw away, usually in two languages, and this takes up so much time that it keeps them from eating as many beaver tails or as much poutine as they want. Which they really shouldn't be eating because they have no water, only beer, and they're already looking a little porky.

The only way they can escape the flabby hells that are their own bodies are to get high on medical marijuana and recite the capitals of all the European countries from memory because they were forced to take geography in elementary school and no matter how many times they're hit in the head by hockey pucks (hockey being one of the two sports you're allowed to play in Canada) they can't forget this useless knowledge, even if they hit themselves in the head with a curling (the other one) stone.

But once a year I do feel a little jealous for them because they get to go to the Toronto Film Festival and see a lot of movies. Despite the fact that the midnight screening of the BORAT movie ended after 40 minutes when the projectionist broke the projector (probably because the instructions weren't in French with a Montreal accent) there are still a lot of good movies playing up there.

HANA, the samurai deconstruction film from Kore-eda, has been widely ignored, but Opus suggests that this might be because there is more comedy and less samurai action than we've gotten used to thanks to Yoji Yamada's justifiably famous deconstructions TWILIGHT SAMURIA and THE HIDDEN BLADE.

Jade Warriors Todd, the so-called leader of Twitch, weighs in on JADE WARRIOR, a Finnish wu xia movie shot in China. He gives it a good review, but I've seen Todd and I know that all of his artificial limbs are paid for by socialized medicine and without that government check that providing him with the fiberglass legs he needs he'd never get out of his house. Some people want the government to do all their hard work for them. Some people like Canadians.

Then Todd stumps on over to Johnnie To's EXILED and gives it a glowing review. What's with this guy? Another good review? What's he so happy about? "...reminiscent of Takeshi Kitano's SONATINE...", "...sheer inventiveness and style.", "...the most vital, muscular figure in Hong Kong cinema today ..." All of these big words are impressive but I know that Todd is required by law to use them on a regular basis in order to justify his free education at the hands of the Canadian government and to make people from other countries feel inferior.

Well I don't. See your EXILED. See you HANA. Watch your HOST. I don't care. Because my flag doesn't have a big dumb leaf on it and that makes all the difference.

September 11, 2006 at 01:01 PM in Film Reviews | Permalink | Comments (16)


Although the trouble-plagued Hong Kong Disneyland has failed to hit its 5.6 million attendance figures for its first year, it did pull in around 5 million visitors which is pretty impressive. Except that Disney won't tell what this figure includes, meaning it could include visitors who attended on promotional days and free passes that were given out.

But a public opinion survey earlier this year revealed that 70% of Hong Kongers had a negative impression of Disney. Ouch.

September 11, 2006 at 10:27 AM in News | Permalink | Comments (0)


Jia Zhangke wins the Golden LionJia Zhangke's last-minute addition to the Venice Film Festival, STILL LIFE, won the festival's Golden Lion but it has received extremely negative reviews from Variety and Screendaily.

Derek Elley at Variety says it "...has almost zero plot but molto mood. It will appeal to the most faithful of the director's camp-followers and no one else."

Dan Fainaru at ScreenDaily says it "...will not gain much of an audience beyond festivals or very specialised programming."

So how'd it win?

(Thanks to the sharp-eyed reader who sent this in)

September 11, 2006 at 09:59 AM in News | Permalink | Comments (6)

September 08, 2006


Those with weak stomachs beware. Because you're about to hear Any Lau talking about things like "...an abundance of saliva."

Andy has Hepatitis B, not a huge deal in and of itself. But now fans are starting to criticize him for still doing love scenes, ignoring the reality that it is almost impossible to transmit Hep B via kissing. And unless Andy's got a career in hardcore porn that I don't know about that would be about all he's doing onscreen. Andy sums it all up in one disgusting sentence.

"One can only contract the virus through kissing if there is an abundance of saliva. I am not afraid to shoot kissing scenes and will do more," he says.

That grating sound you hear is me scraping the bottom of the barrel with this next item. I can't even talk about it. But if you want to read something so disgustingly funny, wrong and potentially upsetting then check out this article on the workplace woes of a Japanese urologist from an article in the Japanese magazine, Weekly Playboy. Just be warned: you cannot un-read these words.

So THE PROTECTOR hits theaters and is a trainwreck. Andy Lau talks about an abundance of saliva. An internet rumor starts about Alain Delon appearing in a Johnnie To movie. And THE BANQUET turns out to be not so great after all.

It's been an evil week. Take it Scary Red Bicylce Phallus Man.

scary, bicycle-riding, phallus devil man

September 8, 2006 at 12:54 PM in News | Permalink | Comments (0)


A sharp-eyed reader sends in the news that Sina.com has the official trailer for Johnnie To's EXILED. Fortunately, someone has uploaded it to YouTube where it's a faster, smoother experience.

Watch it and count the minutes till the DVD comes out.

September 8, 2006 at 11:52 AM in Trailers | Permalink | Comments (6)


an 84 minute mess called THE PROTECTOR TOM YUM GOONG is from the same team that brought us ONG BAK - Panna Rittikrai, Prachya Pinkaew and Tony Jaa - but the most important credit of all is missing: the editors who turned a 109 minute so-so movie called TOM YUM GOONG into an 84 minute mess called THE PROTECTOR.

TOM YUM GOONG is not a very good movie, and some re-editing could have helped it tremendously, but after having 15 minutes stripped out by T1, its international sales agent, and a further 10 minutes removed by The Weinstein Company it is totally incomprehensible.

The movie itself is the kind of thing that you have to see twice to truly appreciate the depths of ridiculosity to which it sinks. A waitress in a greasy spoon Chinese restaurant says, "There's a door in the back that goes to a VIP room but we aren't allowed in." Said door is opened, leading to a four story bar/restaurant designed around an atrium and with a full service kitchen full of exotic animals up top.

The action choreography isn't as sharp as it could be. Tony Jaa is a terrific physical fighter but the choreography in this movie doesn't serve him as well as the choreography in ONG BAK where the focus was on one-on-one match-ups. Here the focus is more on one-against-many fights and while there's a great warehouse scene up front (where would action movies be without warehouses?), the rightfully classic one-take, four minute fight in the VIP room, and a few nice bits here and there, the climactic action scene is a let-down.

a 109 minute so-so movie called TOM YUM GOONGSure, you wonder where they got so many giants. And sure, it's fun to see someone bodyslam a baby elephant. But when waves of baddies assault Jaa only to have their joints popped and crushed into bone powder all 80 of them obligingly line up and come at him one at a time. It's like watching a chiropractor clear out his waiting room on a busy day. It doesn't help that Tony Jaa holds the screen with all the magnetism of a chartered accountant. In person, Jaa is a very charming individual but so far that charisma hasn't been successfully translated onscreen.

By the time the movie has been re-edited by two different sets of editors from two different companies it is a mess. A perfectly fine new score has been added, as well as a couple of harmless tracks by the RZA, including a dirty R&B bump n'grind number over the sexy scene in the giant jacuzzi full of mud. Why anyone would set a seduction scene in a mud bath is a mystery to me. Has anyone watched this scene and gotten turned on as the oily mud clings to the faces and necks of the actors? I had to reach down my own throat and manually suppress my gag reflex when an actress in hoochie mama lingerie started dirty dancing while waist deep this nasty muck.

If this movie was already begging for its life, the new edit drives a stake right through its heart. Pivotal characters appear and disappear for no reason, without explanation. Fight scenes are trimmed, throwing them off balance. Dramatic build-ups are removed causing scenes to come out of nowhere and to end with all the grace of a channel being changed. A good deal of the movie is still in Thai but what dubbing there is is sporadic and doesn't always make much sense, especially with Mum Jokmok, whose English line-readings are allowed to stay for some of his dialogue while the rest sounds like plummy, mid-80's martial arts dubbing. My biggest question is: did anyone watch this movie before it was released? And if they did, were they drunk?

The worst thing about this movie are the reviews which dismiss it as junk but then say that martial arts and action fans will still love it. How desperate for a fix do they think we are? ONG BAK was no great shakes but it's THE SEVENTH SEAL compared to THE PROTECTOR, which is going to be the most widely released Thai film in North America. And that's enough to give you a headache all weekend long.

September 8, 2006 at 09:24 AM in Film Reviews | Permalink | Comments (6)

September 07, 2006


GILLIAN CHUNG'S BRA Three controversial op-ed pieces appeared in Hong Kong's Apple Daily this week defending the position of EasyFinder magazine which has refused to issue an apology in la affair Gillian. EastSouthWestNorth posts translations of the three articles, saying:

"These three essays are highly controversial.  The first one is written by an independent writer, who has been accused of selling her soul.  The second one is by a regular Apple Daily columnist, who has been accused of bundling the Hong Kong democratic movement with the EasyFinder case.  The third one is written by the regular AP commentator Li Yi.  Since Li has been prominent on issues of democracy on Hong Kong, he has been accused of lacking principles."

And they are doozies. But before your blood reaches the boiling point check out the take-down by Hong Kong blogger Diuman Park at the end of the post that elegantly and humorously tears the essays to pieces. And also pause to consider that there is an actual issue at stake in Hong Kong since some folks have apparently been calling for legislation to regulate what journalists can cover using Gillian's bra exposure as leverage. It would be a shame if Gillian's bra struck a blow against the freedom of press.

September 7, 2006 at 11:53 AM in News | Permalink | Comments (1)



EXILED, the new movie from Johnnie To, and the supposed sequel to THE MISSION, gets reviewed by Variety and ScreenDaily after premiering at the Venice Film Festival and they're raves. Well, ScreenDaily is not quite a rave but we'll get to that. Derek Elley writes about EXILED for Variety saying:

"Strongly recalling some of his late '90s work, like THE MISSION and A HERO NEVER DIES Johnnie To's "Exiled" plays like a lazy-day, Mexican-set Western that happens to take place in Macau...In a mixed East Asian bag at Venice, it was by far the most popular pic...And at least one sequence -- a blackly humorous moment when both groups unknowlingly converge in an operating room where a doctor's performing surgery -- may become a classic."

Dan Fainaru reviews for ScreenDaily, saying:

Less concerned than ever to tell an actual story, and more interested in exploring the possibilities of cinematic language, Johnnie To's latest gang war epic is probably his most eccentric foray yet into the genre...The result is an orgy of unchained violence in which a small group of professional hitmen join forces against the rest of the world, with the police looking the other way...Initially it would seem futile to try and discern any sense from this fierce bloodshed, but its increasingly unreal nature seems to metaphorically reflect the state of the world we live in..."

ScreenDaily sometimes seems to encourage a more philosophical and less aesthetic contemplation of Hong Kong movies, but I wish they'd gotten Shelley Kraicer to review this one. He brings a terrific grounding in Chinese film to his reviews, and there's something slightly off about this review. Maybe it's the focus on violence which seems misplaced (sort of like pointing out all the music in a Bollywood movie) or maybe it's the odd use of words that don't quite fit ("Cameraman Chang Siu Keung helps the director summon up an apotheosis of mayhem...destined to bawl over all To’s regular fans.") or maybe it's the strange sentences like this one:

"At times both confusing and enigmatic, Exiled stands as much a chance at festivals and on arthouse circuits as it does in midnight multiplex slots, where patrons may better appreciate how To deploys the tools of his trade."

Why would a midnight audience appreciate the "tools of To's trade" better than an arthouse or festival crowd? And who shows midnight movies these days?

It's a positive review but it was just...weird.

September 7, 2006 at 10:23 AM in Film Reviews | Permalink | Comments (1)


...and watch this video clip.

Cheap Trick = righteous
Cheap Trick in Japan = very righteous
Cheap Trick in Japan being interviewed by puppets = an experience beyond human understanding

If alien armageddon is ever about to occur I plan to show them this clip. How can they destroy a planet that produces such things?

(Courtesy of An Eternal Thought in the Mind of Godzilla)

September 7, 2006 at 09:31 AM in News | Permalink | Comments (1)

September 06, 2006



Everyone's favorite Hong Kong actress* is busily at work on Danny Boyle's SUNSHINE, but afterwards will she return to Hong Kong and make the crummy special effects dreck that we've gotten used to from her? Will the world have to collectively pretend to get excited over, and then totally ignore, THE TOUCH 2 or SILVERHAWK: THE RETURN? Actually, no.

TRUE NORTH is the next film from Asif Kapadia (THE WARRIOR) and it's got Celluloid Dreams attached and Sean Bean and Michelle Yeoh set to star. Set in Norway, the third banana in the cast, Bollywood actor Irrfan Khan, says the movie will be about the relationship between two women, one of whom we have to assume is Sean Bean.

Then, according to French news sites, Ms. Yeoh will star in a sci fi film, BABYLON AD, with Vincent Cassel and Vin Diesel. Directed by Mathieu Kassovitz, the movie is based on the novel "Babylon Babies" about a young woman carrying a genetically modified fetus that's supposedly the next messiah being escorted from Russia to Canada. Yeoh will play "Sister Helen".

(Thanks to the sharp-eyed reader who sent this in)
(*if you care about Hong Kong and Chinese movies then you just automatically have to like the HEROIC TRIO three: Michelle Yeoh, Maggie Cheung and Anita Mui. Even if your personal tastes run in another direction, you must acknowledge that these three actresses are like goddesses in the Chinese movie pantheon and that Michelle Yeoh, with her butt-kicking big sister vibe, is some kind of modern day saint just waiting for the right religion to come along and worship her. She'll accept our hymns of praise in the meantime.)

September 6, 2006 at 12:33 PM in News | Permalink | Comments (4)


The fourth BAYSIDE SHAKEDOWN spin-off movie will be showing up on television tubes in Japan as the big finale of a BAYSIDE SHAKEDOWN spin-off movie marathon this October. This time out it's Hideki Haijima, a lawyer from THE SUSPECT who will be the focus, caught up in the battle over an important piece of land. The title is HIDEKI HAIJIMA, ESQUIRE and it will be directed by the assistant director of THE SUSPECT, Daisaku Kobayashi. Norito Yashima will play Hideki Haijima.

September 6, 2006 at 11:21 AM in News | Permalink | Comments (0)


Satoshi Kon's PAPRIKA Satoshi Kon's PAPRIKA premiered at the Venice Film Festival, earning a five minute standing ovation at the end.

You can read ScreenDaily's glowing review ("If John Tenniel, the original illustrator of Lewis Carroll’s Alice books, had been reincarnated as an anime director then he might have produced something like this...one of the more refreshingly original animation titles we are likely to see this year.") which even takes the time to throw a brick at poor old Goro Miyazaki's EARTHSEA ("On the evidence here it’s easy to see why his work, rather than the more conventional Tales Of Earthsea – directed by Hiyaki Miyazaki’s son Goro – made it into the main competition at Venice.")

Then, Aaron Gerow reviews EVERYONE BUT JAPAN SINKS for Daily Yomiuri giving it three out of five stars ("...flushes the blockbuster's conception of Japan--and not a small amount of good taste and propriety--down the drain...often clumsily made, the acting substandard (especially by the non-Japanese actors), and the jokes and pathos wear thin, but even its dash of satire feels like a fresh sea breeze, one that may keep you afloat in these often uncritical times.")

September 6, 2006 at 10:14 AM in Film Reviews | Permalink | Comments (0)


THE HOSTKorea has a new movie in the number one slot after THE HOST has been crouching there all wet and slimey for five weeks: THE SINKING OF JAPAN.

US$3.2 million worth of Koreans showed up to see Japan destroyed by natural disasters, making SINKING the Japanese movie with the second-highest opening in Korea, beaten only by HOWL'S MOVING CASTLE.

THE HOST was in Japan this weekend as well, opening up at the number 7 spot, beaten at the box office by SINKING OF JAPAN which is on its eighth week of screenings in its home country.

(Thanks to HogaCentral and Ryugangi)

September 6, 2006 at 09:45 AM in News | Permalink | Comments (0)

September 05, 2006


Louye_web As punishment for screening SUMMER PALACE in Cannes without official approval from SARFT, China has imposed a ban on director Lou Ye and producer Nai An that will keep them from making movies for five years.

This is the second ban for Lou Ye, who received a two year ban for letting SUZHOU RIVER screen in Rotterdam without official approval. This must be especially galling for Nai An who advised Lou Ye against screening the movie in Cannes ("Lou Ye needs to calmly consider what he is pursuing.") And the other producer, Li Feng, said that the European sales agents accepted Cannes' invitation without consulting with the Chinese producers, putting them in a tricky position.

But it's not just movies that fall afoul of SARFT that get in trouble in China, sometimes it's movies that fall afoul of Mr. Zhao that get into hot water. One example: Carina Lau movie, CURIOSITY KILLS THE CAT.

Mr. Zhao is an employee of Beijing Film Developing and Printing & Video Laboratory and while processing the print of CURIOSITY he decided that some of the sex scenes were in violation of SARFT guidelines and he called a halt to all developing of CURIOSITY materials.  Zhou Hongsen, the vice-director of the film branch of SARFT sent a fax to the lab saying that they had his permission to process the print, but Mr. Zhao suspected the fax might be a fake. The production company reasonably asked for their negative back and Mr. Zhao refused.

After seven days, SARFT told the head of the lab that CURIOSITY had passed its review by SARFT and was A-OK, so the lab and the production company signed a contract absolving the lab of its responsibilities and returning the print materials to the producers. But Mr. Zhao would not give back the offending scenes, saying he was holding onto them "for safekeeping".

Over 20 days after this situation began it was resolved with further meetings between the producers and the lab, Mr. Zhao calmed down, and the movie is slated for a mid-October release.

But before you go thinking that Mr. Zhao is some kind of a nut, he had a reason for his caution: ten years ago Mr. Zhao was punished by the China Film Bureau for a similar matter and has been jumpy ever since. Or, as the head of the lab puts it, "Mr. Zhao was bitten by a snake and has had a fear of ropes for a decade." In the agreement arrived at by the producers and the lab they write that, "The punishment Mr. Zhao suffered ten years ago should not happen again."

See, it's not just the government censoring folks. Except when it is. Last week the Foxconn affair became a restricted topic, and newspapers were no longer allowed to print stories about the controversy. You can read a reporter's editorial on this, including his article that was yanked after the ban was passed, over on the invaluable EastSouthWestNorth.

But then again, it's not always the government doing the censoring. Sometimes it's private business just helping things get a little chilly. Foxconn and China Business News, the paper they sued (which I've been reading as First Financial Daily which might be a direct translation) issued a joint statement that they were seeking ways to work more harmoniously together in the future, sending a clear message to its reporters: hands off my iPod.

September 5, 2006 at 02:34 PM in News | Permalink | Comments (2)


The secret, last-minute addition to the Venice Film Festival has been revealed and it's Jia Zhangke's new movie, STILL LIFE, a feature length drama. The film takes place in a village near the Three Gorges Dam project in the future when the area will be under water (Jia also has a documentary about the impact of the Three Gorges Dam, DONG, screening in Venice this year) and Monkeypeaches describes the plot as follows:

"[STILL LIFE]....is about a man and a woman who went travel to the Three Gorges area of China's Long River (Yangtze River). The man was a miner, whose 'wife' he purchased was rescued by the police and sixteen years later, he left home and found her. They fell in love and decided to get married for real. The woman is a nurse, who is looking for her husband. After she found out that her husband was no longer the man she knew, she decided to devoice him."

That came right out of left field and I never would have guessed it.

September 5, 2006 at 01:49 PM in News | Permalink | Comments (2)


In an earlier post I wondered where Bong Joon-Ho (THE HOST) was in all these one-celeb protests to support Korea's quota system. I had seen news about Ryu Seung-wan, Park Chan-Wook, and Choi Min-Shik protesting but nothing on Bong. But now, Gege sends in the news that Director Bong participated in the mass protest, as well as doing a one man protest, as well as photographic evidence to back it up. Yay, Bong!

Bong Joon-Ho protesting

And in other news, on Saturday THE HOST passed THE KING AND CLOWN's record of 12.3 million tickets to hit 12.37 million tickets sold, officially becoming the most popular movie in Korean film history. It hit this mark in 38 days, as opposed to KING AND CLOWN which hit it in 112 days and now Bong has been given the keys to Korea and when he walks down the street everyone has to give him their umbrella and their change if he asks.

September 5, 2006 at 01:28 PM in News | Permalink | Comments (1)


THE BANQUET had its world premiere in Venice over the weekend and the word on the street is...meh. This much-hyped period film starring Zhang Ziyi, Ge You and Daniel Wu, directed by Feng Xiaogang (WORLD WITHOUT THIEVES) with action by Yuen Wo-ping, art direction by Tim Yip and music by Tan Dun is supposedly based on HAMLET and has kept a rolling boil of internet interest since it went into production.

But the reviews are in and they say: too long, not enough happens, little to no action, little to no story until the last half hour. Derek Elley reviews for Variety ("...not helped by the principals' slow, pregnant delivery of their lines, lack of acting chemistry (normally a strength of Feng's pics), and the unremittingly gloomy look.) Dan Fainaru reviews for ScreenDaily ("...stodgily told and clumsily directed, inter-cut with expertly performed but by now predictable masses of martial arts choreography") and they both come across as uncomfortable guests at a failed dinner party ("I...I thought your costume design was really terrific and that tedious plotting was very...interesting. I've never had it served with quite so much gravy before.")

The Chinese press has far more interesting details. Chief among CriEnglish's criticisms is that Western critics wanted a more "Chinese" film and found it "too Occidental", and then they say that the version screened in Venice was dubbed in English. I haven't seen a mention made of this elsewhere, and Variety says that the dialogue is in Mandarin so what planet does this news come from? According to CriEnglish, when THE BANQUET had a sneak preview in Guangzhou the audience laughed at it, couldn't understand the old fashioned style of speaking and walked out during an "awkward scene". They claim that said "awkward scene" was removed from the print screened at Venice.

Will this set the tone for Chinese coverage of THE BANQUET? Will they now turn on the movie after crowing about it for months? Maybe they only just found out that Zhang Ziyi is in it?


September 5, 2006 at 12:55 PM in News | Permalink | Comments (3)

September 04, 2006


Tony Jaa In an interview with Ed Douglas on ComingSoon, Tony Jaa speaks at length about TOM YUM GOONG and talks about his directorial debut, ONG BAK 2.

Jaa says they'll spend more time focusing on the script for that movie which is sort of a gimme because they could hardly spend less.

At the end of the interview his agent reveals that Tony will not be in RUSH HOUR 3, despite Brett Ratner's sweaty-palmed fantasies to the contrary.

September 4, 2006 at 03:37 AM in Interviews | Permalink | Comments (3)

September 01, 2006


Cecilia Cheung Perhaps inspired by the hip-swiveling number that Bollywood choreographer and director Farah Khan staged for Shakira at the VMA Awards, Cecilia Cheung says that she's packing on the pounds.

She quit smoking and gained ten pounds, but the talking stick says that her boyfriend, Nic Tse, couldn't be happier. "He forces me to eat sometimes," the emaciated actress said in a phone interview.

If Nic's a chubby chaser he's got a long way to go with Cecilia, who last weighed in at an astonishing 12 ounces, but I predict lots of feeder fun as Cecilia joins the ranks of the SSBBW's.

Meanwhile, Ronny Yu reveals the real reason he didn't direct SNAKES ON A PLANE in an interview on The Slug. Apparently, he wanted Samuel L. Jackson to die during the movie. He says:

"If I'm allowed the creative freedom, then I'll do it a little differently with Samuel L. Jackson. I'll make him more of a surprise for the audience. ... He can be a cool guy, but kill off the cool guy, so people hate those snakes. Rather than have the normal hero come save the day, I think the audience wants to see something a little bit different, unpredictable. Of course, working with a studio you have to follow what they set down, what their rules are."

So he left. And is there any doubt that the madman behind FREDDIE VS. JASON, BRIDE OF CHUCKIE and WARRIORS OF VIRTUE could have made a better SNAKES ON A PLANE? Not from where I'm sitting.

September 1, 2006 at 03:33 PM in News | Permalink | Comments (7)


Apple This hasn't been getting too much play in the West, but it's been a big story in China and fortunately the untouchable EASTSOUTHWESTNORTH has been keeping this story so juiced up on posting power that's it's starting to slide over onto the Reuters wire service. And now, a happy ending.

Back in June, the UK-based Mail on Sunday and the Daily Mirror wrote a story about the poor working conditions at a plant in Shenzhen that makes iPods. Claiming that the plant was breaking the law by forcing workers to etch Bono's autograph on iPod U2 Special Editions well past quitting time and with no overtime pay, the stories prompted Apple to look into the issue. Apple responded that the conditions weren't as bad as they were being reported and that they had spoken to the plant's owner, Foxconn (a subsidiary of a Taiwanese manufacturing concern), who would rectify the teensy, tiny little problems.

Foxconn But over in China, Foxconn wasn't quite so meek and mild, slapping a US$3.7 million defamation lawsuit on the Shanghai based newspaper, First Financial Daily, that also reported the story. In a really mean move, the suit was directed not at the newspaper, and not at its owners, but at the reporter and her editor. The first motion they filed was to have the two individuals' personal assets frozen for the duration of the court case - houses, cars, bank accounts, everything. And they were.

Foxconn has done this kind of thing before with a newspaper in Taiwan (a reporter had her assets frozen in a suit by Foxconn's parent company), but international outcry made them back off that time. Unfortunately, there was no outcry this time around. In fact, while there was lots of Foxconn coverage in the press while this was going on ("FoxConn boxes make the eyes boggle," read one headline) only the Shanghai Daily reported the lawsuit story. And, of course, the internet.

First Financial Daily fought back by giving the reporter and editor blogs and posting their comments about what the impact of the lawsuit was on their parents, friends and families. It was a PR war, fought online, with legal advisors weighing in on the illegality of Foxconn's actions and of the judge carrying out the motion. Finally, the news came down: Foxconn has dropped its suit from 30 million RMB to 1 RMB (about 13 cents) and the Shenzhen Intermediate Court has unfrozen the assets of the defendants. Foxconn says it's doing this, "to refocus the public's attention back to the real issue," and they issued a noxious press release talking about "...the minority who wrongfully abuses their so-called freedom of speech..." and saying that they were only suing to "...protect the Chinese dignity." They also say they'll donate the entire settlement, if they win, to a non-profit. The Red Cross is already filing suit in court to assert their claim to this massive 13 cent donation.

It's a qualified victory for the rule of law in China, but shame on Apple for not making a public statement condeming the actions of their manufacturing partner. In a scathing act of protest I will turn off my iPod for half and hour today. Let's see how Steve Jobs likes them apples.

September 1, 2006 at 01:38 PM in News | Permalink | Comments (0)


Andy Lau's Focus Films has joined forces with One Ton Cinema in a magical union that will cause Wisit Sasanatieng's ARMFUL to spring from its psychoplastic loins. Focus will find an international sales agent and kidnap the children of potential investors in order to round up the US$8 million budget as ARMFUL moves forward and Wisit's other film, NAM PRIX, keeps gestating in development for the time being. Here's how the press release characterizes the movie:

"The Chinese-language stylised tragicomedy will feature a pan-Asian cast, most likely from Hong Kong, China, Singapore and Thailand.

Set in 1970's South-East Asia, the film's influences range from Chinese martial arts films of the '60s and '70s to the gritty revenge tales of today."

So does this mean that Wisit's movie for Five Star, THE UNSEEABLE, is all finished?

teaser art for Wisit Sasanatieng's ARMFUL

September 1, 2006 at 12:20 PM in News | Permalink | Comments (1)


Jason Gray reviews the Fuji TV noodle bonanza, UDON, over on his blog. Mood: generally positive.

September 1, 2006 at 11:20 AM in Film Reviews | Permalink | Comments (0)


Ryu Seung-WanThe one-celebrity protests against the reduction of the screen quota system continue. After Korean celebs and mega-directors fought the power in Berlin and Cannes, Ryu Seung-Wan and the cast of CITY OF VIOLENCE continue the tradition in Venice.

Director Ryu will today stand outside the Palazzo Del Cinema at 4pm and hold a placard denouncing the planned reduction. On Saturday his cast will join in the fun.

Why these guys? Because Ryu Seung-Wan's CITY OF VIOLENCE is the only Korean film officially selected for the Venice Film Festival.

I'm waiting for Bong Joon-Ho to join in the protests. With the biggest movie in Korean history under his belt you'd think his pronouncements would hit like thunderbolts thrown from atop Mount Olympus. Park Chan-Wook and Kang Je-Gyu were both vocal opponents of plans to dismantle the screen quota system when they were riding high on SHIRI and JSA. So where's Bong? Not that he has to - free country and all that - but it would be a nice gesture.

September 1, 2006 at 10:28 AM in News | Permalink | Comments (3)


John Woo's BATTLE OF RED CLIFF - which was announced in 1904, will go into production in 2012 and be released in 2021 - has just moved one step closer to the start line.

Woo has signed a co-production deal with China Film Group (original co-producers, Asian Union Film & Media, have dropped out and are trying to make a TV series based on the same story) and has confirmed his main cast: Chow Yun-fat, Ken Watanabe, Tony Leung Chiu-wai and Taiwanese supermodel Lin Chi-ling.

The flick tells the story of the massive, million-man battle that established the Three Kingdoms in China and it's budgeted at $50 million, with a release date of 2008, just in time for the Olympics.

September 1, 2006 at 09:23 AM in News | Permalink | Comments (1)