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Thread: What Asian Films Have You Been Watching Recently?

  1. #451
    I couldn't even finish Chen Kaige's latest, LEGEND OF THE DEMON CAT. It was so self indulgent and pure spectacle without any underlying substance that I shut it off about the halfway point. With a purported budget of close to 200 million USD, I just couldn't get my head around who the hell gave the go ahead to finance this shit? Nursing my Tsingtao about an hour in, my mind started to drift thinking about Kaige's early films, LIFE ON A STRING, FAREWELL MY CONCUBINE, etc and contrasting those brilliant films with this abomination. I had the same feeling regarding Zhang Yimou lately; as I couldn't finish that crap GREAT WALL either.

    "only the simplest can accommodate the most complex"

  2. #452
    Senior Member Takuma's Avatar
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    The Beast Must Die (野獣死すべし) (Japan, 1959) [DVD] - 3/5
    Sophisticated literature student (Tatsuya Nakadai) moonlights as a robber and murdered, not so much for the money but for the sheer excitement of killing human beings and getting away with it. An early Haruhiko Oyabu (Youth of the Beast, Resurrection of the Golden Wolf) adaptation by Toho action/thriller director Eizo Sugawa who directed several interesting films. This movie is captivating when it focuses on its protagonist; the segments following the detectives after him are less interesting. The ending is quite bold for a 1959 film.

    Bushido: The Cruel Code of the Samurai (武士道残酷物語) (Japan, 1963) [DVD] - 2.5/5
    Repetitive and overlong, but powerful criticism of the Japanese social hierarchy and the unreasonable side of the traditionally romanticised bushido code. The film chronicles eight generations of Iigura family men (cleverly, all played by Kinnosuke Nakamura), from the 17th century to the modern day, who met their destinies under cruel and corrupt rulers. One of the men, without the slightest doubt in his words, teaches his son that the greatest thing in a samurai's life is receive an opportunity to kill oneself for his lord. Episodic (literally) for most of its running time, it is the final story that ties the string of sad destinies to modern day Japan and makes a powerful point. It's also fun seeing Nakamura tackle eight characters in one movie, though that's about as far as "fun" goes. The level of cruelty on display occasionally rivals that of late 60s Teruo Ishii movies, only lacking their graphic visualization, and the cathartic revenge part that Ishii usually granted his viewers. Dark stuff.

    Daimajin (大魔神) (Japan, 1966) [Hulu] - 3/5
    The first in Daiei's famed tokusatsu trilogy. These are interesting for being set in period, with poor villagers praying for mythical stone god Daimajin to rescue when they are enslaved by evil lords, giving the films an altogether different aura than Toho's sci-fi monster films. Like many of Daiei's mainstream productions, this is a professionally made, good looking and occasionally exhilarating picture that suffers from one-dimensional characters. There are the good and suffering, and the bad, and absolutely no shades of gray or story complexities. I guess such simplicity can have its own charm. If one can put up with that, we are left with an often atmospheric film with some beautiful scenery and absolutely fantastic special effects work. One has to wait for the showdown till the last reel, but special effects are almost seamlessly blended in, exceeding in quality most Godzilla films not to mention any CGI garbage Hollywood studios are putting on screens these days.

    The Return of Daimajin (大魔神) (Japan, 1966) [Hulu] - 3/5
    This is a bit of a rehash of the first movie, with a similar story told with slight modifications. This time an evil lord attacks a peaceful village by the sea whose inhabitants worship a stone god statue on a small island. Directed by samurai film master Kenji Misumi (Lone Wolf and Cub), this is actually a better told (and written) story than the original. The special effects showdown, however, is not quite as impressive although it's well done to say the least.

    Continental Drifter (大陸流れ者) (Japan, 1966) [TV] - 3/5
    A ninkyo yakuza film shot on location in Hong Kong. The motif is a water refinery under construction to free the locals from having to buy their water from gangsters at extortionate prices. Honourable Japanese yakuza Minoru Oki, who is in charge of the construction, is killed by evil gweilo Osman Yusuf and his Japanese associate Tetsuro Tamba, who does evil yojimboing pitting the Chinese and Japanese against each other. Koji Tsuruta is sent to replace Oki and resolve the conflict. Initially, the film seems lacking since Tsuruta's character never encounters the moral conflicts that form the backbone of a good ninkyo film. It is however Tamba's character who begins to develop interesting moral ambiguity as the story goes on. There are other points of interest as well: the locale, the international cast, and the English proficient Tamba utilizing his language skills, all of which begin to manifest themselves once the film gets over the dullish first 30 minutes. There's perhaps a bit of inherent, unintentional racism with the Japanese getting the more heroic roles, but the film means well, and the exact same kind of storylines and characters appear in Japan set yakuza films with all Japanese casts as well.

    Samurai Rebellion (上意討ち 拝領妻始末) (Japan, 1967) [DVD] - 4/5
    The original title for this film, "Execution of Order: Receiving the Wife", is quite different from the English one yet they are both apt. A young woman and an unwilling samurai family become human tokens when a local lord gives arbitrary orders for people to marry and break up serve his own political interests. The young samurai and his father (Toshiro Mifune) decide to take a stand against this madness that is enabled by the traditional Japanese social hierarchy, even if it was to cost their lives. A socio political family tragedy that ends in a hell of a bloodbath, this is indeed a film that escapes easy classification. Interesting, well acted and beautifully filmed with some striking compositions, its biggest accomplishment may lay in the social criticism that has kept it - a 1967 samurai film set in the 18th century - timely to this day.

    The Beast Must Die: Mechanic of Revenge (野獣死すべし 復讐のメカニック) (Japan, 1974) [DVD] - 3/5
    A thematic follow-up with sex and violence upped to the 70s standards. Once again the protagonist (Hiroshi Fujioka) is a devil is disguise, a literature teacher also working as an assassin but betraying his employers. The film's nihilist and action packed final reel is especially memorable, and would make modern mainstream audiences shake their heads in disbelief. It is too bad the film is not always as captivating, with the antihero surrounded by boring corporate bosses and desperate women (one of them played by Mako Midori) whose worries aren't too interesting. Sugawa was a director whose coldness and relative minimalism was well suited for tensely written thrillers (e.g. Beast Hunt, 1973); this movie serves that need intermittently.

    Daredevil Drivers (マッハ'78) (Japan, 1978) [Hulu] - 2.5/5
    A minor carsploitation classic with nonexistent artistic achievements partly out-weighted by some of the most insane car stunts ever committed to film. The storyline is about Japanese and American stuntmen competing each other in a tournament in USA where they perform death defying car and crash stunts. What's interesting is that while the story is fictional, the film essentially plays out as a documentary since the stunts are real, often shot in a single take, even showing the real medical personnel pulling the poor driver out of the wreck. Nearly all cast members are stuntmen and it's difficult to believe many of the outcomes could've been scripted. Some of the stunts are impossible to witness without going all "holy shit!" Cinematically the film is amateurish with a ridiculously thin romantic side story (with "Hollywood Star" Linda Stayer who appeared in a total of two films!) and dull sequences documenting a real car museum and race event. Nevertheless, with achievements like "word record car jump" (158 metres) and "359 demolished vehicles" the film found relatively wide international distribution in the early 80, mainly on video, and still manages to astonish in places.


  3. #453
    I caught Shigemichi Sugita's A DUEL TALE aka HATASHIAI starring Tatsuya Nakadai. Certainly Nakadai deserves all the plaudits he's received for this role but the real scene stealer for me was Nanami Sakuraba. She's great in these period dramas like THE LAST RONIN and I'm definitely going to try and catch her upcoming TV drama, SEGODON too. She's stunningly gorgeous and no one lets the tears flow like she does either. She made that godawful John Woo remake of MANHUNT palatable with the few scenes she was featured in.

    "only the simplest can accommodate the most complex"

  4. #454
    Senior Member Takuma's Avatar
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    Female Prisoner 701: Scorpion (女囚701号 さそり) (Japan, 1972) [DVD] - 4/5
    Uneven but thoroughly entertaining mix of honest exploitation, arthouse visuals and angry politics. First and foremost it was a collaborative effort by politically active debut director Shunya Ito, who channelled the political turmoil of the era (from constant ridicule of the Japanese establishment to a hostage segment echoing Asama Sanso), production designer Tadayuki Kawana, who based the prison design and character dynamics on Auschwitz, and Meiko Kaji, who in a career defining role created a near mute avenger capable of retaining her dignity under any male oppression (a theme that runs strong in the first three films). Add surreal visuals with skies turning apocalyptic red during massacre and a prisoner morphing into a demon out of anger (as striking as those images are, they are always justified as supporting or exaggerated means of storytelling, rather than as disconnected symbolic images, something that many copycats and phony art films have gotten wrong) and we've got a film that beats almost anything in the genre except its own sequels. Compared to the follow ups there is a certain lack of focus that leads to a salad bowl of ingredients, and it is slightly burdened by having to tell the background story (like Ogami Itto in Lone Wolf and Cub, the protagonist is so interesting that the film works better when closely exploring the present than when over-viewing dramatic background story).

    Female Prisoner Scorpion: Jailhouse 41 (女囚さそり 第41雑居房) (Japan, 1972) [35mm] - 5/5
    The sequel turns a straight forward 7 female convicts on the run scenario into a surreal anti-patriarchal odyssey, a theme touched in the previous movie and perfected here. After breaking free from the chains set by men (also note that every single one of them were chained in the first place because of treacherous men) the women try to escape but the society keeps setting its patriarchal shadow over them at every turn. The most amazing segment comes when madness escalates in hijacked bus full of old men bragging with the Chinese women they raped in war, with Ito cross cutting to the women laying their vengeance and surreal sequences of the masculine society judging the women. Kaji does amazing job acting with her eyes (she has only two lines, a total of five 5 words) and contributes a couple of extremely well utilized (thanks to the terrific editing) songs to the soundtrack. There are also some memorable bits of Argentoan violence, with the guards (Hideo Murota, Shinzo Hotta + warden Fumio Watanabe in his best role) often in the receiving end. An amazing film, one of the finest pictures of the 1970s.

    Female Prisoner Scorpion: Beast Stable (女囚さそり けもの部屋) (Japan, 1973) [35mm] - 4.5/5
    Superb third film is a fascinating, melancholic character study that concludes the original trilogy. Director Ito, who had originally wished to set the film in hell, injects a lot of mythology against which Kaji's runaway character comes out as a tragic woman destined to live a demon's life, a fate she accepts despite a silent yarning for normal life. There are several amazingly good, existential scenes contrasting her and a young prostitute (Yayoi Watanabe) who is not yet in touch with her identity. With its fairytale touches and references to Kojiki (the tale of Izanagi and Izanami) the film comes out a sort of alternate vision of the real world (or hell, indeed) modelled after character psyches. This is precisely what makes the movie such a logical continuation to its predecessors while simultaneously breaking new ground (something that Ito handled extremely well throughout his 3 entries). While not as outrageous as Jailhouse 41, cinematically there's not a false note in it, with Ito and Kaji in perfect command of their arts, and cinematographer Masao Shimizu painting absolutely sublime visuals. A beautiful, under-rated near masterpiece.

    Female Prisoner Scorpion: Grudge Song (女囚さそり 701号怨み節) (Japan, 1973) [35mm] - 2.5/5
    Shunya Ito resigned from the series after completing what was meant as a trilogy, one that retained an amazing quality and variety by going from a politically coloured exploitation to surreal anti-patriarchal odyssey and finally a melancholic character study. The fourth film, helmed by gun for hire Nikkatsu action director Yasuharu Hasebe, was purely economics at work. The film shows promise initially by pairing runaway Kaji with a former student radical left badly scarred emotionally and physically by police brutality. It works as groovy 70s crime cinema with a Nikkatsu Outlaw influence for a while despite being completely at odds with the series' underlying thematic with its romance (isn't the theme song all about trusting in men being a woman's crime?) and lack of patriarchal criticism (female warden this time). It is not a bad film, but by the time it gets to its compulsory prison part and revenge episode, it's evident it's trying new and old at the same time, with the latter element coming out as nothing but a pale shadow of Ito's films, lacking his vision and goals, and adding little noteworthy new.

    New Female Prisoner #701: Scorpion (新女囚さそり 701号) (Japan, 1976) [DVD] - 2.5/5
    Toei was quick to reboot the series with Yumi Takigawa in Meiko Kaji’s role. This one is a loose remake of the 1972 original. Director Yutaka Kohira helms passable WIP entertainment, but his visual eye and political awareness is no match for that of Shunya Ito. There are moments where the film really takes off, such as Nami’s final revenge mission, but most of it is fairly routine. Takigawa is a pretty girl, and she did well in School of the Holy Beast, but she lacks the kind of charisma and strong screen presence this role requires. She comes across about as threatening as a wet kitten. The film is also surprisingly light on exploitation with very little in terms of sex and nudity. All of this probably comes down to director Kohira who was no master with the ladies. His bitter words about actresses "being difficult" when asking them to go nude may reveal a thing or two about his talent, and why the film got stuck somewhere between the empowerment and exploitation of females without doing either one very well.

    New Female Prisoner Scorpion: Special Cellblock X (新女囚さそり 特殊房X) (Japan, 1977) [DVD] - 3/5
    Director Kohira seems to have learned something from his mistakes. Here he doesn't even attempt a feminine revenge tale but goes for a masculine action picture instead. This time Nami (Yoko Natsu, a model turned actress with the charisma of a mannequin) causes a power struggle between the new warden (karate villain Masashi Ishibashi) who can't get a hold of the women, a more experienced young guard (Nikkatsu's excellent youth/action star Takeo Chii) and the warden's trusted, rifle wielding hothead (rock star gone unexpectedly good youth/rebel actor Hiroshi Tachi). It's an excellent male cast that gives the film a very masculine identity. There are some dull prison clichés in first reel and Kohira still doesn't have a clue how to do surrealism (Nami getting raped by a bunch of cat men is a tragicomic example) but once the focus shifts to prison control dynamics and escape action the film delivers alright. At odds with the series identity it may be, but better this than screwing up another entry.

    Female Prisoner Scorpion: Death Threat (女囚さそり 殺人予告) (Japan, 1991) [DVD] - 1.5/5
    The first new Sasori film since New Female Prisoner Scorpion: Special Cellblock X (1977), this is a V-Cinema restart rather than a remake. This is actually a bold attempt at doing something original, and it shakes the franchise in ways that would not be acceptable in the modern fanboy era. The premise is as follows: retired warden Goda (yes, he's still alive in this version) sends a female assassin to prison to kill Nami who is now a middle aged woman! Cool, eh? Unfortunately the execution itself is lame as a bag of potatoes, starting from the god-awful disco pop cover of the original theme song. None of the political spark nor the visual style of the original series is here to be found (a bit surprising considering this was helmed by Evil Dead Trap director Toshiharu Ikeda). Now, for those who wish to read spoilers (since the film is not worth watching, nor will probably ever be available in English), here's how the storyline goes. The assassin, who now carries the number 701, kills her target but learns she's been betrayed. It was the wrong target and the real Nami died 20 years ago when she was murdered by Goda. Her spirit, however, lives and the betrayed assassin becomes the new Scorpion, assuming the name of Nami Matsushima at the end. Pretty cool. Too bad the film isn't.

    Sasori in U.S.A. (Scorpion's Revenge) (Japan, 1997) - 2/5
    Another restart film, this time a theatrical release although I suspect this was produced for the video market and only given minimal theatrical run. In any case, it's a bit better than you'd expect, a passable b-film with some nudity, one explosion (yes, this actually has production values, minor they may be), a bit of action, and shot in USA. There are quite a few American actors as well, giving typical b-film performances that some people might describe as "bad". Nami (uncharismatic but passable TV star Yoko Saito, daring to show her boobs here) is this time a woman living in the US, falsely accused of murdering her husband and sent behind the bars. If you don't think of it as a Female Prisoner Scorpion film but rather a normal WiP flick it's quite watchable, and would be up another half star if the ending wasn't such a letdown with some very underwhelming action and car chase. The director is Daisuke Goto, better known for some watchable pink films (A Lonely Cow Weeps at Dawn, Blind Love).

    Scorpion: Double Venom (サソリ 女囚701号) (Japan, 1998) - 1/5
    Unrelated follow-up to Sasori in U.S.A, scripted but not directed by Daisuke Goto. This time the film is set in Japan, with Nami (Chiharu Komatsu) a nurse who goes to prison for murder. This is a surprisingly inoffensive film, with a good amount of nudity and some lesbian sex but nothing sleazy at all, even the prison guards are nice people. Not so much a terrible film as one that ultimately doesn't leave any kind of impression at all. Tomoro Taguchi plays a villain and has one or two decent moments.

    Scorpion: Double Venom 2 (サソリ 殺す天使) (Japan, 1998) - 1.5/5
    This is a continuation of the story that begun in the previous film, with Nami still played by Chiharu Komatsu. Both films were released theatrically on the same day. It's a marginally better film than the first, for reasons I cannot recall anymore two weeks after the viewing (which probably says something about the movie). It might have had something to do with the general ridiculousness of the picture, especially the ending which is so dumb it's almost genius.

    Female Convict Scorpion (蠍子 / さそり) (Hong Kong / Japan, 2008) [DVD] - 1/5
    Incomprehensible Hong Kong adaptation of the manga throws in wire fu to accompany amateurish artistry and dull drama. The original series was a political avant-garde exploitation spectacular; this exploitation free bore has absolutely none of that, and feels extremely un-Sasori for its overt HK style. I'm actually more critical towards this film than the recent Japanese soft porn versions. Those were just economics at work. But when they produce an adaptation of Japanese material in Hong Kong and go through the trouble of importing a Japanese leading lady, yet they don't seem to have a clue what they are doing, you gotta wonder what was the point? And then they have Nami fight a flying swordsman! As additional irritation, there is no satisfying language option for the film. In Cantonese the main character (Miki Mizuno) ends up dubbed, in Japanese nearly everyone else (including Simon Yam, giving the only worthy performance in the film). Both tracks also punish the listener with the same ear shattering cover of Meiko Kaji's theme song.

    Female Prisoner No. 701: Sasori (女囚701号 さそり外伝) (Japan, 2011) [DVD] - 1/5
    Extremely dull pinku reboot with depressingly bad production values. They couldn't afford even remotely convincing prison sets, hence the movie looks like it was filmed in an old school building, which is probably correct. AV actress Asuka Kirara (no relation to similar sounding kaiju monsters) takes over the lead role and makes some of the earlier reboot stars look like a bunch of Meryl Streeps in comparison. Nami is working for an IT company this time, betrayed by a lover as usual. There is really nothing of interest here, or at least I don't think there is: half of the film is so dark you can't see what's going on. A sequel followed in 2012, my desire to see it did not.
    Last edited by Takuma; 07-10-2018 at 09:40 AM.

  5. #455
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    Kaji handcuffed on the train, chops the officers arm off and runs through the streets with a severed arm is one of my favorite film moments ever.

    I love the way the beginning of Jailhouse 41 is shot with Kaji on the cell floor with the spoon.

    I caught Jailhouse 41 at the Alamo Drafthouse for my second viewing a couple weeks ago. I went from disliking it on my first viewing to absolutely hating it. I found many of the artistic touches to be annoying. I especially hated when the sound cut out and everything froze. Most damning is the female convicts were easy to dislike so as the film went along I had less sympathy for them. As my sympathy waned the over the top portrayal of men being cartoonishly incompetent rapists began to grate. By the end of the film I was miserable enough I wasn't forgiving of the weird floating statue that goes through the car window or Kaji and Goda's teleportation back to the bridge. All that said, Kaji is amazing in the film. Its a shame she spoke at all. Her face said it all and she was beautifully shot. Watching the film, there were dozens of moments that I wanted to press pause and soak in the frame.

    The first and third film in the series are two of my favorite PV films. Absolutely amazing.

  6. #456
    Senior Member Takuma's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jason C View Post
    I caught Jailhouse 41 at the Alamo Drafthouse for my second viewing a couple weeks ago. I went from disliking it on my first viewing to absolutely hating it.

  7. #457
    Member tetrapak's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Takuma View Post
    Instead I agree with your votes for the first 4 movies... maybe I would rate Grudge song slightly higher than the first because I found that one too violent and exploitative...

  8. #458
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    It will be interesting to see how/if my opinion on Jailhouse 41 will change over time. I'm likely to revisit the film often as its sandwiched between two films I adore and is so beautifully shot.

  9. #459
    I'm watching SHADOW WARRIORS II (Kage No Gundan 2) TV series that aired from 1981-82. I enjoyed season 1 and have the BCI/Eclipse box set but balked at purchasing season 2 due to the cost but finally buckled and picked it up for relatively cheap. It's 13 discs and 26 episodes and action packed as the first, although Chiba plays a different character here as opposed to Hattori Hanzo in the first season. All the regulars (Etsuko Shihomi, Hiroyuki Sanada, etc) & familiar character actors are back as well. The very first ep titled "Eye for an Eye" set the tone as villagers are shown, including children and elderly being ruthlessly massacred & there was a unsettling yet comedic scene where Chiba leads his group in recovering the severed heads of his fellow Iga clan as they are placed on stakes as a warning to others. The heads are plucked off the stakes & carried in their arms like a farmer picking fruit or something.
    "only the simplest can accommodate the most complex"

  10. #460
    Godzilla vs. The Sea Monster (1966)

    Review: https://furyinthetropics.wordpress.c...-monster-1966/

    Synapse Impulse DVDs morning catch up doublebill

    Female Prisoner 101: Suck (1977)
    Solid trashy ripoff of the scorpion series with Naomi Tani in the titular leadrole. Starts off in jail and dwindles out the backstory of why she ended up there, her past and her cheesy musician-lover etc. Great soundtrack! and the ending scene truly "goes there" (kind of unexpected but indeed appreaciated!)

    Women in Heat: Behind Bars (1987)
    Fairly lame W.I.P somewhere inbetween the italian and japanese formula for said genre. Lots of characters introduced, but personally i didn't really care for any of them. The ingredients are indeed there, could have been something great - there's a scene where a girl is pissed in the faced and then forced to lick pussy - sounds great indeed but the cinematic language is just not there. Poorly director bland technical cinema with some objectively bad cuts that just needed a few frames shaved off.

    The ending scene is fantastic with one of those classic scenes where a guard gets it by the inmates, but the thing is.. you have to wait for an hour for 6 minutes of mayhem..

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