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Thread: What Asian Films Have You Been Watching Recently?

  1. #371
    It's $5 AMC stub Tuesday, so decided to check out Wong Jing & Jason Kwan's CHASING THE DRAGON starring Donnie Yen & Andy Lau. I had my initial doubts about Donnie Yen playing this role but thankfully they were laid to rest as he put forth a nice performance here playing Crippled Ho. Ng Sik-ho aka Crippled Ho was the Tony Montana of 1960's HK - mainland refugee with nothing but dreams of riches upon his arrival but quickly becomes the undisputed drug lord of HK due to his ruthless nature and take no prisoners approach. This screenplay had Crippled Ho more of a protective brother type looking over his criminal clan and extended family than a vicious drug kingpin. I prefer Poon Man-kit's early 90s flick, TO BE NUMBER ONE as Ray Lui played him much more over the top & closer to the truth in that regard. Andy Lau is back once again playing Lee Rock, the role he made famous in the two 90s movies that were also produced by Wong Jing. It's amazing that both of these actors who are in their mid-50s can still play characters who are supposed to be 20 years younger! Must be nice for the makeup department as well since all it requires for the actors to age onscreen is to change their haircuts and not dye their hair haha. Some decent action set pieces too -- the one taking place in The Golden Triangle was reminiscent of Michael Cimino's Thailand scene from YEAR OF THE DRAGON. So overall, it was decent but for a more entertaining look at the life of Crippled Ho, I'd recommend seeking out TO BE NUMBER ONE.

    "only the simplest can accommodate the most complex"

  2. #372
    I got a tip from a buddy of mine to go check out Kang Yoon-sung's directorial debut, THE OUTLAWS aka CRIMINAL CITY & he added that I wouldn't be disappointed. He was right! I had this movie on my shortlist for awhile due to it starring Ma Dong-suk aka Don Lee. So with his ringing endorsement that was enough for me to go check it out last night. Ma Dong-seok aka Don Lee went from character actor, supporting role type to leading man now and it doesn't surprise me as he just oozes charisma & has such onscreen presence even in minor roles. He plays a Dirty Harry character here & this script is based on a true event known as the "Heuksapa" incident where two different factions of Joseonjok gangsters are engaged in a brutal turf war in Seoul's Chinatown and Ma Dong-suk is the police detective in charge of the operation of putting them away. This role is perfect for Dong-suk as it really showcases his tough guy persona (it's just now all for show either as he has real street cred formerly being a personal trainer to MMA fighters like Mark Coleman) but still allows him show his fatherly side to his underlings on the force and his adopted Chinatown community. Dong-suk dishes out some funny one liners & takes advantage of the audience perception of him as a tough guy to provide some comic relief amidst all the carnage (yes, it gets pretty graphic including a close up of the aftermath of a dismemberment) & violence of the ensuing gang war. The other standout performer was the main villain, Yoon Kye-sang who I last saw in the excellent BACCHUS LADY and also I remember him from POONGSAN & he is appropriately menacing as the ambitious gang enforcer from Harbin who sets upon Garibong to make his mark in the most brutal way possible. Definitely worth checking out if the story interests piques your interest and I'll be picking this up on physical media too.

    "only the simplest can accommodate the most complex"

  3. #373
    Senior Member Takuma's Avatar
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    Apr 2014
    Chivalry of Judo Life (任侠柔一代) (Japan, 1966) [TV] - 2.5/5
    Before Toei got into mass producing martial arts movies (other than samurai flicks), there was a handful of films to that mixed yakuza storylines with hand to hand fighting. This one is a ninkyo yakuza judo film. Hideo Murata is an honourable gangster who tries to assassinate rotten boss Hosei Komatsu but gets his own ass kicked. Young judo fighter Hiroki Matsukata comes to rescue. Meanwhile Komatsu gets bodyguard Tomisaburo Wakayama to look after him. Wandering karate fighter Saburo Kitajima who dislikes both Komatsu and Matsukata appears and further complicates things. Though the fights are old fashioned and a bit slow, they are quite nicely staged. Unfortunately there are too few of them. As a ninkyo film the movie is technically well done but not especially engaging. Drama lacks the kind of strong moral conflicts that you find in better ninkyo films, and it's not always clear who is supposed to be the main character. Not that bad, but not great either. The nice theme music sounds like it could be from a Zorro movie.

    Secret Turkish Bath ((秘)トルコ風呂) (Japan, 1968) [TV] - 1.5/5
    A remarkably tame sexploitation tale of silly country girl Reiko Ohara running into playboy / pimp Tatsuo Umemiya in Tokyo. Toei produced quite a few of these type of films with Umemiya as the lead. They seem to have been aimed at relatively conservative audiences since they remained very tame well into the 70s. In this film nudity accounts to a couple of blink-and-you'll-miss shots with extras, and sex equals to hugging with clothes on. Toei's advertising campaign that billed it a "sex movie" with "orgies, lesbianism and prostitutes" was hyperbole at its best. Ohara, although cute at first, also becomes quite annoying with her silly I-don't-get-the-city-mentality act. Director Shinji Murayama was usually a competent director, but in this film he can't help the pointless screenplay that fails to construct any kind of meaningful storyline. A few frames of late 60s street and disco footage are the only worthwhile bits. For a much better film see the similarly themed Bitches of the Night (1966), also directed by Murayama, with largely the same cast. It has even less sex, but comes with a far better screenplay.

    The Most Dangerous Game (最も危険な遊戯) (Japan, 1978) [DVD] - 2/5
    A typical Yusaku Matsuda film, popular but underwhelming, made during the transitional era when Japanese cinema was moving away from masculine action towards story driven dramas and noir. The problem with these films was that they didn't really work in either genre, and were often sloppily made by action or exploitation directors who were given orders to cut down exploitation and emphasize story. The Game (Yugi) series was produced by Toei's low budget branch Toei Central. The series went from action (the 1s film) to dull noir (the 3rd film). This opening installment is an exceptionally stupid action flick with the charismatic Yusaku Matsuda as an assassin. The film suffers from ridiculous action scenes where Matsuda can outrun a car and avoid every bullet fired at him from a close distance (the bad guys have a worse aim than a blind Storm Trooper). On the positive side, the film is so unbelievably sexist that one can't help but to be amused.

    Ninja Hunter (忍者狩り) (Japan, 2015) [Hulu] - 2.5/5
    Seiji Chiba's mini-budget ninja actioner is sloppy cinema, but comes with an amazing finale that that rivals anything in The Raid. The storyline is a crossover between Rashomon and Memento, with a ninja (Masanori Mimoto of Alien vs. Ninja) waking up in a cave, minus his memory, and surrounded by corpses. Another ninja (Bushido Man's Mitsuki Koga) shows up, claiming to be a fellow Iga warrior, but something stinks in his story. The rest of the film is spent with the ninja recovering his memory little by little in reverse chronological order. There are some slightly original ideas, such as seeing one fight 4 times from different perspectives, as well as infuriating visual effects every time the film shows a flashback (which is about 20 times) and lots of bad acting. But the plentiful action by Japan's best choreographer Kensuke Sonomura is entertaining, and in case of the 8 min finale, breathtakingly furious, some of the best ever filmed in Japan. What's best, the fight is expertly captured with clear cinematography and logical editing, unlike some other recent action films (e.g. nonsensically edited John Wick 2, shakycam Raid 2).

    + Tokyo viewings which I have already covered to some extent in the other thread

    Seven Bullets (七つの弾丸) (Japan, 1959) [35mm] - 3/5
    Toei docudrama about a man (Rentaro Mikuni) who robbed a bank in Osaka in 1955 and left multiple people dead before his arrest. Well made and gripping film spends almost all of its running time paralleling the daily lives of the bank robber and his soon-to-be victims prior to the incident. The amount of attention given to the victims is interesting but excessive considering most of them get killed in a matter of seconds during a sequence where the audience's attention is anyway drawn to action and a desperate escape attempt rather than victims.

    Two Bitches (二匹の牝犬) (Japan, 1964) [35mm] - 4/5
    Terrific, gripping drama about a Tokyo prostitute (Mayumi Ogawa) seeing marriage with a clueless businessman as her way out of the sex labour, until her seemingly innocent and ultra-cute little sister (Mako Midori) shows up and turns out a completely sociopath. She secretly starts whoring on her own and even seduces her sister's fiancé who is unaware of the two women being sisters. Director Yusuke Watanabe (of miscellaneous gangster films and a few entries to the popular Detective Story film series) is not know as one of the greats, but here manages strong drama, some fantastic camerawork (including a long tracking shot, the kind Shinji Somai would do two decades later) and absolute powerhouse performances by Midori and Ogawa. Midori especially was a terrific and underappreciated actress, best known to Western audiences as the female lead of Masumura's Blind Beast (1969). As an interesting trivia, although Two Bitches has since been forgotten, it played in various European countries in the mid 60s, including West Germany, Denmark, and Finland.

    Wrath of Daimajin (大魔神逆襲) (Japan, 1966) [35mm] - 3/5
    Enjoyable fantasy with a nice sense of adventure and bits of genuine movie magic. Being the only Daimajin film I've seen I cannot compare it to the first two, but that did not hamper my enjoyment of this film. It's also a typical Daiei film in the sense that it's well made but a bit safe and conservative in its approach, which means there are no major surprises. The special effects are fantastic.

    Four and a Half Mats (四畳半物語 娼婦し) (Japan, 1966) [35mm] - 1.5/5
    Director Masashige Narusawa was better known as a prestige writer who penned several Kenji Mizoguchi films (e.g. Street of Shame). This period drama about a prostitute and her heartaches unfortunately put me to a sleep a few times during its middle third. Don't be fooled by the R18 rating which is a bit of a mystery even by 1966 standards as there isn't even partial nudity nor any on-screen sex, or bloody violence.

    Military Comfort Woman (従軍慰安婦) (Japan, 1974) [35mm] - 2/5
    A little known Toei film about a Japanese WW2 era brothel and its women, written by Teruo Ishii and directed by Ryuichi Takamori. Unfortunately we get the worst of both gentlemen here; Takamori's sloppy handling of drama and Ishii's dumb humour. Add bad acting, especially by Yutaka Nakajima, and it becomes impossible to tell if the film was supposed to be taken seriously or not. What is clear though, is that a sexploitation flick it is not as nudity is very sparse. There is some fun to be had, though, the highlight being a scene where a hooker saves the day on the battlefield by pissing on an overheated machine gun. Not every film has quality stuff like that on offer.

    The Story of a Nymphomaniac (好色元禄㊙物語) (Japan, 1975) [35mm] - 1.5/5
    Though better known for their pinky violence line, Toei also churned out loads of erotic comedies and dramas, most of which have never come out on home video. This tiresome period comedy is one of the better known ones, perhaps due to popular mainstream and ex-Toho actress Yuriko Hishimi's starring role. Unfortunately the tale of Hishimi pimping her sister (with the help of a monk) to lusty men is as dumb as they come, and seems to have been filmed with far more modest production values than Norifumi Suzuki's comparable films (e.g. Tokugawa Sex Ban, 1972) from a few years before.

    Tenshi no yokubo (天使の欲望) (Japan, 1979) [35mm] - 2.5/5
    An oddly misbalanced film pretending to be a serious drama about two sisters while helmed by the exploitative hand of sexploitation director Ikuo Sekimoto. In the film a slutty older sister spends all her time sleeping with men or getting raped. Once the virginal younger sister discovers this, her disappointment initiates a psychological and eventually physical war that climaxes in an unintentionally silly scene where the two fight it out in the nude. On the positive side, the film is rarely boring.

    Evil Dead Trap (死霊の罠) (Japan, 1988) [35mm] - 4/5
    Endlessly re-watchable horror fun by Toshiharu Ikeda and writer Takashi Ishii. Ikeda claims he had not seen the Italo flicks, which is hard to believe with the similarities ranging from Argento esque camerawork to Fulci inspired kills and a fantastic "bootleg Goblin" score. Ikeda and Ishii also manage some of the most spectacular kills that come to mind, and a (mostly) fantastic pacing that takes the film from one set piece to another with little regards to logic, which is something the audience just has to deal with. The final act does drags a bit, though, before delivering the goods big time. Ikeda, a former Roman Porno director, also scatters the film with sex and nudity (two of the three female leads are 80s AV stars). The English title is faithful to the original (Shiriyo no wana = "Trap of Evil"), which is indeed a reference to The Evil Dead (Shiryo no harawata = "Guts of the Evil"). Co-produced by Japan Home Video, which did the later Guinea Pig films and some Riki Takeuchi action, and Director's Company, a small arthouse firm formed by Ikeda, Shinji Somai, Sogo Ishii, Kichitaro Negishi and a few other young filmmakers to produce their own films.

    Dokyumento: Seijuku genchizuma (ドキュメント 性熟現地妻) (Japan, 1995) - 2.5/5
    A pink film docudrama about a Shinjuku club hiring and exploiting Chinese women as sex workers. It should be noted that the word "documentary" in the title accounts for little more than a real life topic being the centre of an otherwise fictional film. It is, however, a surprisingly decent film for a "sex flick" as I found myself somewhat caring for the characters towards the end. While director Shigeo Katsuyama's primary ambitious may be centered around large breasts, there is more than that to the film, including bits functional characterization, social commentary, and a 90s atmosphere slightly reminiscent of Miike's Shinjuku Triad Society (minus the violence and madness).

    Aching Wives: Continuous Adultery (うずく人妻たち 連続不倫) (Japan, 2006) [35mm] - 3.5/5
    I wasn't too happy to see my favourite movie theatre in Tokyo to "waste" their Late Show slot on semi recent Shintoho pink films. I'm glad to have been proven wrong as, at least in the case of this film, someone has done fine programming job exposing one of those small semi-gems a casual viewer would otherwise never discover. Hidden beneath the fleshy premise and ridiculous title, Aching Wives: Continuous Adultery turned out to be a rather beautiful film set in two time periods. A young single man and middle aged woman with troubled marriage first meet and have a brief affair in 1995. In 2007 they meet again by chance in a small hot springs hotel where he, now married, has escaped his troubles, and she, who has managed to fix her marriage but not forget him, arrives with her husband. Effectively minimalist and sad film with surprisingly fine performances.

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