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October 31, 2006


wine tasting robot

We have armed robots. We have robo-monkeys. We are developing robot blood. Wasn't that enough?

Not for the guys at the Mie University NEC Lab in Japan. Their idea seemed harmless enough: build a little robot that can taste wine. The tiny chap was unveiled in September of this year and performed admirably. He can even determine which apples are sweet and which are sour without slicing into them. He can taste wines, and all kinds of different foods.

And then Eric Talmadge, an AP reporter, let the little robot taste him.

"Prosciutto," the little guy chirped in his "childlike voice". Then he instantly scanned a cameraman.

"Bacon," he squealed.

Dear God, Eric. I know you have to get your story but did you have to let the robot taste our flesh?

Armed robo-monkeys will hunt our children down through the rubble of our future cities, hungry for their crispy skin and it will be all your fault.

October 31, 2006 at 12:17 PM in News | Permalink | Comments (1)


Taweewat Wantha's THE SPERM

Wisekwai is rounding up the year-end films from Thailand and among the fun is SPERM a movie from Taweewat Wantha, director of the truly unhinged SARS WARS.

What is SPERM? What is it about? I met the director a long time ago and he mentioned that he was working on a film about a sperm that grows to enormous size and attacks Bangkok. Was he kidding? Or is this the plot for...SPERM????

I had no idea this was even in production but can I just say that maybe I'm a moron, but if a Thai movie about a Godzilla-sized sperm raining down kaiju-sized destruction on a major metropolitan area is coming out before the end of the year then I will take back every mean thing I've ever said about Thailand. If this is true then Thailand truly is the Land of Smiles.

October 31, 2006 at 11:14 AM in News | Permalink | Comments (1)


Andrew Lau Andrew Lau, one half of the directing team that brought the world INFERNAL AFFAIRS and which just wrapped up CONFESSIONS OF PAIN, shot an American movie THE FLOCK. Starring Richard Gere and Claire Danes, the film was slated for a Nov. 3 release date but has now been postponed indefinitely.

One problem is that its distributor, Bauer Martinez, is run by Philippe Martinez, a dude who did some time in France for fraud back in the 90's when he scammed some folks in a moviemaking venture. Now he's opened Bauer Martinez as an independent studio in Hollywood but he's having a lot of problems with his first releases - namely that folks are saying he's a liar and can't deliver on his financial commitments.

But to add to that, there's word popping up on the IMDB message boards (hardly the Bible, but...) that Andrew Lau has left the movie because the producers wanted to go in a darker direction. The film was turned over to the associate editor who gave it a darker ending. But Richard Gere apparently doesn't like the harder ending and is lobbying for them to bring the old ending back. The movie has been finished since late August, and I'm guessing it gets dumped on the market in February 2007.

(Thanks to the sharp-eyed reader who tracked this, gunned it down and sent it in all wrapped up like a baby deer)

October 31, 2006 at 10:45 AM in News | Permalink | Comments (2)


NO MERCY FOR THE RUDE The Weinstein Company has just announced the purchase of Core Studios' NO MERCY FOR THE RUDE a Korean riff on Dexter, about a hitman with a speech impediment who only kills people who are rude. TWC has picked up North American rights. Variety called this one with their review which read in part:

"If ever there were a Korean import aimed at Stateside auds and ready for the Tarantino seal-of-approval, this is it."

The flick stars Shin Ha-Kyun from SAVE THE GREEN PLANET.

October 31, 2006 at 10:15 AM in News | Permalink | Comments (0)


Kim Ji-Won (A BITTERSWEET LIFE, TALE OF TWO SISTERS) is going into pre-production soon for his next movie, THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE WEIRD a Western set in China starring Song Kang-Ho (THE HOST) in the role of "the Weird".

Other slaves will probably star in the movie, too. Slaves?!? Yes, Korea's entertainment industry is currently going to war over slavery. "Slave contracts" are what talent in Korea sign, shackling them to management companies that take huge fees and basically call the shots over film production thanks to the massive power they wield. These contracts run for decades, and are virtually unbreakable, bringing down massive penalties on the signer if they leave for a better offer. The management companies say they spend hundreds of millions of won (that's Korean money!) developing their stars and therefore it's no fair if they leave for a better offer. And, of course, this keeps production costs down by keeping star salaries from being escalated beyond reason in bids to lure stars away.

Now, however, the Seoul courts have ruled that these slave contracts are illegal. Expect the Korean entertainment industry to explode as freed slaves run around looking for better deals.

(Thanks to Twitch)

October 31, 2006 at 09:45 AM in News | Permalink | Comments (1)


Wisekwai has seen Wisit Sasanatieng's Thai horror movie, THE UNSEEABLE. I've been nervous about this. Wisit is a great director whose TEARS OF THE BLACK TIGER will be the movie that the Weinsteins will have to account for not releasing once they reach the afterlife. A glorious explosion of Thai pop cinema from the 60's, TEARS is a candy colored mushroom cloud of fun that lies mouldering in the Miramax vaults.

On the other hand, why would a terrific director want to make another Thai horror film? Thai horror movies are, to put it kindly, not so good. In fact, they're so not good that when a competent one comes along (like SHUTTER or DORM) it gets wildly overpraised.

But now THE UNSEEABLE has been seen and Wisekwai says it's good. Actually he says, "...this intelligent, spooky ghost thriller still oozes old-timey Siamese atmosphere, and for that alone, it's a beautiful film to watch."

There's also another UNSEEABLE trailer up - and this one is much spookier than the first.

October 31, 2006 at 09:15 AM in News | Permalink | Comments (1)


Lineage is Korea's answer to World of Warcraft - an online game where a bunch of players (1.4 million for Lineage) pretend to be elves casting spells on one another - and now, like World of Warcraft, it looks like it might be getting a feature film.

A poster over on the KoreanFilm.org discussion board links to dozens of Lineage game cinematics up at YouTube and restates the rumor that NCSoft, the Korean software company behind Lineage, is secretly laying the groundwork for a hush-hush feature film project.

Anyone heard anything about this?

October 31, 2006 at 08:45 AM in News | Permalink | Comments (1)

M vs. M

Lee Myung-Se Ryuichi Hiroki

This week marks the start date of shooting on Lee Myung-Se's doom-driven horror movie, M.

The Korean director of NOWHERE TO HIDE and DUELIST is nutty about the letter M and even named his production company M Productions. He likes M. What does it stand for? There's a rumor that M stands for "Must be a hit," but in reality it came to him in a dream.

But according to Jason Gray there's another director laying claim to the moody letter M: Ryuichi Hiroki. Director of flicks like IT'S ONLY TALK and VIBRATOR, Ryuichi Hiroki's latest film (which is a fun-sounding goulash about repressed housewives, kinky sex, and the yakuza) is also called M.

And it looks like it was released at the end of October, giving it the precedence advantage.

Will Lee Myung-Se's movie change its name to N? Stay tuned for updates.

October 31, 2006 at 08:20 AM in News | Permalink | Comments (0)

October 27, 2006


Carina Lau and Tony Leung Chiu-wai Only one item in Friday's Fun-Day celebration, but it's the best news ever: Tony Leung Chiu-wai and Carina Lau have come out of the closet. It happened a few days ago, but I haven't seen many people carrying it so it may have passed you by so here you go:

After 20 years, Carina Lau and Tony Leung have finally said they're a married couple. These two have been targeted by nasty rumors for decades (he's cheating! she's cheating!) which haven't been helped by Little Tony's tendency to deny that they're married (like when Carina said she was wearing a wedding ring and he basically called her a liar in print). But the rumors that they're gotten married have become so prevalent that they've almost become fact even though the dynamic duo have never copped to it. But now they have!

These guys have been through a lot and they deserve their happiness.

So congratulations!

It's news like this that earns this week the Darth Kitty seal of approval.

Hello Darth Kitty

October 27, 2006 at 11:59 AM in News | Permalink | Comments (7)


OLDBOY three-disc set I've been pretty astonished at Tartan's release schedule since Tartan USA first opened a few years ago. Their titles looked good, they came out regularly and they seemed to be intent on releasing every horror movie being made in Korea. CELLO, FACE, R-POINT, WISHING STAIRS, ACACIA...I didn't know if there was a market for these movies in the US or not, but regardless Tartan was releasing them.

Scattered through their catalogue are real gems: MEMENTO MORI, DOPPELGANGER, SYMPATHY FOR MR. VENGEANCE, and several others. But for the most part they've been heavy on the horror and some of their acquisitions don't seem to make sense. Is there actually an audience for GHOST OF MAE NAK?

But their strategy could be changing. They're still having a huge sale over at Wal-Mart, which is almost definitely a sign that the titles on sale are facing big returns which could be something of a wake-up call, and they've got two huge movies in Johnnie To's ELECTION 1 and 2 which are coming up in 2007. And now they're re-issuing their tentpole film, OLDBOY, on a three-disc set (you can see making of clips from the disc over here on YouTube "What a Drag", "Hammer Time", "The Art of the Upchuck", and "Ants Marching"). What I'm hoping this means is that Tartan is going to maybe slow down on the indiscriminate release of every single horror movie, regardless of quality, and instead focus on their big, prestige titles in 2007.

With the right handling, the ELECTION movies can be as big for them as OLDBOY and I'm really hoping they take the time and the care to nurture these two deserving flicks into full bloom as enormous money trees.

October 27, 2006 at 11:30 AM in News | Permalink | Comments (15)


Statue_web It's the time of year when movies like ISABELLA are winning Thai film festival awards and reviews are going up of TRACES OF LOVE which opened Pusan, and Japan's Yubari Fantastic Film Festival has come back from the brink of death and I find my attention taken hostage by none of it.

Instead, I'm obsessed with this statue of the 2005 winner and runner-up in China's version of "American Idol", SUPER GIRLS. A show with hundreds of millions of viewers, SUPER GIRLS gets right up the nose of China's cultural conservative old guard but maybe this social realist style statue will bring them around.

Inspired by the Russian statue "Workers at the Collectivized Farm" (one of my favorites) it's part satire and part genuine celebration of the new wave of world hero. You can read an interview with the sculptor over at EastSouthWestNorth.

October 27, 2006 at 10:59 AM in News | Permalink | Comments (0)

October 26, 2006


Danwei links to a video from Chinese New Wave band, New Pants. 

From its Golden Harvest logo opening to its Bruce Lee smack-down center, the song ("Dragon Tiger Pancea") rocks the synthesizer hard.

October 26, 2006 at 11:42 AM in News | Permalink | Comments (0)


Variety's Derek Elley dissects the Venice Film Festival's Asian film line-up with painful precision (" Like most programmers of large festivals, Muller is a politician first and film buff second..."). Read it.

October 26, 2006 at 11:16 AM in News | Permalink | Comments (2)

October 25, 2006


Paprika I loved Satoshi Kon's PAPRIKA but I would say it's got a snowball's chance in hell of doing well theatrically in the US.

But that's not stopping the intrepid team at Sony Pictures Classic. They're the people behind the American release, which means that PAPRIKA is going to get a high profile shake at the box office and a good marketing campaign to boot.

Go Sony! Go Sony!

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

October 25, 2006 at 09:49 AM in News | Permalink | Comments (14)


The Takeshi Kaneshiro/Tony Leung Chiu-wai flick CONFESSION OF PAIN has a release date...and it's going toe-to-toe with Zhang Yimou's CURSE OF THE GOLDEN FLOWER this December.

CURSE is a juggernaut with Chow Yun-fat and Gong Li in the lead roles, a massive budget, and it's been getting good word of mouth (for once). But it's an old timey time martial movie, a trend that has been wearing out its welcome of late (see: THE PROMISE, Chen Kaige's disastrous bomb).

CONFESSION OF PAIN is a twisty urban thriller from the team that brought INFERNAL AFFAIRS to the screen and they've got an unbeatable string of hits under their belts (the three IA movies and INITIAL D).

So who'll win the battle of the Christmas box office? Modern day movies? Pretty as a picture period films from China? There can be only one!

October 25, 2006 at 08:48 AM in News | Permalink | Comments (4)

October 24, 2006


Nonzee Nimibutr (NANG NAK) is hard at work shooting his epic fantasy film, QUEEN OF LUNG-GASUKA, and the first stills are starting to trickle out (courtesy of 24 Frames per Second). I saw some more production art from this film at Pusan and it's truly magnificent looking. If he can pull it off this will be the biggest Thai film ever, and that's saying a lot.


October 24, 2006 at 12:02 PM in News | Permalink | Comments (2)


At the Pusan Film Market the Weinstein Company picked up the remake and North American rights to 13 BELOVED (which is referred to as 13 in this Variety story). The flick was screaming out "high concept" from the minute I first heard about it, and I figured it was only a matter of time before someone decided to remake it.

If you have a problem with remakes, now's the time to make your peace with them. After THE DEPARTED and GRUDGE 2 both dominated the box office on the same weekend last week the gates have been opened for remake rights to be snapped up for all kinds of Asian movies. Remake fever is in the air again, and I imagine a lot of flicks will have their rights picked up. On the plus side, this is a nice infusion of cash for the filmmakers, and it's not like the original is going to be destroyed or anything. On the negative side, it does seem a bit lazy and like copying off the test paper of the person sitting next to you.

October 24, 2006 at 10:52 AM in News | Permalink | Comments (1)


Wisekwai has the posters today for Yuthlert Sippapak's new film, GHOST STATION. Sippapak is the director of KILLER TATTOO and the movie is supposedly a comedy but nothing is known about it except for its rockin' good, denim-clad poster.


October 24, 2006 at 10:25 AM in News | Permalink | Comments (0)


MEMORIES OF MATSUKO I've seen a bunch of movies recently and thought I'd just get all the reviewing out of the way in a manner that doesn't slow down your life.

NIGHTMARE DETECTIVE - people are mixed on Shinya Tsukamoto's most mainstream movie to date. I thought it was one of three great movies I saw at Pusan. It's the X-FILES meets NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET with great remake potential and a lot more humor than I had anticipated. Who would've thought that Tsukamoto could become the Soderbergh of Japan?

THE GIRL WHO LEAPT THROUGH TIME - absolutely fantastic. Limited animation, but a great story. If you've got any tolerance for high school tales then this flick's for you. Why aren't American teen movies this good?

MEMORIES OF MATSUKO - it's CITIZEN KANE meets MOULIN ROUGE from the director of KAMIKAZE GIRLS and I haven't seen a better film all year.

DORM - this Thai ghost story is better than most and has some nice character development as well as an emotionally murky and dark plot. But I could do without the final reel that wraps up every single loose end while playing inspirational muzak.

BRAVE STORY - Fuji TV's big budget animated film is perfectly fine. It looks pretty, it's well-animated, the story is reasonably engaging, but there was a real "been there, done that" feel to it.

YO YO GIRL COP - is it possible that a movie with lesbian schoolgirl suicide bombers can be boring? Yes.

PAVILION SALAMANDRE - every now and then a movie from another planet lands in my DVD player. Not bizarre like FUNKY FOREST but a definite result of looking at the world via the ninth dimension. Is it good? Is it bad? Can't tell. But it's definitely unique and weaves a loopy hypno-spell all its own.

October 24, 2006 at 09:03 AM in Film Reviews | Permalink | Comments (2)

October 23, 2006


Asian zombies So not only is ZIBAHKHANA a zombie movie from Pakistan, and not only is ZOMBIE KG PISANG a Malaysian zombie film, and not only is Grace Lee's AMERICAN ZOMBIE an Asian-American zombie film, but now Korea has an upcoming zombie flick, too.

MOMMY'S RISEN from Cineclick Asia has sold rights to Wild Side films and is set for a 2007 release. Directed by Jane Shin the movie tells the tale of a dead mother who crawls back from the grave to take care of her orphaned children.

October 23, 2006 at 12:55 PM in News | Permalink | Comments (1)


Pusan Film Festival's Asian Film Market

I just came back from the Pusan Film Festival's Asian Film Market, a first-year event where everyone's favorite film festival tries to create the new, go-to film market for Asian film.

Held on the top floors of the Grand Hotel there was something submarine about the whole event. Trapped in a hermetically sealed, mammoth hotel that had seen better days, a sort of endtimes fever gripped everyone as the lines for the three elevators became truly epic and unshaded lamps were thrown into the stairwell to light up the murk as clusters of buyers marched from floor to floor in the throes of market fever.

Closed off from the outside world, with mealtimes slipping past unnoticed, you'd sit in meetings and trail off into silence as you looked over the shoulder of the person you were speaking with to see the ocean and beach spread out through the windows behind them.

The reason I was there was because the ImaginAsian folks have just signed a home video deal with video distributor, Genius, and they'd hired me to be a consultant for their acquisitions team. It's fun, but a probable conflict of interest to the max. Thank god this is only a blog and not some kind of serious journalism. Keep your eyes peeled for a large, red warning label we're developing so that you know when certain posts are coming to you compromised by my new-found corporate interests.

I'd never been to a film market as a buyer before, and it was an eye-opening experience. What did I learn?

- Horror sells. Almost every single horror movie at the market had a bid on it from an American distributor. Some of the movies were good, some were great, and some were just lousy. But they all have US-flavored love attached to them in the form of a check. The deals might not have been closed yet, but the money was there.

- Cluelessness is pandemic. People don't see what they don't want to see and some of the sellers had little to no idea about the American market. The price tags attached to some truly dodgy pictures were in the six digits, an amount that anyone who's not the Weinsteins would find prohibitively expensive since there's no way you can pay a six figure minimum guarantee, pay P&A on a theatrical release and hope to make your money back in this lifetime. Better to take your acquisitions money and head out to Vegas where the chance of a return is greater. But comments from sellers ranged from, "America is a big country" to "This is the best I can do" while showing off price tags from Mars.

Even after Asian films have flopped repeatedly in the States, sellers seem to only remember hits like CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON and HERO. But why should they know US box office figures? I met more than one seller who had no idea that their company's film was either already sold to the US or had already been released over here.

- High price tags aren't unreasonable for Asia. The Japanese tearjerker, NADA SOUSOU, is doing well at the Japanese box office and it just sold its Korean rights...for a price reportedly over a million dollars US.

- The news was slow. The general feeling at the market was that it was a good thing, in general, but that not a whole hell of a lot happened. Not a lot of major deals. Not a lot of news to report. Just generally quiet. A lot of deals will probably close at the upcoming AFM, but overall things in Pusan were quiet, like a main street in small town America on a lazy Sunday afternoon.

October 23, 2006 at 11:44 AM in News | Permalink | Comments (4)


PTU TV seriesA sharp-eyed reader sends in the news that one of the directors of the PTU TV series is Law Wing-cheong, Johnnie To's assistant director on many of his projects, and that one of its stars is CRAZY STONE's Teddy Lin.

You can see some set photos off of Teddy Lin's site over here, and here.

October 23, 2006 at 10:50 AM in News | Permalink | Comments (1)


TORONTO AFTER DARK If you're a beer-swilling Canadian and you're in Toronto to sell some beaver pelts before heading back to your trapper's camp, then hie thee hither to Toronto After Dark. Tonight (Monday) they're screening a double feature of TOKYO ZOMBIE and FUNKY FOREST: THE FIRST CONTACT and you can't go wrong with those two movies.

It comes to you courtesy of the folks over at Twitch, who have built the entire festival out of little wooden pegs and who generate their own electricity.

October 23, 2006 at 10:29 AM in News | Permalink | Comments (1)


So TRIAD ELECTION (maiden name: ELECTION 2) is coming out on April 25 at Film Forum in New York followed by a national roll-out and the DVD of ELECTION 1.

Bummer, but the movies have been extremely profitable for Milkyway. ELECTION 1 and 2 had a combined budget of HK$50 million and a combined box office gross of HK$29 million and combined overseas sales (according to Dennis Law, Milkyway's chairman) of HK$40 million (which is about US$5 million).

Not so good news for EXILED, which opened to do HK$430,000 on 37 screens on its first day (ELECTION and ELECTION 2 had opening grosses of over HK$1 million on their opening days and they were both Category III movies). EXILED went on to gross HK$2.62 million over the weekend, despite good reviews, a wide marketing campaign and a wide release - this makes it the number two movie for the weekend (after WORLD TRADE CENTER) and gives it a softer opening than even THE DEPARTED (HK$3.89 million).

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

October 23, 2006 at 10:09 AM in News | Permalink | Comments (4)

October 20, 2006


Between now and the Devil's Day (Halloween) Wal-Mart is selling a bunch of Tartan DVDs for $9. If you ever wanted 'em, now's the time to get 'em. Here's the list with commentary:

MAREBITO - for the artsy crowd, this is probably the only non-JUON film from Takashi Shimizu. And it stars Shinya Tsukamoto.

CELLO - haven't seen it.

FACE - haven't seen it.

KOMA - haven't seen it.

PHONE - a good horror flick from Korea. Plus it features one of cinema's most psychotic infants.

WISHING STAIRS - solid entry in the schoolgirl horror films from Korea. Not the greatest, but nothing wrong with it, either.

WHISPERING CORRIDORS - see where Korea's schoolgirl horror films began. A movie I like a lot, although it does look a little dated nowadays.

MEMENTO MORI - the best of Korea's schoolgirl horror films. Teenage sapphic sweethearts, all-school hauntings, and a fractured narrative that's designed to break your heart. A good movie about ghosts, high school and lesbians.

ACACIA - not so hot. A haunted tree. Visually accomplished, and nothing wrong with it, but it doesn't grab you by the neck, either.

UNBORN BUT FORGOTTEN - high concept about killer pregnancies is diluted by ridiculous plotting. Still: killer fetuses. But overall: meh.

DOPPELGANGER - get it! Out of everything on this list, this flick is the crown jewel. Kiyoshi Kurosawa + Koji Yakusho = 2 gether 4 evah.

THE BOOTH - haven't seen it.

PRAY - haven't seen it.

So go shopping!!!

October 20, 2006 at 05:53 AM in News | Permalink | Comments (11)


We all know that Johnnie To's EXILED isn't going to be allowed a theatrical release in China, but now the HKSAR is asking him to cut his movie. A sharp-eyed reader sends in the news that the Hong Kong Certification Board wants him to cut a handshake from the film or they'll slap his movie with a Category III rating. Triad hand signs and language will automatically give your film a Cat III rating (equivalent, roughly, to an NC-17 in the US) and the Certification Board says that during a handshake in one scene someone throws a triad sign.

Johnnie To says he asked some triad members if the scene had a triad sign in it and they said "no". But the HK Certification Board said they asked some triad experts the same question and they said "yes". So To cut the shots from the movie and it earned a Category IIB rating.

So if you live in Hong Kong and you want to see the handshake, you're probably going to have to wait until the DVD comes out. You can see the shots in question over here on Apple Daily, and I can testify to the fact that these shots are in the print that's being screened for the press in the US, and so they will probably be in the US release.

(Thanks to the sharp-eyed reader who translated this news and sent it in)

October 20, 2006 at 03:59 AM in News | Permalink | Comments (3)


IN THE MOOD FOR GORE A long time ago, Subway Cinema held a retro celebrating Hong Kong horror movies called IN THE MOOD FOR GORE. We took it very seriously and watched an awful lot of flicks before picking 11 movies that we screened for a week around Halloween:


Oddly enough, the flops were the classics like DR. LAMB and UNTOLD STORY, while everything else got a great turn-out. The most disturbing moment was hearing the audience split their sides laughing during RED TO KILL a movie I take way too seriously.

And the most fun was having a kid who'd driven 3 hours for the festival come out of the theater during ETERNAL EVIL OF ASIA, passing out and have a seizure (it might have been another movie, but I'm pretty sure it was EEOA). Being the nice guys we are we took him to the ER then let him sleep on our couch so he didn't die on his drive home.

You can read all the reviews for these movies (and boy are they long) over on the IN THE MOOD FOR GORE site, and don't miss the FOLLOW THAT ACTOR feature. It's fun!

October 20, 2006 at 01:50 AM in Film Reviews | Permalink | Comments (1)

October 19, 2006


Blogs suck but there's one out there that doesn't. Brian, my Subway Cinema colleague, is currently hiding from a crime he didn't, personally, commit by travelling around Asia and he's taunting the authorities by blogging about all the movies he's sucking up through his eyes.

The latest gossip! Reviews of Jackie Chan's ROB-B-HOOD and the soundtrack from DON! A review of 13 BELOVED! It's everything you ever wanted, all wrapped up in a little package called Brian.

October 19, 2006 at 02:27 PM in News | Permalink | Comments (2)


Shawn Yue in Shamo Soi Cheang's follow-up film to DOG BITE DOG is now in production. And its name shall be SHAMO.

Starring Shawn Yue and, supposedly, Franic Ng, the flick is based on a Japanese manga called SHAMO. The touching story of a boy who has everything until he slaughters his parents, is sent to a reformatory where he's gang raped and abused, and then learns karate and turns himself into an unstoppable beating, hitting, kicking, punching and biting machine, this seems like a logical follow-up to DOG BITE DOG.

There's a still of Shawn Yue on the set, and there are more set photos here, here, here and here.

Many thanks to Little Sam (and one other sharp-eyed reader) for the heads up on this one.

October 19, 2006 at 12:50 PM in News | Permalink | Comments (5)


Moody. Melancholy. Momantic (is that a word? who cares!). I just got back from a quick visit to the production offices for Lee Myung-Se's M pictures and Core Studios new film, M, and things look good. This is Director Lee's first movie since DUELIST and it stars Kang Dong-Won who played Sad Eyes as a writer who has lost his memory and is trying to find the woman he loved. Kind of. There's more to it than that but since this is a Lee Myung-Se movie most of the "more to it than that" stuff is in the visuals and the editing and is hard to describe.

The camera tests look fantastic - the movie is shot by Hong Kyung-Po who shot TAE GUK GI and SAVE THE GREEN PLANET - and shooting is set to begin in November.

Lee Myung-Se is a director you love or hate - I'm firmly in the love department - so your level of anticipation may vary. Nevertheless, this is going to be eye and brain candy of the highest order no matter how you feel about his movies.

October 19, 2006 at 11:46 AM in News | Permalink | Comments (0)


A sharp-eyed reader earns a big hug for sending in a link to a teaser trailer for Derek Yee's new film, PROTEGE. This is Yee's big drug movie, a la TRAFFIC, and it looks like good stuff.

I didn't like the shivering junkies so much, but the cold-eyed dissection of the price of doing business made my neurons glow. Plus it's an education in how to make your own heroin.

October 19, 2006 at 11:15 AM in Trailers | Permalink | Comments (0)


a still from ZIBAHKHANAWhen I was in the UK recently I had the pleasure of sitting down for an over-priced drink with Pete Tombs and Omar Khan: producer and director, respectively, of ZIBAHKHANA.

What is this ZIBAHKHANA, I hear you say? It's the title of Pakistan's first (well first in a long time) true-blue, gore-encrusted, flyblown, no exit, kill em all, horror movie. Featuring gruesome deaths, gore, and zombies (midget zombies! muslim zombies! all kinds of zombies!) it was shot on High Def and the stills I've seen (some of which I hope to post soon) look waaay better than I expected.

I wrote an article for Variety about the film. And that's called Shameless Plugging!

October 19, 2006 at 10:49 AM in News | Permalink | Comments (3)


Over the years, I've had to watch a lot of movies. A LOT of movies. Including many that I wouldn't give the time of day to unless someone was paying me to watch them. Below are shorter and longer reviews of some of the cheap flicks I've sat through from Hong Kong in the past. I love cheap movies and some of these have been a lot of fun (KILLERS FROM BEIJING) but some have been real dogs (X-COP GIRLS). Let my suffering be your purchasing guide. Enjoy.

Directed by: Cheung Bing-chan
Starring: Anthony Wong, Carrie Ng, Li Fei

In today's content-starved HK film industry with Anthony Wong available for the price of a good dinette set every half-coherent student film can secure a release. And they all star Anthony Wong: BARONESS, THE LEGENDARY TAI FEI, STORY OF PROSTITUTES. And X-COP GIRLS: the story of Anthony Wong and his hatchet-faced partner enjoying a series of meals and light snacks in Mainland China.

Joining them for this epic dining experience is Lily's friend, Ling, who invites her friend Wendy Wu (Carrie Ng - slumming) to their sit-down dinners. Wendy helps Anthony find his prey, Tong Hak, a smuggler of five and dime antiques who has been led into trouble because he told his subordinates not to smuggle counterfeit money in his chintzy teapots but they just won't listen! All of this is of ancillary interest to the main plot which involves eating. In the first 41 minutes Ling, Lily, Anthony, and Wendy put away 6 sit-down dinners and one snack.

Eventually the plot hoists itself up from the table and lumbers into action for three spiffy fights. Wendy Wu gathers her heavily armed yaya sisterhood for an assault on a cargo yard previously seen in an homage to the successful children's video, MAKE WAY FOR FORKLIFTS. Much of the action unfolds in a room loaded with cardboard boxes where Tong Hak endlessly quizzes his employee, John.

"John, when will we ship the stuff to Afghanistan?"
"John, are they at packaging shop or the container site?"
"The packaging shop."

Couple this with many, many cutaways to Tong Hak's henchies nudging each other and exchanging meaningful looks. What do they want? Do they have to go to the bathroom? We're never sure, but what cares have we for narrative in a movie this strange? Although the editor, Chang Kwok-kuen, does all the heavy lifting here, the movie seems to be suffering from a fatal mix up in which the good footage was sent to the incinerator and the trimmed ''junk'' was sent to the lab to be edited into a movie.

Directed by: Kong Yuek-shing
Starring: Anthony Wong, Cheung Yee-tung, Chan Chiu-chiu

This formless flick is an accidental art film split into two parts, an abstract relational drama where no one relates, and a slice-of-life junior triad picture with Anthony Wong at its loosely packed center. Three locations - a dance club where everyone is fevering, a streetside restaurant, and Jack's apartment - are used throughout. Jack has decided to pay his debts by pimping, under the guidance of "live and let live" Mike (Samuel Leung - el cheapo Sam Lee of the New Millennium) and his first girls are the interchangeable Coco and Bobo whose names don't even appear in the subtitles until the last fifteen minutes. The girls take to the hooker's life like ducks to water and follow Jack around his apartment like attention-starved cats trying to initiate group sex. Jack seems uninterested.

"The girls are goods," says Anthony Wong as Uncle Tony, a bike shop owning vulgarian introduced in a close-up crotch shot while picking at his own bulge. To him the triads are a service industry and he runs his like a corporate management specialist: paying Mike's debts, transferring him to Mongkok, dispensing advice and discussing social problems. He has a relationship of sorts with an older prostitute who hangs out at the dance club dispensing hardboiled aphorisms and listening to Wong's wooing words ("Lily, where did you buy my underwear?")

The assistant director of FALLEN ANGELS, Kong Yuek-shing films the apartment and the inevitable sex scenes (very few of these) like an Iron Maiden video aspiring to artistic impenetrability. But his sweltering street scenes of young guys in tight beefy-t's guzzling Thai iced coffee and trying to cool down in a sweltering Hong Kong heat wave while they pick at each other and manage their business has a nature documentary feel to them.

The strangest figures in the flick are Coco and Bobo who seem to reflect back what someone thinks they are. They service 20-30 customers a day and come away raring for more sex with Jack. They rarely eat, prowl his apartment in lingerie, and, most disconcertingly, call him "Daddy". Their final betrayal comes from nowhere and seems totally amoral which is the only novelty in this strange, perplexing, somewhat fascinating addition to the pimps and chickens genre.

Directed by: Chin Man-kei
Starring: Samuel Leung, Sophie Ngan

A greasy-food-fueled nightmare after watching KILLER SNAKES on late-night TV this is one of the dirtiest movies from Hong Kong in a long time. Samuel Leung (him again) plays a relentless masturbator who douses himself with baby oil and lives in grampy's herb shop. Grampy, in a perverse bit of logic, won't teach Sammy how to be an herb doctor because Sammy is too pervy for him. Which is weird when you think about it: "Grandson, you are worthless and I could teach you a useful trade but forget about it. You're worthless."

Eventually Gramps is killed by a POV camera shot and Sammy takes over the family business, getting his mitts into the forbidden medicine chest and using a combination of aphrodisiacs and poisons to take his revenge on a world that done wronged him.

A gooey, sweaty movie dripping with fluids this flick sports an agreeably sleazy tone for the first hour, like a glistening hamburger dropped in the dirt. The last half-hour is sadly traditional, but come on! It's worth sticking around for the ridiculous fake erection that Sam sports throughout half the running time. Poor guy. With a freakish appendage like that no wonder he's got problems.

Directed by: Soi Cheang
Starring: Poon Mei-kei, Chan Chin-pang, Cheung Tat-ming, Carrie Ng, Hui Siu-hung, Chan Kwok-bong

If ambition and good intentions counted for anything, DIAMOND HILL would be the best movie of 2000. With a cast consisting of Carrie Ng, Milkyway alums Maggie Poon (SPACKED OUT) and Hui Siu-hung, and comedian Alfred Cheung you won't find a movie with better actors doing better work than in this icy-fingered ghost story. Alfred Cheung Tat-ming does Oscar-worthy work, his home videos rivaling Takeshi Kaneshiro's FALLEN ANGELS tapes for poignant laughs. Carrie Ng plays a mother whose daughter may as well be another country; when they interact, Ng wears the tense expression of someone trying to understand complicated instructions in a foreign language. Maggie Poon is Carrie's daughter, whose entire life is a dark, strange ride and whose whisper can send chills down your spine.

The first urban gothic from Hong Kong, DIAMOND HILL is made with all the technical precision of THE SIXTH SENSE. Tremendously accomplished it spends so much time in flashbacks that eventually the present day seems more like a flash forward. The beauty of the film is its unexpectedness, and I would hate to ruin the experience for anyone so I'll limit my plot comments. In fact, I'll cut them out completely except to say that just when you figure out where this movie is going it cuts across lanes and veers off into the night leaving the image of Maggie Poon, legs pumping, racing down the middle of the nighttime streets in her school uniform imprinted on your retinas.

Upon its release, this movie barely made HK$7,000 and more's the pity. The VCD seems to have been filmed off a stained tv screen, but it features readable English and Chinese subs. The grotty VCD transfer ultimately aids its cause, creating a story barely seen out of the corner of your eye. DIAMOND HILL has its problems, so don't let my praise get your hopes up too high. It's ultimately a small movie, but it's about people who're defying logic, reason, biology, and every form of common sense to remake the world into somewhere they can live. That's certainly a taller order than TOKYO RAIDERS tried to fill.

As a note, director Soi Cheang has gone on to make HORROR HOTLINE...BIG HEAD MONSTER, HOME SWEET HOME and DOG BITE DOG. To my mind, however, DIAMOND HILL remains his best film.

Directed by: Leung Hung-wa
Starring: Michael Wong, Kathy Chau, Gabriel Harrison, Jason Chu

I had fun because somebody obviously loves this movie, most likely its writer/director/producer Leung Hung-wa (who also wrote and produced TAXI HUNTER. What does that say about a person when TAXI HUNTER is their career high?). Somehow, Leung managed to convince Kathy Chau to come back to the silver screen following a two year absence (Chau's last performance was in the terrific CHEAP KILLERS, and she probably had the good sense to quit while she was ahead). Not only that, but Leung managed to get Michael Wong (a Bad Movie Omen if there ever was one) AND Jason Chu (Y&D 1-5, STORMRIDERS, THE BLADE) to come onboard for this flick, as well. This guy must be one smooth talker, or one bad boy.

The plot follows five orphans with "powerful" names: WIND, DRAGON, and two others that I would guess are FIRE and MICHAEL EISNER, but I can't be sure. There's also Six Days (Kathy Chau) who comes out of prison after murdering a loan shark who murdered her dad (yes, it's one of those "righteous sociopath" movies). She hooks back up with her gang of orphans and they decide that they're going to get $8 million HK dollars by hassling people for a week. They take cabs and swipe the cabbie's wallets, they pick pockets and rob people placing bets at the Jockey Club, while a bad guitar riff plays. These kids are BAD to the BONE! One of them even has the audacity to wear a Bon Jovi shirt and then strut around town as if he owned it! And after Kathy Chau gets a few thousand from a business lady in a pink Chanel knock-off suit she bumps her head. She gets the money and SHE STILL BUMPS HER HEAD! Lock up your sons!

Michael Wong, meanwhile, plays Vodka - a cop who shot another cop while drunk. He and his boss have a beautiful scene, right out of the "Scenes for Young Actors Workbook" where his boss offers some desultory advice on going to court. Frankly, if he's going to defend himself against charges of drinking on the job I suggest he change that name. Kathy beds Michael (Ugh!) and we get to see how chunky he's gotten over the past couple of years. Method acting, or chocolate chip cookies?

The orphan kids also run afoul of a Falun Gong-esque cult called the Wanqui (pronounced "Wankey") Group that seems to be some kind of consciousness-raising seminar for Klansmen. One of the orphans kills the brother of the cult leader and the Wanq-ers get pretty miffed. This death is a cinematic first, as it represents the first time someone has been killed by a flashback. The guy gets beaten with a pipe, gets in his car, drives ten miles, talks to his brother, has a flashback to getting beaten with a pipe and then black goo squirts from the back of his head and he drops to the floor. Talk about your ninja death touch!

At this point, one is wondering who's dumber: the actors for being in this movie, or the characters in the movie for thinking they can raise $8 million is 6 days by being annoying. If you guessed the characters, you're right! They only raise one million in six days so to make up the rest they kidnap a millionaire, and while waiting for the ransom money to arrive they have a pool party at his house. Awesome! They smoke cigarettes, drink red wine, and talk with their mouths full. They're young. They're dangerous. Do I smell a franchise?

No. The whole movie ends with betrayal and a mass knifing using some of the longest kitchen knives known to man. I mean, these knives go in your back, protrude three inches out your front and into another person and then protrude out THEIR front as well.

The general ineptitude of the whole affair is magnificently entertaining: A GAME OF NO RULE, indeed, has no rules. This movie is produced by Bad Boy Film Culture, Ltd. and really tries hard to be edgy, daring different, and high octane. However, by the end, I felt as if I was being surrounded and menaced by a bunch of soft toys. Irritating? Yes. Scary? No. In fact, by the time I walked out of the theatre the scariest thing I could think of was being trapped in an apartment with these five intensely irritating actors. And as I'd already experienced the cinematic equivalent, and survived, I had no fear. In fact, I went into the nearest deli, and bought a bottle of water, using a dollar, two dimes, AND A CANADIAN NICKEL. With this five cent stake to start me I know that I can make my eight million in four days.

Directed by: Michael Wong
Starring: Michael Wong, Simon Loui, Moses Chan, Cecilia Yip

The greatest show on earth is watching a celebrity implode as they direct/produce/star in a vehicle with "special meaning"; disintegrating into black holes of hubris. But many of these projects start from a crumb of talent. Michael Fitzgerald Wong starts his dream project with none. God love him.

Playing Hong Kong detective, Miles Ma, Wong keeps trying to draw people into long, improvised scenes done in English. They are very frightened. Early on he traps fellow cop, CK (Moses Chan), in a meandering improv about work and who's going to fly his helicopter now that his wife is dead. Michael Wong might as well be talking about fish for dinner with all the emotion he puts into his voice. Moses Chan seems relieved when he leaves, although his later framing and attempted destruction of Miles could be because he's been driven insane by this kind of actory behavior.

The other main character, Miles' love interest, Janis Wong (Cecilia Yip), is left in the dust when Wong improvises a fight between the two of them, doing both voices, convinces himself that he's wrong, and storms off to a bar where he guzzles apple juice leaving Yip uttering a very confused "oh..." in his wake. Michael/Miles loves improvising and since he is the directer, producer, star and writer of this movie it's improvising he gets. When characters leave a scene Michael Wong looks wistfully after them. "I wish we could have improv-ed for longer," he seems to be thinking. And don't worry your pretty little heads: Michael is able to take on his production tasks with no discernible impact on his acting. He could've been "Special Assistant to Ms. Yip's Hair Stylist" and turn in the exact same desultory performance.

Plotwise, Miles Ma mostly spends his time reading the same article in a magazine over and over again, eventually venturing forth and cracking a pirate VCD ring. Driven insane by extended improv, CK frames Ma for the rape and attempted murder of a prostitute and the movie swiftly revolves around DNA evidence. Miles' partner, Tommy, hits the street to sniff out some clues, questioning a fruit vendor and a man getting off a bus. Neither of them know anything about DNA. Eventually the forces of good are defeated by the forces of evil and Michael Wong gets out of jail. One would think of this as a totally bad thing until one realizes there is no longer capital punishment in Hong Kong and at least out on the street Michael might get hit by a bus.

If one artifact from our civilization can be saved let's hope it's this one. While Jet Li is starring in FEARLESS and Jackie Chan is using RUSH HOUR 3 as a showcase the fact that Michael Wong's Hollywood calling card is MILES APART will prove to future generations that, yes, we did have a sense of humor.

Directed by: Vincent Wan and Lam Kin-lung
Starring: Vincent Wan and Carrie Ng (which is all you really need to know)

It's not just the white people...
Vincent Wan (Ben Hon of YOUNG & DANGEROUS fame) has his own white elephant: THE WARNING TIME, which he co-directed, wrote and starred in. An entry in the "just got outta jail" genre, THE WARNING TIME eschews the genre's obligatory docudrama approach, attacking its material from an oblique angle. It uses a gaggle of credit card scamming teens as the entrance ramp into Vincent Wan's life-on-ice angst, then abandons said teens once the Vincent Wan/Carrie Ng engine is purring, returning to them briefly for a downbeat epilogue.

The movie rapidly drops any pretense of exploring Wan's psyche when it smells blood: Carrie Ng. Which is fortunate because Carrie Ng is the only thing onscreen with a pulse. Predictably, she lays waste to all she comes in contact with. The teeny tiny teen actors lay in the wreckage of their own pitiable talent, wheels spinning, smoke billowing up when their scenes come into contact with hers.

Packed tight with more talent than it deserves (Vincent Wan; Carrie Ng; Roy Cheung and Tommy Wong as a pair of barstool muppets; Yu Rong-guang as Brother Sik who marries Carrie while Vincent's in the slammer and then inexplicably hires Vinnie as his driver) there's no hiding the low budget: cars blow up offscreen and when some production values appear (in the form of two coked-up ballroom dancers) the camera tends to give them more than enough time to strut their stuff. More than enough.

A randy soundtrack and some visual sass makes this a cut above standard bottom of the barrel cut rate fare, and the movie has long been a dream of Wan's. The VCD looks like it was filmed off a bus station TV which is too bad, because at times it's almost able to convince you that it's really worth watching.

Directed by: Tony Leung
Starring: Blackie Ko, Joey Meng, Anthony Wong, Michael Tse

Brick, Mo, and Blondie wanted to knock off the triads but they didn't count on Anthony Wong urinating on them. Then he upchucked on their shirts. Drooled a little, blew his nose, and starting throwing up again. A science project in putridity, running like a tap at both ends, Anthony Wong gets off the fast bus of his career to lend a little snot power to this quickie remake of Japan's GONIN.

RETURN TO DARK trades in Takashi Ishii's "any which way but straight" perversity for a fistful of action movie riffs. The Japanese influence on Hong Kong movies was bound to end this way: with all-out appropriation, and it's interesting that what the director chose to lose were the gay relationships, assuming that Hong Kongers may not be ready for dueling gay couples on opposite sides of a bag of money, smoking hogleg pistols in hand (although Clarence Fok's CHEAP KILLERS suggests otherwise).

Anthony and his mop-up boys trundle about for twenty minutes before remembering the plot and then they break into triad headquarters and find millions in the safe instead of the expected thousands. In their giddiness they forget all the rules of robbery (don't quit your job, don't flash the cash, and never brag about it) and bring down the wrath of triad enforcers, Blackie Ko and Joey Meng, two peroxide blonde lovebirds who do couples bathing in vats of red wine. My goodness! Ko is playing the Takeshi Kitano role from GONIN and acts circles around everyone else in the movie, although his entire face seems paralyzed. Which is most likely a totally tasteless impersonation of Takeshi Kitano's facial injury. Meng likes to collect sticks and sea shells and make them into picture frames (seriously - it says so in his online bio).

In a neat joke on its probable fate, the pic ends in a movie theatre showing the crampingly bad Michael Wong/Kathy Chau vehicle, A GAME OF NO RULE. There're five people in the audience and none of them are there to see RETURN TO DARK. They've probably already returned it to Blockbuster.

TAKE TOP (2000) VCD TAKE TOP (2000)
Directed by: Ng Doi-yung
Starring: Tommy Wong, Vincent Wan, Samuel Leung, Anthony Wong

With Tommy Wong, Vincent Wan and Samuel Leung in the cast and Anthony Wong playing a stoned pot of simmering evil this is MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS, triad style. A gambling ship provides the backdrop for this slasher flick/triad drama that plays out like a bad dream with a weird, loopy logic all its own.

Saying more would ruin what plot there is, but one has to admit that seeing TAKE TOP is a unique experience. You don't keep watching because it's good, but because you have no clue as to what's going to happen next. It's not a bad movie, but it certainly isn't good. Filmed in black and white and with a voice-over by Ed McMahon it would be a cult classic. As it is it's just a cult.

Directed by: Bosco Lam
Starring: Wong Git, Gigi Lai, Sonny Chiba

Never has a movie been so fraught. Ominous music, grimly canted camera angles, and a main character, Fun Li, with the mope-topped haircut of the gloomiest of goth rockers. Wong Jing acolyte, Bosco Lam, filmed this odd drama about alcoholism and infanticide in snowiest Korea, and the ice-encrusted landscapes match the chill in its heart. It’s not a swordplay flick, but a Lifetime movie for the sword-slinging set.

Fun Li is a sloppy wastrel, a drunk who spends most of his wedding day gazing at the bottom of an upturned jug. His wife, Cher (Gigi Lai, looking psychotic) isn’t happy about this, and neither is his dad, a magisterial Sonny Chiba. Marriage, as usual, doesn’t turn out to be the magic cure for alcoholism, and Fun spends his days and nights in Ancient Chinese Nightclub, flicking chopsticks at a saucy dancing girl who can apparently cook wine in her cleavage. He won’t come home, he won’t sober up, he won’t even respect his dad (billed as "Mr. Chiba").

Dad shows up and, as per the tenets of tough love, drags Fun home by his hair. Hair pulling seems to work, and Fun vows to change his ways. Everyone is thrilled to no end, except terminally unhappy Cher. Inconsolable, she takes a horseback ride and meets Kim Mo-Hon, a spiky-haired Korean who plays a big drum. Their exchange is wordless. Intimate. Then he punches her horse in the head. Bloods spatters her face. Ah, romance.

From there things get complicated for no other reason than feature films need to run 90 minutes these days. Not to worry: Bosco Lam is ambitious, and LEGEND OF THE FLYING SWORDSMAN comes across like THE BLADE, only without the style or the swordfights.


An interesting look into what pampered acting-school graduates think constitutes THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT. This shot-on-video Hong Kong remake is supposed to evoke soul-chilling terror in the woods, but it mostly evokes a skull-splitting headache. A full-screen VCD, shot in synch sound with absolutely no subtitles whatsoever, the most star power it can muster up is a TEMPTING HEART mouse pad, which conveys more presence and authority than everyone else in the cast put together.   

The plot concerns a young lady who dreams that she is stuck in the woods and can’t move. She calls her friend on the phone to talk about it. They call their friend on the phone. The two friends meet in the park and decide to call a third friend on the phone. The three of them meet in the park. They talk, then they go home and call each other on the phone, again. This goes on for quite some time until they finally decide that, for the sake of the audiences’ patience, they better get their hineys into the woods.

This being Hong Kong, the "woods" are never very far from safety railings or concrete abutments, and the kids even take their cell phones with them which takes a little of the edge off of being lost. Being bad actors, the most they can manage in the "fear for your life" department is some lethargic shuffling. Finally the ultimate terror shows its face: it is them. The audience will understand and run screaming. One of the young ladies, Cherry, goes missing. The movie ends.

Don’t forget that through this all runs Simon Loui who appears in five scenes. Is he someone’s dad? A concerned bystander? Trying to stop this movie from being made? We never know, but by the time NEW DEAD PROJECT 2 rolls around he’s taken a hike. 

NEW DEAD PROJECT 2 is more of the same. The kids seem to be upset about the disappearance of Cherry, but it’s hard to tell. They might just be worried about their cel phone bills. Suddenly Cherry shows up (it's that kind of movie), just in time for another trip back into the "woods" (read: large park). Vanishing seems to have done nothing for her acting.

In the park the actors get to scream at one another, run around in circles, stab one another with twigs, and finally come out unscathed, just in time for Simon Loui to show up and furrow his brow meaningfully.

Anyone who’s ever argued that Hong Kong movies are more kinetic, more exciting and more fun than movies from other countries should watch NEW DEAD PROJECT immediately.

Directed by: Albert Mak
Starring: Roy Cheung, Ruby Wong, Lam Suet, Simon Loui

The influence of Milkyway Image on the HKSAR film industry generates a weird (WEIRD) ripple effect with this postmortem comedy that runs hot, cold, colder, hot, odd, warm, and then cold all over again. Roy Cheung reprises his pimp-on-the-town role from THE MISSION, playing Young, a genius gambler and professional boot-licker, who supplies women and a fourth hand at cards for after-dinner, all-male get-togethers.

A poker party goes awry, resulting in Roy's clients getting dead. Heaven (portrayed as a police line-up crossed with an expensive downtown boutique) won't let them in so they go to Roy's place. He, logically, wants nothing to do with these losers.

These ghosts are big bores who prove to be totally inept at ghosting. Lam Suet is thrilled with his new role as a ghost, Louis Yuen is bored, and Simon Loui is anxious. Defeated mopes, when thieves break into Roy’s home they just sit and watch them strip it bare. When he comes home they confess that they’re upset to lose the tv. Now what’re they going to do all day?

Meanwhile, Roy falls in love with Carman (Ruby Wong) a woman who likes Teletubbies, Wong Jing films and borscht, although you’d never guess it to look at her. While the romance proves a little thick going, it’s the unscripted fun of these five good actors set loose in this stinky funhouse of a movie that provides the yucks. Featuring an annoying all-synthesiser score I still can't tell if I liked it.

MAN WANTED 3 (2000) DVD MAN WANTED 3 (2000)
Directed by: Sam Ho
Starring: Simon Yam, Allen Ting, Simon Loui, Danny Lee

MAN WANTED 3 has nothing in common with MAN WANTED 1 or 2, and a lot in common with a PSA telling kids not to use credit cards to pay off other credit cards.

Simon Yam plays John Paul, author of a significant portion of the New Testament and one of the two Eagles of Mongkok (the other one is dead), zazzing about in his Ferrari and telling cops with loans to pay up or else. He drinks nightly lemon coffees tenderly poured by the dead other-Eagle-of-Mongkok’s gal, Mui, and he lovingly brings her over-the-counter tummy medicine that she is inexplicably unable to buy for herself.

Tung is a triad wannabe with the disconcerting ability to waggle his eyebrows independently of each other, who gets taken on by Brother Windy when he saves his hide from Alien (Simon Loui in impacted Terminator mode) by sucking down two bottles of warm VSOP cognac. Tung thinks Brother Windy’s going to make him a star, but instead he winds up peddling knock-off Prada in a night market.

Tung, Ekin hairdo aflutter in the night winds, also goes to nightschool where he falls for teacher, lethargic Ms. Ho, and runs into trouble with Kit who’s been taken on by Alien and who is Mui’s son! Relax: absolutely everyone in this movie will wind up discovering they are a blood relative by the end.

Things spend 87 minutes building to a hopefully-satirical John Woo climax, with plenty of stops for PSAs on the dangers of hemp, a little pathos, a little "the kid’s alright", and lots of scenes of Simon Yam screeching in at the last minute in his Ferrari to sort everyone out.

With a cinematic feel for deserted neon cityscapes, this flick makes the most of its b-list material with a winning bad guy performance (Simon Loui looks like a really mean, newly-hatched chicken), some nicely-choreographed action, and enough father-son subtext to fuel a dozen Shaolin style kung fu flicks.

In a neat bit of self-referential feedback, Simon and Alien’s boss is played by Brother Ko, Simon Yam’s boss in THE MISSION, causing some scenes around the conference table to feel like out-takes from the aforementioned film.

As an added bonus, Simon Yam continues to mystically turn in flawless work in flawed movies and his scenes with Simon Loui actually look like acting. "You should know me," he hisses to Alien at one point, "Don’t turn on my nerve." Yeah. What he said.

Directed by: Lau Bo-yin
Starring: Patrick Tam, Chin Kar-lok, Michael Tong, Samuel Leung

The meisterwerk of StormRiders Management Co. this is a guys with guns movie that manages to be traditional and innovative at the same time. Attacking its material like it was Shakespeare it spotlights four ex-PLA soldiers recruited for a job in Hong Kong and it rapidly becomes LONG ARM OF THE LAW Y2K version.

Patrick Tam is terrific as the team leader, and for those who like their Chin Kar-lok straight up this is a full meal in and of itself. Ho Ka-kui has been away from the screen for a long time and he makes a dazzling return here playing a sleazy village chief.

The action is cut-rate, but by the time it boils over in a COOLIE KILLER inspired final shoot-out lit only by the red glow from the family shrine you'll feel more than satisfied. THE BLOOD RULES erred by biting off more than the low budget could chew. KILLERS hits the mark. High class entertainment? Weeeell, maybe not. But if Hong Kong had drive-ins this is what would be onscreen.

Directed by: Sam Ho
Starring: Billy Lau, Anthony Ngan, Diana Pan-dang, Emily Kwan, Hui Shiu-hung

In 2000, the light romantic comedy became Hong Kong’s genre du jour – star-studded cotton candy dreams like NEEDING YOU, OKINAWA RENDEZVOUS, AND I HATE YOU SO continued the trend from 1999, epitomized by such kissy-faced bliss as FLY ME TO POLARIS, and FASCINATION AMOUR. Then, like a blop of mustard on the tip of your nose, comes HONG KONG HAPPY MAN.

Lewd, crude and totally irredeemable, HONG KONG HAPPY MAN is not a date movie. It’s the kind of movie that guys, single for far too long, watch when their minds have warped, but not yet snapped. Exerting a hypnotic pull on the unwary viewers’ eyeballs it is a flat-out, low-down sex farce (although its producers probably can’t spell "farce"), that hijacks the standard tropes of the romantic comedy genre for its own lowbrow purposes.

Whatever happened to Just Talk Advertising comapny? The parents of the current staff created brilliant masterpieces of advertising for life-enhancing products like diarrhea pills, Loser’s Condoms, and the tentpole of their company: Green Grass Vegetable Water. Their children are another story entirely: eyes magnetically drawn to every woman’s bust, noses hemorrhaging alarmingly at every tight caboose that walks by, these kids are no kings, but trash! And their clients are taking the work, en masse, to rival All Blood Advertising.

And so they should. Nonsee, Wai, Fan, and their receptionist in heat, Toto, are a bunch of losers with the work ethic of chimps, barely kept in line by swift kicks to the nuts administered by boss, KY (Hui Shiu-hung). At the bottom of their game, Client Wong comes to the Just Talk agency to bid his old pal, KY, sayonara. As he leaves, he spots downloaded porn on a laptop, specifically he spots the girl it features. She is sportive, energetic, and has a healthy smile. She’ll make the perfect Green Grass Vegetable Water spokesmodel.

Find me this girl! He commands, and thus the plot is launched. Tracking her down requires a trip to Thailand, which thrills our dirty birds to no end: "All Thai girls are wild, sexy, easy to find," crows one. With the help of ex-kick boxer, and straight arrow, Rocky, our hapless crew of horny toads loads up on condoms and sets off. Oddly enough, Wai is especially eager to go, despite the fact that his wife is Diana Pan Dang, grade-z Hong Kong sexpot, here wearing an octopus on her head and a tight leotard strapped around her assets.

Once in Thailand, the guys want to find massage girls, Toto wants to seduce Rocky, Pearl (the topless Grail of their noble quest) wants to stay away from advertising, Rocky wants to stay away from Toto, Diana Pan Dang and her galpal Winnie arrive to save Wai from the temptations of infidelity, and the degraded grotesquerie hits the fan, and then splatters all over the wall. Like a horrible car wreck, it’s hard to look away.

The stunned viewer, ambushed by this mind-twisting display of vulgarity, is left with this moral echoing in their skull: "Thai guys are dirty, but Hong Kong guys are even dirtier."

Starring: Anthony Wong, Simon Loui, Chan Chin-fuk
Directed By: Zeng Wai-man

Meet the Spirit Saucer: an upside down ashtray that drives men bananas. A Satanic Speak N’Spell that operates like the Western Ouija board, this is the first I’ve seen of it in a movie, and wouldn’t you know it? A bunch of kids have got one on a camping trip and they’re monkeying around with it. Wouldn’t you know it? Their campfire attacks them and before we know it they’re BBQ.

Segue to Mr. Chueng, King of Tutors, who’s using their death as a word problem in caloric consumption. A little macabre, but okay. Cheung is about to get married to his girlfriend of ten years, but he’s only got eyes for rare steak and his teaching assistant, Miss Fanny, when he’s not fending off the "won’t take no for an answer" advances of racy students, Joyce and Amy. Well, wouldn’t you know it but during an intense Dance Dance Revolution session Joyce and Amy find a Spirit Saucer behind the Playstation. It’s especially chatty, and they can’t resist. First it’s the answers to the questions on their Chinese history exam (take that, King of Tutors!), then it’s Mark 6 numbers, then revenge on Ted, the ex-boyfriend.

Angry that Cheung has rejected their nubile bods for that of "bulky girl" Miss Fanny, Amy and Joyce use the Spirit Saucer to lure Cheung over to their house one night. Big mistake. The reason Cheung’s so weird? Lots of child abuse, murdering his dad, and a mom who may or may not still be alive. One look at the Spirit Saucer sets him off, and with the Casio keyboard set on Bossa Nova Cheung turns their house into the condo that dripped blood.

Enter Anthony Wong, a police officer who’ll only eat dinner while sitting on the toilet, who does a Columbo on Cheung, driving him further over the edge in an attempt to ensnare him. Over the edge Cheung goes, indeed, prompting a prostitute to murmur at one point, "You’re so unhygenic." But Anthony Wong is more so.

This expertly-constructed little horror flick takes some time to warm up but has plenty of low-key charms once its engine’s running: Simon Loui as a priest, Anthony Wong’s weird and wonderful performance, the ghost of a dead dad who shows up to offer relationship tips like, "Women are inferior. Kill her quick."

It’s movies like this that shine a little light into the darkness and help us learn the hard truths of life: you can’t be King of Tutors if you’re also busy being King of Maniacs.

October 19, 2006 at 01:03 AM in Film Reviews | Permalink | Comments (5)

October 18, 2006


DAUGHTER OF DARKNESS It's October which means that everyone and their dog is engaged in some kind of lame SPOOK-tacular stunt to celebrate this pagan, devil-worshipping, hell-born holiday. Never one to let lameness pass me by, I'm celebrating Halloween on Kaiju SPOOK-down with reviews of horror movies. Some of you may have seen these before. Some of them may be old news. But here they are, all in one place and ready for you to SPOOK them. And when I say "SPOOK" I mean "read". And, just a note, but this is more of an essay about these movies than a review. If you're in it for the plot, then bail out now because I'm giving away the endings. Which is no great loss.

The years 1993 and 1994 were Hong Kong’s highwater mark for a certain style of bleak horror. The opening shot was Billy Tsang and Danny Lee’s DOCTOR LAMB and Simon Yam’s ON THE WATERFRONT - a masterpiece of a movie crafted around a totally unrestrained actorly leap into the void. No movie will make you feel more like you’ve just crawled through the sewers. It’s the first of its kind, and while its intensity and bloodshed is trumped by later films, it has the wild hallmark of true originality. You watch it and feel the floor break out from under the film makers as they crash through into unexplored depths of sleaze.

The grime kept coming with RUN AND KILL, and continued until Bloody Billy Tsang burnt out his dark light with his masterpiece RED TO KILL.

The neglected crown jewels of this period, however, are the Darkness movies: DAUGHTER OF DARKNESS, BROTHER OF DARKNESS, and DAUGHTER OF DARKNESS 2.

For Billy Tsang, BROTHER OF DARKNESS was a respite. A by-the-book Confucian nightmare full of castration angst with a finale in blood, it’s his gulp of breath after the unrestrained fury of RUN AND KILL and before he closed himself up into the claustrophobic apocalypse of RED TO KILL, an end-times slasher flick where armageddon is seen in the violation of women’s bodies. After RED TO KILL, Bloody Billy sank into a series of banal high-end rip offs from which he has yet to emerge.

Daughter But Ivan Lai Kai-ming’s DAUGHTER OF DARKNESS 1 & 2 craft a singular directorial vision of a hellish Chinese society chewing off its own legs and eating its young. DofD 1&2 are true feminist horror flicks, not in the New Age empowerment sense of "Thelma and Louise" or the male fantasy of SHE SHOOTS STRAIGHT, but in the sense that the movie forces a feminist reading on the viewer. You cannot see these films as anything other than a brutal critique of the treatment of Chinese women. And a deserved one. In a country where boys are so consistently over-valued and the worth of women is so consistently undermined DofD 1&2 seem more like timely statements than hysterical exploitation.

Ivan Lai’s Darkness films are rejoinders to all the round-eye “tut-tut”-ing about Hong Kong filmmakers’ lack of political consciousness. What Westerners consider a “political consciousness” is really just pro-democracy good feelings (Zhang Yimou pretty much called it for what it was when he withdrew from the Cannes film festival several years ago). Ivan Lai’s Darkness films are bloody, gore-strewn consciousness raising classes for women, Asian and Caucasian, something the West hates as much as the East. Lai is political, it’s just not the politics that a group of entrenched male honkies (most film critics) feel comfortable with.

DoD 1 is a bloody re-telling of Cinderella, set in a nation of perverts, peeping toms, and petty thugs. The kick off happens in grand guignol fashion when Anthony Wong (playing the local PSB captain as a lewd Columbo) shows up at the site of a family home, family wiped out and home smeared in blood. Flashbacks ensue when he catches young survivor, Fong, and her boyfriend, Kip, trying to cover up the murder. After some “no, I did it” shenanigans, Anthony Wong cuts through the crap and plonks down Fong to tell the whole story. The horror is quickly revealed to be not the slaughter of the family unit, but the hideous abuse that the family unit enacted and hid from the world.


Papa (a gleeful Ho Ka-kui) is a rapacious, peanut shell wearing shrimper, and mom, son, and sis are all just different settings on the shrew-o-meter. Papa spies on and rapes Fong, repeatedly, and in response to people who claim these rapes are played for laughs, only a cold-hearted bastard could laugh at them the way they’re shot and edited. Throughout the movie the constant violations of privacy, the way everyone is in everyone’s business, evolves from light-hearted (Anthony Wong spying on Fong and Kip having sex from a neighbour’s balcony, or the local AIDS cure being sold by a group of village busybodies) to homocidal (Ho’s spying on Fong, his constant attempts to strip her of her privacy) and finally the spying is used as evidence of the person being spied on’s complicity in the spying. When Fong tries to call out Dad as a peeper the whole family runs to his defense:

Mama: He’s your papa. How will he peep at you?
Brother: Bitch, admit you want to be peeped at.
Papa: Your mom is here. How will I peep at you?

Fong is raped by her daddy. More than once. And even when her family sees it happening they look the other way. The final indignity is an allnight torture/sex fest her dad plans for her on her birthday. Maybe no one likes DAUGHTER OF DARKNESS because it answers the question of who did it: daddy did it, over and over again, and that’s why he gets it in the neck. But the structure of the movie is a no-win situation for Fong. After watching indignity after indignity piled on her head, the final bloodbath feels like a cathartic release, but the viewer still knows it’s a flashback, told from a police station, and that no matter how hard Kip begs for it, Fong will be the one executed for her crimes. The final execution is where the movie's two divergent tones meet: sexual vaudeville mingles with gutcruncher politics, striking a deeply unsettling note.

Despite the much ado made over the relentless sexual gore of the movie, the most chilling moment occurs with everyone clothed, and no karo syrup in sight. When Fong returns to her family’s home on her birthday night she walks right into the House of Pain living room her Daddy has ready for her. But before she enters there’s a shot of her standing outside the front door and unlocking it, returning home like on any other night. If you look, in the background, there is an almost identically-dressed young woman mirroring her entrance at the next house down in the row of bleak little homes. In a movie this cheap, that’s not an accident, that’s planned. And the implications of this little directorial touch echo back and forth throughout the entire movie. The domestic hell of Fong’s family is bad enough. But imagine a country where every house hides the same sickness? It’s not an anomaly. It’s a contagion.

Daughter_of_darkness DAUGHTER OF DARKNESS 2 sees much of the same cast return to make the same point, although the sequel manages to be less claustraphobic and more optimistic, downright sunny in comparision to its predecessor. This time Sau Yan, our Daughter of Darkness, sits the investigating cop down in a cemetary, “Comrade,” she says,”let me tell you a story.” This story’s all about arranged marriage, venereal disease, and a battle between two nuclear families: good new family, and old evil family.

This time around the bad family is a gang of kidnapping hillbilly perverts, set in opposition to Sau Yan’s new family (in utero baby and Ben Ng) and led by demented patriarch, Ho Ka Kui. They hold Sau Yan hostage, rape and torture her, and get it in the final stab down at her hands. Making the family someone else’s family opens up the movie and removes the incest onus so present in DoD 1, settling for gang rape as the crime du jour. The discovery of the butchered family is played straighter in this film as well, the cast devoid now of Anthony Wong’s manic comic performance. Perhaps weighed down by gloom, Ivan Lai decides to have Sau Yan kill herself rather than be arrested and executed for her crimes. There’s no yellow brick road, but humanity is certainly given some more play here, and even the investigating PSB officer can’t believe that Sau Yan committed any murders at all.

DAUGHTER OF DARKNESS 2 is most impressive for its desire to show everything. At one point, a virile young man has been procured to impregnate Sau Yan for her impotent husband (Ben Ng, who’s made a career playing degraded, impotent hunks). The arrangement is made, and at this point most movies would cut to the aftermath leaving the audience to imagine a beautiful night of lovemaking. Not so for Ivan Lai. He films a grueling  realtime sex scene: stud and wife going at it painfully and awkwardly while she holds her husband’s hand. The clincher comes later in the movie when Sau Yan, informed she is pregnant after being raped, takes matters in hand and performs an abortion on herself in the shower, while Ben Ng cluelessly waits in the other room. Now it’s one thing to talk about abortion rights and wrongs, and it’s another to watch someone use a coathanger to do it themselves. It’s a scene the viewer won’t be able to flush from their brains, and one that says more about back alley abortion than any fifty Lifetime movies.

It’s in this relentless desire to show every humiliation, every wound, every degradation in the lives of a bunch of people you may pass on the street and not think twice about, that Ivan Lai distinguishes his directorial vision. His protagonists work in sweatshops or rundown police stations full of quacking ducks. They steal money, go gaga over cheap imported dolls, and sell fake herbal remedies, desiring nothing more in life than to get married and have a family. The problem is, they often get what they want, not realizing that in one way or another it will kill them. Ultimately, like any good PSA, Ivan Lai’s DAUGHTER OF DARKNESS films revolve around the desire not to tell. Secrets are toxic, but they are what holds hearth and home together, and clamming up is too often equated with character. As an arrested gambler complains to Anthony Wong at the begining of DAUGHTER OF DARKNESS 1 “We are righteous men. We won’t tell on anybody.” To Ivan Lai, this is the most horrifying thing of all.

October 18, 2006 at 01:22 AM in Film Reviews | Permalink | Comments (3)

October 17, 2006


Director Billy Tang Hin-sing says hi to Grady It's October which means that everyone and their dog is engaged in some kind of lame SPOOK-tacular stunt to celebrate this pagan, devil-worshipping, hell-born holiday. Never one to let lameness pass me by, I'm celebrating Halloween on Kaiju SPOOK-down with reviews of horror movies. Some of you may have seen these before. Some of them may be old news. But here they are, all in one place and ready for you to SPOOK them. And when I say "SPOOK" I mean "read". And, just a note, but this is more of an essay about these movies than a review. If you're in it for the plot, then bail out now because I'm giving away the endings.

Maybe he was having a nervous breakdown, otherwise how do you explain it? Starting as a competent yet hardly exciting director, Billy Tang Hin-sing appeared out of nowhere to direct a trilogy of pure urban terror unrivalled in its apocalyptic ferocity, and then went back to journeyman directing, seemingly with no regrets. His eight movies in the last four years show not the slightest hint of the gleeful perversity or rigidly deployed stylistics of his earlier work. His urban trilogy happened at a time of seeming political stasis in the HKSAR. People who could secure foreign passports had done so, and the rest had adopted a “wait and see” attitude towards the future. Unemployment was down, the economy was good, and Billy Tang was the black lizard at the base of the brain whispering, “Maybe this won’t work out, after all”.

The director of DOCTOR LAMB, RUN AND KILL (a scorched earth capitalist nightmare of urban living gone amock), and RED TO KILL (a cinematic transcription of the apocalypse with the HKSAR’s urban landscape standing in for the mind of a maniac) came from nowhere and went back to nowhere when he was done. These three movies are his living legacy, movies no one else could have made in any other country, at any other time.

After appearing in a martial arts movie called SHAOLIN MARTIAL ARTS in 1974, Billy Tang Hin-sing remained below English-speaker radar, presumably production managing and assistant directing his way around the film industry before his directorial debut in the generally forgettable Jet Li Goes America movie DRAGON FIGHT in 1988.

Rather than going on to direct another movie he again sunk out of sight, which leads one to believe that his directorial debut did not inspire confidence among investors. Four years later, Danny Lee and Kent Cheung Jat-si teamed up to film the true crime biopic of Lam Go-wan, a taxi driving serial killer. This was the first film for Kent Cheung’s new film production company, a company that went south three films later, sending Cheung into an economic hole that took him years to crawl out of. But that’s in the future. In 1992, Lee and Cheung brought on Billy Tang as a co-director (with Danny Lee) of their sleazie cheapie, and category III history was made.

DOCTOR LAMB DVD cover Much has been said about DOCTOR LAMB and it doesn’t need to be repeated here. However, it should be noted that it’s not the mutilations inflicted on his victims, or the depredations of the main character (a beautifully out-of-control Simon Yam) that shock the Western viewer, as much as it is the fact that Lam Go-wan was butchering prostitutes in a tiny three room apartment he shared with his entire extended family and everyone was so desperate not to ask questions that they never even noticed. The physical closeness of the Lam family was in direct contrast to the enormous emotional gulf that existed between them.

DOCTOR LAMB’s wild variations in tone are par for the course in HKSAR movies: slapstick comedy, police procedural, gory Shaw Brothers shocker. But like tuning into a distant radio station there is a dark place way down the dial we reach in some of Simon Yam’s solo set pieces that is more Billy Tang’s world than co-director Lee’s. The cop squad slapstick, the brutal interrogations, the shifting time frame - these tropes are all revisited in Danny Lee’s later works.

Lee, quite clearly, left the rough stuff up to Bloody Billy. These two men’s dueling visions - one a conflicted but dedicated believer in an ordered universe represented through dogged police work, the other a nihilist just begining to entertain his fascination with the violation of the human spirit - are locked into a directly oppostional relationship throughout the film. And the final scene with Lee and Yam makes it clear who wins: Danny Lee gazes into the abyss, only to find that the abyss is out at a discotheque and can't be reached. All a believer like Lee can do is walk away in disgusted defeat while Yam gibbers in his cell.


Lifting Kent Cheung and Simon Yam from DOCTOR LAMB, Bloody Billy’s urban nightmare came into sharper focus in the bluntly-titled RUN AND KILL the following year. Cheung plays the HKSAR everyman, making money, working hard, supporting his family: his adorable daughter, Pinky, and a wife who’s fed up with him and who humiliatingly strays from the marriage bed just long enough to pull someone else back into it with her. Cheung (also named Cheung in the film) reeling from her betrayal gets drunk and accidentally hires someone to kill her, pays them a deposit, passes out, and wakes up remembering nothing. The film comes on like a perky urban comedy, but by twenty minutes in all hell is breaking loose. A gang breaks into his house and via a series of high impact falls and two cleveage shots wife and lover are dead and Fatty Cheung’s life is spiraling out of control. From there he runs. Dashing desperately from one bad situation to another he comes to the end of the line with Fung, Simon Yam’s Vietnam veteran given to spontaneous nosebleeds and who slits throats like most of us wash our hands.

Bloody Billy wears his politics on his sleeve in RUN AND KILL. The site of Cheung’s deal with the devil is a trendy Lan Kwai Fong joint named 1997. The Hong Kongers in this film are out-of-control capitalists, buying and selling human life like so many tanks of propane. But Yam’s Fung is a different breed. He’s a nightmare Mainlander, straight out of the PRC’s blood-soaked past. He was in Vietnam, which is where committed revolutionaries (often the children of Communist party officials) went to fight against American imperialism during the confusion of the Cultural Revolution. They went unofficially and many were slaughtered, including Fung’s brother. Cheung believes in money, prosperity, and family. Fung believes in revenge, commitment to principles, and family. It’s nothing less than the PRC/HK cultural divide that dukes it out in RUN AND KILL. Later in the film a character comes on like Hong Kong, crying “I am only the middleman. I have done nothing. Why it’s a mess now?” A few seconds later she’s hitting the floor as bullets fly, paralyzed with fear.

Bloody Billy is a master of camerawork, and in RUN AND KILL he starts sharpening his chops. The film opens with a fixed, immobile camera, many conversations taking place in long, tightly-framed takes. This dead-on framing breaks into handheld hysteria and wild panning during the home invasion that leaves Cheung’s wife dead, the scene ending with an elegant fade out. In this third film he is already experimenting with geometric framing, lining up his characters in relationship to their environment. Movie screens, louvred windows, and doorways are used to carve up the frame into squares, rectangles and grids, a kind of cubist composition that will bear fruit in his next film.

Geography is all important to Bloody Billy in RUN AND KILL Nowhere is safe, the spirit of war infests every corner of the seemingly peaceful HKSAR: murder happens in homes, in movie theatres, in bars, and in factories. Over the movie hangs the ghost of Vietnam - it’s the conflict that shaped Fung’s character, it’s the place gang members go into hiding, and a Vietnamese refugee camp is a crucial location in the film.  Like fog, the murderous past of the PRC and Vietnam seep into every crack, filling up the empty spaces we thought of as safe. Characters run from the HKSAR to the PRC and back again. Doesn’t matter. Their sins follow them wherever they go.

“We have nothing in Hong Kong. Just lives.” one character says to Cheung. It takes the loss of everything he owns to make Cheung realize that despite all his materialist trappings, that’s all he has too.

Next up for Bloody Billy was the well-made but anticlimactic “Brother of Darkeness”. It contained his standard sense of workmanship, and marked the first time he worked with Money Lo and Lily Chung. Dealing with his normal theme of stress impacting on a family from within and without  it was little more than a gulp of fresh air before, nine months later, RED TO KILL was ripped from his brain. A traumatic story of the life of the mentally retarded in the HKSAR, RED TO KILL is celluloid shock treatment. A high-impact collision of fancy ideas and viscera.

Derek Yee first ground this territory through his camera in his first film, THE LUNATICS, in 1986 THE LUNATICS was a case of a socially engaged, concerned mind examining the fears of people living close to the mentally ill, the lack of money and understanding among higher ups in the Welfare Department, the thankless churn of social work, and the often tortured lives of the mentally ill themselves.Yee ended his movie with a note of hope,a recognition that concerned individuals will always step forward to fill the gap. 10 years later situations had hardly improved, the stigma of mental illness kept the mentally ill from being treated as human beings, and the system was handling a heavier case load worse. In 1984 audiences got the concerned social activist. In 1994, when the colony was prosperous and secure, they got the fevered, unhinged mind of Bloody Billy Tang. His is  an intellect with teeth, and rather than addressing fears, he exploited them.

RED TO KILLIn RED TO KILL, the HKSAR’s urban crudscape is kaledoscopically refracted through the camera lens into a Caligari nightmare of square-cut corridors teeming with the uncared for dregs of the HKSAR’s mental health system. Undiagnosed schizophrenics, the paranoid working class, and the mentally retarded, all warehoused in hulking concrete monoliths, their caretakers overloaded, underpaid and crazier than their charges.

The first ten minutes serve as a billboard that you’re now leaving moral territory, a double-barreled blast of moviemaking brio and twitchy homocidal impulse that no written description can ever really prepare you for. In one corner is a mother, eyes slit tight with paranoia, clutching her retarded kid and threatening to jump. In the other corner, in the same building, a woman in red is stalked by a jerking, sweating psychopath. With muscles ripped and rope-sized veins throbbing with venom he captures, kills and rapes her with the assistance of a squeaky toy. The music - Tangerine Dream synths, deep water sonar pings, raspy breathing - and the variable camera speeds clue us in early: we’re in mental territory. From here on in it’s a psychological free-for-all.

Billy Tang’s sickest and most subtle jokes are in this movie, as well as his most impressive cinematography. His brilliant mise en scene, sick joke shock edits, and precise geometric framing are all deployed to full effect. During a court scene, the passing of hours is depicted by two graceful blinks of the accused’s eyes. The plot often becomes secondary to the style, with the prowling camera and wide angle lenses taking in the triangulations of violated flesh in shockingly abstract arrangements that serve as their own statements. Humanity becomes a debatable point in this movie as the actors and the scenery serve the same agenda with much the same effect.

The plot involves a socially isolated social worker, Cheung Ka-lok (Money Lo), who takes responsibility for a retarded young woman, Ming Ming (Lily Chung), placing her in the Social Welfare Department Sheltered Workshop and Hostel, a light industry factory and dormitory located in a crumbling housing block. The first half of the movie is LEAN ON ME-inspired inspiration as Director Chan (Ben Ng), and Cheung help Ming Ming adjust to her new life in the hostel. She makes friends, learns to dance, jumps up and down, etc. But at night, the halls of the complex belong to the bogeyman, who whimpers and stumbles from floor to floor, dragging his over-muscled bulk behind him, searching for women dressed in red on which to vent his endless supply of homicidal energy. The other residents have formed a vigilante group to patrol their halls and they are starting to blame the mentally ill hostel residents for the crimes. As tensions build, humans arguing over their living arrangements and flinging groundless accusations back and forth, the bogeyman snuffles around just outside the light, picking off anyone stupid enough to stray after dark.

Cheung and Ming Ming become soul sisters, Cheung seeing something of her younger self in Ming Ming. And then the trap snaps shut. Ming Ming keeps blithely putting herself in the path of danger, and when it finally catches up with her there’s a nauseatinfg inevitability to it. From there on, it’s a bloody battle between Cheung and the rapist over Ming Ming’s heart. The rapist claims he wants to start a family with Ming Ming and marry her. Cheung knows Ming Ming can’t cope with this and she fights tooth and claw to keep it from happening. It’s like a traditional face-off between a suitor and his potential mother-in-law, and this triangle blurs the line between sex and mutilation so often that it quickly becomes irrelevant. By the end, sex and mutilation are one and the same.

Adding further complications to this bloody triangle is Billy’s Tang’s portrayal of the mentally retarded. He acknowledges their generally unacknowledged sexuality - most of them are, physically, adults. Few movies give the sexuality, self-mutilation, pain, horror, and genuine humiliation that can often go along with mental illness such centerstage attention. The welfare system is portrayed as being in a never ending state of flux: room mates are missing, the dead are carted about, people leave and never come back home, living situations are constantly adjusted and readjusted. Ming Ming is an adult in this film, and when the transient, joyless world of the welfare system is her only other option it makes the siren call of her tormentor that much more seductive.

Cheung’s motives are made just as suspect as the rapist's. Does she really care about Ming Ming or is she just looking for a human-sized pet to expend her mothering impulse on? Cheung’s and the rapist’s oppositional, yet equally violent, natures are furthered dileneated in the final showdown: the rapist walking through avalanches of soccer balls wearing a lycra Olympic outfit, swinging a sledgehammer, Cheung coming at him with an iron and fake flowers. It’s like watching a mother fight with a suitor over her daughter’s heart. Unfortunately, a translation problem in the subtitles has Cheung called a “bastard” over and over when in fact she’s being called a “bitch”, the traditional name for a woman who just won’t let a man have his way.

As for the actors, they launch into their deranged characterizations with adrenalized gusto. The rapist’s body turns out to be the movie’s greatest special effect as he turns into a blood-streaked killing machine. And Lily Chung turns in the performance of a lifetime. In terms of self-directed loathing, Ming Ming makes Carrie look restrained. By the time she takes a razor blade to her crotch the line between acting and being is crossed and she doesn’t look back once, off in a land of mondo brutality.

RED TO KILL is a movie that may have burned out its director. If ever a film plumbed the depths of darkness and horror and actually hit bottom, RED TO KILL is it. This is a movie that spirals down and down until it passes the point of no return. And then it doesn’t. The characters end up spinning out of control, dead, or locked in their own painful private worlds without comfort, or healing. Bloody Billy went on to direct a lot of workmanlike dreck, never again to reach the heights (or depths) of this urban trilogy during the course of which he mapped out the dark heart of the HKSAR. His later horror films like HAUNTED KARAOKE are fun, but his attitude towards horror is now distinctly slapstick and shows no sign of returning to darker waters. It’s too bad really. The world has lost a seriously disturbed director with a singular vision.

Billy Tang Hin-sing crafted a world where personal relations are poisonous, where families are more likely to do harm than anything else, where all distinction between sex and violence has been lost, and where his characters, traumatized by existence, run around sweating and crying out their pain, looking for all the world like candles melting down to a wick of pure hurt and hatred. We may have lost Bloody Billy, but his three films live on, and they’re just as upsetting to watch now as they ever were.

October 17, 2006 at 01:40 AM in Film Reviews | Permalink | Comments (4)

October 16, 2006


WO HU poster A sharp-eyed reader lets us know that WO HU, the Wong Jing-produced triad film that looks like a cross between INFERNAL AFFAIRS and ELECTION (a trailer is available) has moved its release date to 10/26, going up against Oxide Pang's DIARY instead of going up against Johnnie To's EXILED.

You can read a plot synopsis here. The film has two directors (just like INFERNAL AFFAIRS!) and it stars Francis Ng, Eric Tsang, Shawn Yue and Jordan Chan.

October 16, 2006 at 11:10 AM in News | Permalink | Comments (7)


Shochiku has announced the next Yoji Yamada film and - surprise! - it's a period piece. But what's genuinely surprising is that it's set not in the distant past like TWILIGHT SAMURAI or THE HIDDEN BLADE, but in the 1940's.

KABEI is based on a nonfiction account of a mother living through hard times in the 1940's called Chichi Eno Requiem. It stars Sayuri Yoshinaga who last worked with Yamada 35 years ago in two of the Tora-san films, TORA-SAN'S LOVESICK and TORA-SAN'S DEAR OLD HOME. It's her 112th film.

The movie is set for a 2008 release and currently in the planning stages. Yamada has this to say about it:

"I would like to make this film with homage to all of the tender mothers who held her family in her arms and lived through hard time like a raging roller storm."

Expect to cry.

October 16, 2006 at 01:43 AM in News | Permalink | Comments (1)

October 14, 2006


I'm currently at the Pusan Film Market (part of the Pusan Film Festival) and the news is flowing fast and furious, like a giant river of syrup. It looks like there's a new Chinese, period, martial arts epic, THREE KINGDOMS: RESURRECTION OF THE DRAGON and it stars Andy Lau and Maggie Q. Daniel Lee is directing and Sammo is doing action choreography.

Also, Aussie sales agent Arclight has picked up Soi Cheang's DOG BITE DOG and is now trying to make an international sale.

October 14, 2006 at 06:40 PM in News | Permalink | Comments (6)



Zhang Yimou's sumptuous and surprisingly-well-regarded CURSE OF THE JADE SCORPION GOLDEN FLOWER will close the AFI Fest on November 12 in Los Angeles. Presented by Audi, the festival is the posh film fest arm of the ginormous, marginally insane American Film Market. It'll also be screening RE-CYCLE, THE HOST, Kim Ki-Duk's TIME, Ken Watanabe's MEMORIES OF TOMORROW (which is not a world premiere no matter what their site says), ELECTION 1 and 2, LUXURY CAR, THE BANQUET and a bunch of others.

While it's certainly amazing that the film is completed and ready to go, again it is not a World Premiere as the AFI Fest is claiming, since the movie publicly played in China to qualify for next year's Oscars. This would be called an International Premiere, guys. But I guess that's not as sexy as a World Premiere, and frankly I think most people (myself included) would do the same thing. Thank goodness blogs like this are around to keep everyone on the straight and narrow!

October 14, 2006 at 01:38 AM in News | Permalink | Comments (0)

October 13, 2006


TO SIR, WITH LOVE posterIt's October which means that everyone and their dog is engaged in some kind of lame SPOOK-tacular stunt to celebrate this pagan, devil-worshipping, hell-born holiday. Never one to let lameness pass me by, I'm celebrating Halloween on Kaiju SPOOK-down with reviews of horror movies. Some of you may have seen these before. Some of them may be old news. But here they are, all in one place and ready for you to SPOOK them. And when I say "SPOOK" I mean "read".

Who'd have thought that the best slasher pic to come along in a while would hail from Korea? But TO SIR, WITH LOVE is a super-sized serving of stalking, slashing, POV camera shots while someone breathes heavily on the soundtrack, gory stabbings and faceless killers...basically all the ingredients that made MY BLOODY VALENTINE, BLACK CHRISTMAS, FRIDAY THE 13th, and a million other movies clog up the video racks in the early 80's, twisting children for life and causing them to grow up and attend horror conventions.

With shout-outs to SLEEPAWAY CAMP and a fistful of other almost-forgettable slasher flicks it's impossible to mistake TO SIR, WITH LOVE for anything but what it is: the kind of movie you watch after a few beers or some "grass" at the midnight showing.

Now, to qualify an earlier comment, when I say "best slasher pic" I mean exactly that: best slasher pic. This is not a movie that's going to win any awards. It's got ambition, and you can feel the cast and crew chomping at the metaphorical bit (when they're not chomping on razor blades) to make a movie that's better than what's in the script, but it's all for nought. By the time the credits roll, reason and logic have gone out the window and what you're left with is a most excellent horror flick that has no pretensions to any greater goal than to sit comfortably in the video store between TICKS and TOURIST TRAP.

best slasher picThe set-up is red-blooded and raw, the kind of thing that B-list pictures like this can chew happily. A gang of elementary school students come to visit their ailing teacher Ms. Park. Confined to a wheelchair and given the odd sponge bath by Mi-Ja, another of her old students, Ms. Park is facing the end of her life. We know this because she coughs a lot and hallucinates. In an attempt to give her closure, Mi-Ja has invited her classmates to come visit the old gal so she can see how she touched their lives and made them better people. They arrive in ones and twos and bow to Ms. Park, thanking her for teaching them, as she tears up and pats their heads with trembling hands.

It could be the beginning of a sweet, sentimental TV drama except for a few little twists. Like the fact that Ms. Park abused most of these students, humiliating them in class and laughing at their pathetic attempts to curry her favor. Today they're cripples, bulimics, plastic surgery addicts, drunks, and generally the most self-loathing crew of extreme masochists I've seen since I attended the last Log Cabin Republicans meeting. And there's the fact that Ms. Park has a deformed son she keeps in the basement. And the fact that someone starts murdering house guests with school supplies.

There's plenty of stupid on display. The first couple of murders happen as characters line up politely, take a number and leave the house to go have a cigarette on the nearby beach before getting dispatched with a razor blade in an orderly fashion, one by one. And the ending defies logic, reason, common sense and most of the laws of Western Minneapolis.

But the over-the-top characterizations and back stories and the constant sense of menace result in a WHATEVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE? vibe that permeates the first few reels like a bad smell. And by the time you get to the killings (which don't actually start until well past the half hour mark) you're already really enjoying this gallery of nutjobs and poor attitudes.

While the cinematography is sharp and nicely composed (there are a few shocks you actually won't see coming thanks to clever framing) occasionally it over-reaches, like an early scene where the camera zooms in and out over and over like it's on speed until you start to feel seasick.

The camerawork gets downright funky and experimental at times, which kicks up the fun meter another notch and the murders are the nastiest I've seen since ART OF THE DEVIL 2 despite being relatively brief.

TEACHING MS. TINGLE was a movie that tried to go in this direction, but no other film that I can think of eviscerates teachers and teaching as hard or as nastily as TO SIR, WITH LOVE. And, as staples and thumbs go into eyes, razor blades go down throats and geometry compasses are put to all kinds of ugly uses it made me think back on my high school days nostalgically and say to myself, "Yep, that's about how it was."

(Read another take on TO SIR, WITH LOVE over on KoreanFilm.org)

October 13, 2006 at 01:59 AM in Film Reviews | Permalink | Comments (3)

October 12, 2006


Edison Chen, in casual wear?

Edison Chen is at LA's Knot Berry's Farm theme park for the premiere of his Hollywood debut, THE GRUDGE 2, although he could not go on any of the rides since he was there for the premiere.

He wore casual wear, causing one poster to call him "a punk" for his casual dress. Western reporters seemed to recognize Edison and it looks like he's starting to take America by storm. According to his blog:

- he got flowers in his room when he checked into the Gramercy Hotel
("sweet and cute...................")
- he had dinner with Kanye West at Spice Market
("i had some good food and a real good talk with kanye and don bout life and sh*t")
- he then had sexual relations with Kanye, or maybe just back to his room
("upon that we went up to kanye's private spot and we hit up the meeting")
- he signed with a new publicist
("the same people who do leonardo dicaprio, justin timberlake, ben affleck, john mayer, michelle wie, gilbert arenas and now edison chen also and so so so much more are representing me as well so holla at ya boy")
- and is now back in New York City
(" where exactly am i?????
u go figure that out but big days coming up
welcome to the jungle...")

I only hope that his busy new schedule doesn't keep him from more blogging.

October 12, 2006 at 01:28 PM in News | Permalink | Comments (5)


Andy Lau's massive period flick, BATTLE OF WITS, has started hitting the internet hard over the past few weeks as it gears up for its release at the end of November. Starring Andy Lau and Ahn Sung-Ki, it tells the story of a tiny kingdom in China which holds off a much larger, much angrier neighbor during the Warring States period thanks to the sage advice of a military consultant (Lau).

It's budgeted at US$16 million. Directed by Jacob Cheung it's based on a Japanese manga called STRATEGY.

Striking character posters have been released as has a teaser trailer.

Battle of Wits

October 12, 2006 at 12:08 PM in News | Permalink | Comments (0)


Derek Elley reviews Kiyoshi Kurosawa's latest movie, RETRIBUTION in Variety. Starring Koji Yakusho as a cop who's starting to suspect that he may be the target of his own investigation into a string of bizarre serial killings. RETRIBUTION follows the largely dismissed LOFT and if Elley is to be believed, it's a doozy.

"...a modern-day ghost story/serial-killer mystery that blends the helmer's typical ingredients of guilt, suggestion and waking madness in largely successful doses."

But let's hear from Elley in free verse. Cue the bongos:

Takes this simple premise of a cop who may or may not be a murderer
And then skews it.

The ghost-woman appears to climb out of his bedroom wall
During an earthquake tremor.

Seems to resolve itself two-thirds of the way through.
Springs the first of two major twists

The occasional ear-splitting wail the ghost-woman summons up,
A sense of the spirit-world pressing against the real world,
Like a face against a window pane.

Never sticks to the ribs.
Classily made.
Lucid colors.
Chiaroscuro lighting.
Gentle dread.
Bubbling away.

Gone, baby, gone.

October 12, 2006 at 11:32 AM in Film Reviews | Permalink | Comments (1)

October 11, 2006


Koji Yakusho is the lawyer After a ten-year hiatus, the director of SHALL WE DANCE? and SUMO DO, SUMO DON'T is back making pictures. His latest one is SOREDEMO BOKU WA YATTENAI, a courtroom drama about a man falsely accused of being a molester. Ryo Kase stars (who's in LETTERS FROM IWO JIMA, Clint Eastwood's next film) and Koji Yakusho is his lawyer. His mother is played by Masako Motai from ALWAYS.

Release is scheduled for January 20, 2007.

(Thanks to Hoga Central for the news. Many more details are in their post)

October 11, 2006 at 11:17 AM in News | Permalink | Comments (1)


Insane Thailand Maybe one reason the Thai film industry has seen a slump in quality is that everyone's too busy fighting behind the scenes to actually focus on making good movies.

The latest kerfluffle?

The Federation of National Film Assn. of Thailand announced INVISIBLE WAVES as Thailand's Oscar entry for "Best Foreign Film" but then, suddenly, they decided that they'd enter AHIMSA...STOP TO RUN instead. Which came out in 2005.

The FNFA said that they never announced that INVISIBLE WAVES was their submission at all.

"We didn't replace INVISIBLE WAVES with AHIMSA, " a spokesman for the federation said. "Because of a very short lead time in transporting the print to the U.S., we were concerned that we would miss the deadline and decided to submit another film to the Oscar committee instead."

This was a bit of a shocker for Palm Pictures, which owns the US rights to INVISIBLE WAVES and was already planning a marketing campaign for the movie's theatrical release in early 2007 based around its nomination. Also surprised was Five Star Entertainment, INVISIBLE WAVES' producers.

"As soon as the federation made it known to us that the film would represent Thailand, we immediately arranged the transport of the print through (sales agent) Fortissimo Films," said Five Star Prods. production executive Aphiradee "Amy" Iamphungphorn. "If the federation hadn't announced in the first place that INVISIBLE WAVES would be the nominee, we wouldn't be so upset."

Now, Fortissimo films is getting in on the act. They're the international sales agent for INVISIBLE WAVES and their president, Michael Werner, has written a letter to FNFA stating that the submission of AHIMSA will be, "
embarrassing to the name, reputation and image of Thailand."

FNFA has never been a fan of INVISIBLE WAVES, an international co-production, and earlier this year they had said that it wasn't truly a Thai film at all and shouldn't be allowed to open the Bangkok International Film Festival.

Read all of Kong Rithdee's article (from which the above quotes are snagged) which dissects the issue in delicious detail. Expect further developments.

October 11, 2006 at 10:45 AM in News | Permalink | Comments (3)


EXILED won't be allowed a theatrical release in China And I don't mean "What ho!" as in: "Which skanky prostitute is being referenced here?" But "What ho!" as in the hunting cry of the British upper class.

The Johnnie To news keeps piling in - the guy has something like 80 movies coming out before the end of the year. He was just in NYC for the NY Film Festival screening of ELECTION 2 (which went extremely well but prompted some walk-outs during the doggie scene) and Ed Douglas over at ComingSoon was able to get the updates on the status of LINGER (his romance), TRIANGLE (his movie with Tsui Hark and Ringo Lam) and THE SPARROW (his pickpocket movie).

Then Monkeypeaches has the news that it looks like EXILED, To's latest film, won't be allowed a theatrical release in China, even though it will be allowed a DVD release. The reasons given are that it's too violent and the subject matter is all about gangs with no cops playing much of a role. I think this is a bit of a stretch. The real reason, I suspect, may also include the fact that the film takes place on the eve of Macau's handover to China and the event is referred to as basically a new gang taking over. People talk about settling scores before the handover, and just ensuring that things appear to go peacefully during the transition which is very different from things actually going peacefully during the transition.

Finally, more news on the PTU sequels we mentioned before. It turns out that this is actually a television miniseries. The entire cast (Lam Suet, Simon Yam, everyone) will return for four 90-minute episodes, each helmed by a different director. I'm actually pretty excited about this and I'm dying for it to come out on DVD. PTU's not one of my favorite movies, but I really like the world it created and I'd love to see these characters get more life.

October 11, 2006 at 10:20 AM in News | Permalink | Comments (4)

October 10, 2006


Ah, spin. A sharp-eyed reader sent in a link to a story that's an attempt by Stephen Chow's publicists to spin the news about Chow's freak-out when co-star in his new film, Zhang Yuqi, returned after a break in filming with new eyelids. Dude, she'd had plastic surgery! During filming! I'd freak out too.

Now a spokesperson for Chow's production company says, "Lies, lies, lies." And "She didn't have surgery." And "There wasn't even a break in shooting for her to have the surgery in." And "Her performance keeps getting better and better."

Oh dear. I don't believe that for a minute. You can read the spin in Chinese, too.

October 10, 2006 at 09:40 AM in News | Permalink | Comments (1)


Wilson Yip's new movie now has a title - CITY WITHOUT MERCY (PO JUN) - and a location: Hong Kong.

Originally slated to start shooting any day now in Macau, the production has returned to the good old HKSAR because they couldn't find enough extras. With 8 billion new casinos going up in Macau everyone is busy and no one has time to be an extra. Yip was going to import 250 extras to Macau from HK and China before someone said, "Why don't we just shoot in Hong Kong?" Which was very sensible, and it turns out to be exactly what they did.

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

October 10, 2006 at 08:31 AM in News | Permalink | Comments (0)



Accolades are starting to pop up for a new Thai movie, of all things. These days I've come to assume a Thai film is going to be a waste of my time after seeing so many bad ones, but the very wise Wisekwai is lavishing praise on 13 BELOVED just released over there in the Land of Smiles. The director is a 25 year old with one other flick (EVIL) under his belt but the plot sounds wicked. A salaryman in Bangkok tries to make it to a 100 million baht jackpot by performing in an underground reality show that requires him to undertake 13 increasingly dangerous and humiliating stunts.

After the jump are two trailers for the film, and  learn a little about director Chukiat Sakweerakul in this article.

First trailer:

Second trailer:

October 10, 2006 at 07:54 AM in News, Trailers | Permalink | Comments (4)

October 09, 2006


Andy Lau Andy Lau had some choice words for THE DEPARTED at its Hong Kong premiere over the weekend. He thought the movie was too long, had too much swearing and that the makers of THE DEPARTED owe more money to the producers of INFERNAL AFFAIRS since they only bought the rights to IA 1 but used parts of IA 2 and 3. That was him making a joke. I think.

Overall, Andy?

"It was all right to watch and the actors were pretty good."

His spokeswoman, Alice Tam, confirmed his remarks on Monday.

"It's correct that he gave it eight on a scale of 10...the effect of combining the two female characters in the original into one isn't as good as in the original...He said he focused on his character's psychology, and that the character didn't look like a bad guy on the surface," she said.

(Thanks to Al)

October 9, 2006 at 11:00 AM in News | Permalink | Comments (1)


the villain of India's classic SHOLAY There is no figure from Indian cinema who grips the imagination like Gabbar Signh. The villain of India's classic SHOLAY, he's the Darth Vadar of Bollywood - a pop creation who casts a long shadow.

Now that Ram Gopal Varma's SHOLAY remake is in production people want to know what he looks like since he's being played by Amitabh Bachchan, who played one of the  heroes in the original film. Wait no more, because his look was just unveiled, causing the Big B to feel "...overwhelmed and embarrassed."

"Gabbar Singh in my SHOLAY as opposed to Gabbar in the Chambal Valley is that the latter [the original] is cut off from civilisation," says RGV. "Mr. Bachchan is a devious gangster who lives in Mumbai and challenges the authorities to catch him. So he isn't on the run, nor is he in prison. He will be suave, dapper and elegant...He's in touch with the minds of terrorists from all over the world...There is no huge changes in his look, we aren't using a wig...and no, he doesn't sport stained teeth. But he does exude terror."

Gabbar Signh Varma has faced intense criticism for his SHOLAY remake since the original is one of the most popular movies ever to burst out of Bollywood. The son of Amjad Khan, the original Gabbar Singh, has issued a statement saying the movie shouldn't be remade at all and numerous industry folks have warned Varma not to remake this classic. But, as Varma says, "Well I've one consolation for them. Since the critics have already exhausted all their expletives for SHIVA, they'd have nothing left to say about SHOLAY." This is his reference to the fact that his much-anticipated recent film, SHIVA, was eviscerated by critics. Varma says he knew the movie would get bad reviews. Whatever, dude. It still got trashed. Would you please go back to making good movies?

(Thanks to Victor and the gang at NaachGaana)

October 9, 2006 at 09:45 AM in News | Permalink | Comments (1)


Jackie Chan's ROB-B-HOOD This weekend saw the release of INFERNAL AFFAIRS remake, THE DEPARTED; Jackie Chan's ROB-B-HOOD; and Taiwanese horror flick, SILK.

THE DEPARTED blasted to the number one spot with $27 million, fueled by red hot reviews and the biggest release for a Scorsese movies ever. It beat his previous record-holder for opening weekend, CAPE FEAR, which hauled in just over $10 million on its opening weekend, and it beat TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE REMAKE #2 which made around $19 million. Surprisingly, studio tracking showed that it hit every demographic equally: old, young, men and women.

Meanwhile, over in that mysterious region we like to call Asia, Chan's ROB-B-HOOD sucked up a whole lot of cash over the National Day Holiday this weekend. It took in $1.13 million in the HKSAR and $2.6 million in China. This was a thorough pounding for THE BANQUET which has been open for 19 days in the HKSAR and hauled in a mere $1.03 million. SILK held the number four spot in Hong Kong with $108,846.

Meanwhile, the hotly anticipated Japanese fighting schoolgirl flick, YO-YO GIRL COP, is now in its second week of release and it's only made $281,000 so far. Does this mean there's no future for sailor suit schoolgirls with killer yo-yo movies? That's a world I don't want to live in.

October 9, 2006 at 08:00 AM in News | Permalink | Comments (0)

October 06, 2006


New THE HOST poster"Is it good? Is it good? Everyone says it's great. Did you see it? How was it? Is it any good?"

That's pretty much what happens when you mention Bong Joon-Ho's THE HOST in polite company. So, to answer the question: yes, it's everything you've heard. It's really that good. Not the movie I expected, but much better than I would have ever thought possible.

The CGI has been fixed after Cannes and, except for a couple of shots at the end where they apparently ran out of money and had to resort to some older, weaker CGI shots, it's visually impeccable. I'm not sure what THE HOST means (not sure what THE DEPARTED means either - the two movies could swap titles with no discernible difference) but watching this flick I was grateful for the return of Song Kang-Ho, the return of Bong Joon-Ho, more Bae Doo-Na, and some intensely strong work from a fistful of Korean character actors.

Man, this family hates each other. Song Kang-Ho is a semi-retarded adult who sleeps all day and steals bites of the customer's food at the Han River snack shack his dad owns (Byun Hee-Bong with a mouthful of rotten teeth). His sister is an emotionally locked-down Olympic archer (Bae Doo-Na) and his brother is a student radical turned failed salaryman who's desperate to hold onto a job, any job (Park Hae-Il) and he'll punch people until they give him one.

The focus of the family is Hyun-Seo, Song Kang-Ho's bratty daughter who nevertheless is the apple of everyone's eye. Until a monsterous anus with teeth on legs lurches out of the river and eats her. Convinced that she's still alive, the four are forced into uncomfortable proximity with one another as they hunt down this BFM (Big F++king Monster) with all the tools at their disposal: a couple of shotguns, a box of change, some street signs and a few molotov cocktails.

With a minimum of care and attention, Bong Joon-Ho has made probably the most realistic monster movie to ever hit the screen. It makes you wonder how rotten so many other directors are that they've never had these ideas before because they are all so real there's a forehead-slapping "of course" quality to them. There're international implications to the monster, military responses, government contractors swarming around like flies, but all of this is somewhere else, with dribs and drabs of it bleeding into our perception because Bong's movie is firmly locked into what happens to this family as they get eaten up by the government buereacracy.

The set-pieces are startling. I haven't jumped during a movie since god-knows-when and I jumped twice in this one. And the initial monster attack is so different from what you were expecting that you actually experience actual emotions during a special effects set piece.

The only drawback to the movie is that I was expecting a "Yeah! Rock On!" kind of ending. I wanted one. If any characters deserved the much-derided Hollywood ending, it was these guys. And I didn't get one. Bong Joon-Ho isn't interested in making blockbusters or having the audience walk away pumping their fists in the air. Which is too bad because the people he makes movies about are the kind of people you actually want to cheer on. He just makes it hard for you to do that, and that's what makes him so good.


October 6, 2006 at 11:21 AM in Film Reviews | Permalink | Comments (19)


Matt Damon is small in THE DEPARTEDYou know what? Matt Damon is smaller than I thought. I've always imagined him as a pretty buff regular sized guy but in THE DEPARTED he looks like a little tiny bobble-head doll. Every time they cut to a close up of him I expected the camera to pull back to reveal that he's attached to someone's dashboard as they drive down the Mass Turnpike, his big bobble-head just bobbling away.

And you know something else? Bad Cantonese is identifiable in any movie, no matter how little Cantonese you actually speak. There's a scene in THE DEPARTED, Martin Scorsese's remake of Hong Kong's, INFERNAL AFFAIRS, where some Chinese guys bust out some Cantonese and it sounds bad. Even to my untrained ears it was like listening to trained seals who're hooked on phonics trying to communicate with humans.

A friend in Hong Kong says that the Canto-speakers who watch it are wetting their pants trying to hold the laughter in and that makes me feel good. As a mono-lingual person it's nice to know that I can at least sort of, kind of, spot someone who's making a hash of a language I've heard almost every day for ten years. I wish learning a language was as easy as Antonio Banderas makes it in THE 13TH WARRIOR where they're all just sitting around a campfire one night and he just listens reeeeally hard, squints a little, and suddenly he's speaking Danish. Or whatever it is the other cast members were speaking. Cantonese?

So how is THE DEPARTED? Well, you can read a million panting reviews with the only dissenters being J. Hoberman at the Village Voice (who hasn't been fired...yet) and David Edelstein from New York Magazine (who compares it unfavorably to the original). But you know what gets my goat? A lot of the reviews say, "Closely patterned on the 2002 Hong Kong thriller..." (New York Mag) "“Infernal Affairs” on which this pic is loosely based..." (Compuserv) and the name INFERNAL AFFAIRS doesn't appear until way down in the closing credits of THE DEPARTED.

Lots of articles mention that the screenwriter and Scorsese never saw INFERNAL AFFAIRS (or maybe just Scorsese never saw it? The story changes depending on the article). And then in the press kit, Martin Scorsese says "INFERNAL AFFAIRS is a very good example of why I love Hong Kong cinema but THE DEPARTED is not a remake of that film. It was inspired by INFERNAL AFFAIRS." Um, no. It's a remake. And although it spends the first hour looking as different as possible by the time we get into the second hour everything from blocking to stage business is being swiped from the HK original.

Jack Nicholson shouldn't have been cast. Booooring THE DEPARTED is Scorsese's best movie in years, probably since CASINO, but it's not a patch on the original.

It's rare that two different directors will take on the same piece of material and deliver almost identical interpretations of it, and THE DEPARTED really exposes some interesting truths. Describe the plot of a Martin Scorsese movie, quick! You can't do it. Because his movies don't have plots, they have characters. RAGING BULL is about Jake LaMotta. TAXI DRIVER is about Travis Bickle. GOODFELLAS is about Ray Liotta. KING OF COMEDY is about Rupert Pupkin. The necessary narrative engine of GANGS OF NEW YORK was welded onto that movie so awkwardly that it wound up sinking the ship because Scorsese just doesn't care about narrative. He likes people. He's a great filmmaker, and he gets amazing performances out of people, but a storyteller he's not. So what happens when you hand him one of the tightest scripts ever written?

At two-and-a-half hours, Scorsese wrings every ounce of acting-juice he can out of this script, gives scenes to Leo and Matt and Jack, lets his actors really chow down, hell he even saves the hideous therapist/girlfriend angle from the original and nearly makes it work. But what you realize is that for all the acting, INFERNAL AFFAIRS is about the story, it's about the plot, and if you can't keep that plot moving then you sink. Adding an exhausting 50 minutes to the original, by the time THE DEPARTED reached the finish line the audience was laughing at people getting shot in the head. I've never seen anyone laugh at the end of INFERNAL AFFAIRS but THE DEPARTED becomes so over-the-top and grotesque that you have to laugh. In fact, you feel like Scorsese doesn't see souls at stake but instead wants you to laugh at all the silly bloodshed, which is a bit weird coming from Scorsese.

THE DEPARTED poster So can we do bullet points?

- much longer than INFERNAL AFFAIRS
- a lot of fun
- the love interest is much better than in INFERNAL AFFAIRS
- Jack Nicholson shouldn't have been cast. Booooring.
- Really great first hour. Boggy second hour and a half.
- Not much religion. Which is weird since INFERNAL AFFAIRS is intensely religious.
- Key set-pieces (the drug buy; both rooftop showdowns) are here but so many little details are missing that they don't carry the suspense that they did in the original.
- Suspense isn't the issue, actually. Matt Damon's character is clearly identified as the bad guy about a third of the way into the movie.
- The competing daddies angle is gone.
- Martin Sheen is great. Why isn't he in movies anymore?
- Alec Baldwin is funny.
- Marky Mark is really good at profanity.
- Can someone make a Marky Mark/Alec Baldwin/Martin Sheen movie where they all cuss a lot?
- Is Leo better than little Tony? Is Matt better than Andy? It doesn't really matter because they're all giving completely different performances. All good in their own way. Gold stars for everyone.
- The look is nice. Much grittier and more realistic than INFERNAL AFFAIRS.
- Details, details, details. For all the fabled Scorsese-obsession over details how come the bloody cell phone isn't in an evidence bag? And how is the blood still fresh and wet hours after it was taken from the scene of the crime.

See THE DEPARTED. Enjoy THE DEPARTED. Because, gratifyingly, it's not going to steal any of the original's thunder. THE DEPARTED is a great Martin Scorsese movie. But INFERNAL AFFAIRS is just a great movie, period.

October 6, 2006 at 10:30 AM in Film Reviews | Permalink | Comments (43)


Village Voice A million different people have sent me links to the following story so here it is. Just when you thought the Village Voice couldn't get any less interesting, they've gone and fired Dennis Lim and Mike Atkinson. Maybe they were let go. Made redundant? Gently ushered in an outwards direction? Whatever it is, they're gone, reducing what I read in the weekly Voice to the sex column in the back pages and maybe a quick skim over the ads for trannie hookers.

What does this mean for foreign movies? Dunno. It's too early to tell since the new hires aren't in place yet (although rumor has it that Nathan Lee - who got me my first reviewing job at the New York Sun - may be stepping in). The Voice's film coverage has been on a steady decline for a long time with space restrictions and style mandates being handed down from up the corporate ladder, which is too bad.

J. Hoberman, Mike Atkinson and Dennis Lim all cared about foreign films and they all championed foreign directors. The Voice always gave extensive coverage to the New York Asian Film Festival which I help run, whether it was the late, lamented Barry Long covering our very first event (a retro of Milkyway Image back in 2000) or Mike Atkinson devoting massive amounts of space to the New York Asian Film Festival year after year.

It was a relief to read their coverage of whatever the hell they wanted to cover, whether it was a Mizoguchi retro or the big new release. One of the first film articles I can remember reading was J. Hoberman's piece about a Wong Kar-wai retro down in Chinatown at the late lamented Rosemary Theater (palace of sex flicks, now a buddhist temple) right after CHUNGKING EXPRESS came out in 1994. The only other high profile magazine that's this eccentric is the New Yorker's film coverage and it would be a shame if that changed.

October 6, 2006 at 10:00 AM in News | Permalink | Comments (3)

October 04, 2006


Thai horror flick, DORM It's probably old news, but I just caught this Quicktime trailer for the acclaimed Thai horror flick, DORM, and it's actually pretty good.

I've heard it's more like THE DEVIL'S BACKBONE than GHOST GAME, which sounds like a step in a more enjoyable direction. Anyways, check it out and make a snap decision for yourself.

(Thanks to 24 Frames per Second...is stealing from them twice in one day really such a good idea? Have I sunk this low?)

October 4, 2006 at 12:25 PM in Trailers | Permalink | Comments (1)


Pang Brothers' Diary You can't keep those Pang Brothers down. They're making movies like they're afraid someone's going to stop them. This time it's Oxide Pang making DIARY which Charlene Choi and Shawn Yue about a chick who confuses her past (dead) boyfriend with her new (living) boyfriend. Or maybe the new one is really the old one? Or is it the new one who's dead and the old one who's still alive?

The trailer won't really answer your questions but that sure is one good looking cloud creeping in the window.

(Thanks to 24 Frames per Second)

October 4, 2006 at 11:18 AM in Trailers | Permalink | Comments (2)


Why would anyone care about the trailer for a Thai ghost movie? Because it's a Thai ghost movie directed by Wisit Sasanatieng (TEARS OF THE BLACK TIGER, CITIZEN DOG). THE UNSEEABLE doesn't look that remarkable based on the trailer, but I've got faith in Wisit.

It's embedded in this page for the American Film Market.

October 4, 2006 at 10:35 AM in Trailers | Permalink | Comments (1)

October 03, 2006


Stephen Chow working on LONG RIVER 7 Zhang Yuqi is being touted as the next Cecilia Cheung and she's currently working on Stephen Chow's new movie, LONG RIVER 7, which has something to do with aliens. But now her career hangs by a THREAD!!!

During a week-long break in filming she returned to the set having had double eyelid surgery in the interim. This is why you don't give actors breaks during filming. Because they go off and screw everything up.

She's in tears, Chow is furious, and here's the best line from the item:

"The paper added that Chow and his crew considered reworking the script to retain Zhang but they felt that she would not appear as natural as before even if she got her old look back."

Stephen Chow may not even let her back in the movie if she has her plastic surgery reversed?!? He's tougher than the Pope. One mistake...Goodbye!

(Thanks to Hitman at the Kung Fu Cult Cinema forums)

October 3, 2006 at 12:29 PM in News | Permalink | Comments (5)


Last November, Martin Scorsese (best known for his remake of INFERNAL AFFAIRS: THE DEPARTED - which is getting rave reviews) announced that his next movie would be SILENCE, an adaptation of Shinoda Masahiro's movie 1971 SILENCE, in turn based on the historical novel SILENCE by Endo Shusaku. It's about the persecution of Catholic missionaries in sixteenth century Japan.

Now, if I can believe Jason Gray's translation of this article, it looks like he's moving forward with it.

(Read more here)

October 3, 2006 at 11:38 AM in News | Permalink | Comments (10)


OscarIt's never too early for the "Best Foreign Film" contenders to start screening. (I've already talked about China and Hong Kong's choice of entries)

Head on over to the Porn Festival Berlin for my favorite Japanese movie of 2006: THE GIRL SNARFS ROACHES. Here's a summary:

Filmed in 2005. The idea for this film came about when a porn actress
said to Kitano 'I want to have a sex while eating bugs'. Other actors in
the film are friends of Kitano. There are many strange people around
Kitano. Some people say that Kitano is an odd man, but he thinks that he
is a normal person. His inability to touch even one cockroach proves
this. He says. The film is 'Shokuchuu shoujyo 1' which means there is
sequel 'Shokuchuu shoujyo 2'. Basic story line of 'Shokuchuu shoujyo 1'
is sex surrounded by 3000 catapillers crawling around the actors. Please
do not watch this if you do not like bugs. We cannot accept any
responsibility for fainting.

'Nuff said.

October 3, 2006 at 11:07 AM in News | Permalink | Comments (0)

October 02, 2006


Paprika I'm being a big, wet girl for admitting this, but halfway through the credit sequence for PAPRIKA, the new animated film from Satoshi Kon (PERFECT BLUE, TOKYO GODFATHERS), I got choked up. I wasn't near tears because anything sad was happening, but because I was happy.

After a brief opening scene PAPRIKA launches into a credits sequence where its main character floats through nighttime Tokyo and I haven't seen a piece of film that's sharper or smarter in a long time and it really got to me.

Because he's an animator, and has to draw every sigh, every piece of garbage, every blink of an eye, Satoshi Kon scrutinizes real life more closely than most directors and he doesn't take anything for granted. When he shows you a woman out by herself in a big city late at night he's condensing everything real about that situation into three short minutes, putting it under high pressure and tweaking it with animation to kick it slightly off-center. He pulls reality so tightly that when he plays it, it sings.

It's too bad that PAPRIKA is basically a sci-fi flick, because this is a movie that would appeal to a far wider audience than sci-fi fans or anime heads. It's a movie that, if David Cronenberg had made it (and he couldn't, so it doesn't matter), would be getting Oscar nominations and earning raves in the dailies. If it wasn't for all the talk of DC Minis and giant robots, naked dreamgods, and psychotherapy machines this would be the perfect date movie.

Dr. Chiba, a coolly efficient, angular woman who's a pro at negotiating the chess game that is corporate science, is one of the team working on the DC Mini and the psychotherapy machine. These little gadgets allow a psychotherapist to enter their patients' dreams, deciphering the subconscious codes that program us, dredging up forgotten traumas and guiding scarred people towards happy resolutions. It's lucid dreaming with your hand held by a counsellor who wants you to be whole.

Unfortunately a version of the DC Mini has been stolen and someone (referred to throughout as "a terrorist") is using it to plant a delusional psychotic's dream into everyone's heads. Techies suddenly start to sprout Grant Morrison nonsense poetry and throw themselves off rooftops and from high windows, if they don't die they fall into a vegetative state where their brian slowly decays as the nasty, unreal parade of dolls and forgotten toys that started in a madman's brain marches through their grey matter, pulling their dreams, one by one, into a collective dreaming that will spill over into reality when it recruits enough dreamers.

The animation is precise, far more detailed and careful than anything coming out of Japan save for movies from Studio Ghibli and 4C, and the voice acting and subtitles are spot-on. While the story does tend to spin out of control and into a rut (is it dream? is it reality? no, it's a dream. wait! no! it's reality again) for about 15 minutes around the one hour mark, Kon's interest in people and his commitment to telling a story where things actually change and the status quo isn't magically restored at the last minute with a wave of the directorial wand elevate PAPRIKA far above standard issue sci-fi. The only place he shies away from reality is in the lack of genitals on his giant dream gods, although I suppose a ten storey wang swinging around might be a little distracting during the climax of the film.


Kon doesn't go for typical dream imagery, and it's refreshing to see a director who's looking for new ways to do something that's been done a million times before (ever since THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI in 1920). But where he really shines is in the depiction of two much-maligned groups: working women and fatties. On the fatty front, one of the movie's most idealistic, capable and intelligent characters, Tokita, is introduced to us stuck in an elevator. A series of standard issue fat jokes follow and despite how well they're executed they still stick out like sore thumbs and had me depressed at the easy potshots Kon was taking. But as the movie proceeds it becomes clear that Kon is putting in these stereotypical fat jokes to debunk them. Takita's idealism and optimism become the backbone of the movie and by the end he's not just a moving mountain of suet but a human being who earns his title of genius.

And the entire flick is practically an anthem for working woman, doing far more for the professional gal than Melanie Griffith did in WORKING GIRL. Dr. Chiba comes across as efficient and a bit harsh, like she's deliberately scoured herself of emotions in order to combat the myth of women as more emotional than men, totally sterilizing her feelings in the process. She's balanced by Paprika, her in-dream avatar that guides patients through their traumas like the coolest, cutest anime gal you've never seen. Round and soft where Dr. Chiba is hard and angular, warmly colored where Dr. Chiba has the pallor of a corpse, Paprika starts to break your heart every time she shows up. This is the better part of Dr. Chiba, the way she wishes she could be in public, and the way she probably hasn't been since elementary school. Kon doesn't make a big deal out of it, but it's clear that he's saying something about what women have to do to themselves in order to compete in the workplace - to one degree or another - and it's enough to shake even the blindest individual.

Kon also gets into some business about the queers, and he's on thinner ice here. A couple of gay relationships show up in the film and while they're used no more pruriently than a hetero affair would be used in a thriller, there is a difference in the way homo and hetero affairs are perceived and I wish he had been slightly more attuned to this.

Nevertheless, this is a minor quibble (one boring 15 minute stretch and some lack of sensitivity) compared to a movie that's a straight-up rush of creativity and emotional honesty. It's a movie that manages to dissect the state of the world completely and totally, and you don't even realize that's what it's done until you're walking out of the theater. If I was some kind of freakish mutant with three hands PAPRIKA would get all three thumbs up.

(PAPRIKA will play this month at the New York Film Festival. Fortunately, the rights are held by Sony Pictures which means that PAPRIKA will get a limited theatrical release in 2007.)

Read the Variety review.

Read the Screendaily review.

Read the Twitch review.

October 2, 2006 at 11:49 AM in Film Reviews | Permalink | Comments (3)