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What Asian Films Have You Been Watching Recently?

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  • Wakamatsu's POOL WITHOUT WATER is one of the greatest Wakamatsu films for all the reasons you listed. You don't give many films 4.5 stars, but this is richly deserved. It is very focused, too, and never drops its narrative ball. Score is superb, as is the lead performance.


    • Originally posted by AngelGuts View Post
      Wakamatsu's POOL WITHOUT WATER is one of the greatest Wakamatsu films for all the reasons you listed. You don't give many films 4.5 stars, but this is richly deserved. It is very focused, too, and never drops its narrative ball. Score is superb, as is the lead performance.
      Just screened in Shin bungeiza in Tokyo in 35mm today. Sucks I wasn't there.


      • Went to check out Son Yong-ho's second feature, THE BAD GUYS: REIGN OF CHAOS starring Ma Dong-seuk aka Don Lee. A spin off of the OCN (Orion Cinema Network) drama shown on Korean cable TV about a group of prisoners whose sentences will be commuted or reduced if they take part in a secret tactical crime fighting unit where they bring the worst criminals to justice. yeah, nothing original about this 'The Dirty Dozen' storyline and I went in thinking this was just going to be an hour and half of Ma Dong-seok beating baddies to a pulp and there is quite a bit of that but it turned out much more entertaining than I initially thought. The bulk of that credit goes to the ensemble cast that surrounds star Ma especially veteran actor Kim Sang-joon who plays a cancer ridden ex-cop who is brought back on the force to reform the notorious "special anti-crime unit" made up of jailbirds with special skills. He plays the grizzled veteran cop role so well here and is the perfect comedic foil for some of Ma Dong-seok's antics. The other young actor that caught my attention was Chang Ki-yong who plays a brash and hotheaded disgraced former cop with baggage from his deceased cop father who used to be partners with the aforementioned Kim Sang-joon's character. This is apparently his debut film role and he has some charisma about him & will be keeping an eye out for him. Of course, Ma Dong-seok is his usual self - that's meant as a compliment. He's typecast as the boorish, brutish simpleton character with a heart but hey, it works for him. He also appears to be improving his deadpan humor and comedic abilities along the way. There is one really laugh out scene involving CPR with Chang Ki-yong's character that had the audience roaring. Anyway, the back story involving Yakuza trying to take over the Korean underworld with the aid of corrupt police officials reeks of nationalistic nonsense but no one watches Ma Dong-seok flicks for the story. It's about him smashing and bludgeoning his way through his adversaries and that's exactly what the director delivers and that coupled with a good surrounding cast is just enough to give it a recommendation.


        • Enjoyed THE BAD GUYS, so I wanted to check out Son Yong-ho's debut flick, THE DEAL. It's yet another revenge thriller from South Korea and it's watchable but fairly forgettable and paint by the numbers. I would go so far to call it a I SAW THE DEVIL lite with a dash of MEMORIES OF MURDER since it features a similar premise of both those movies but it's a long way from the quality of those two flicks. Plot involves a serial killer on the loose who is brutally dispatching his female victims with a crescent wrench and power drill and the police comes under heavy public pressure to come up with a suspect to allay the public's fears. One of the cops assigned to the case played by Kim Sang-kyung comes upon a suspicious hit and run case and discovers his younger sister is one of the recent victims of the killer played by Park Sung-woong. It isn't long before the killer is captured & sentenced but essentially evades justice by living out a comfortable existence in prison since there is a moratorium on capital punishment. The killer never discloses the location of the body of the cop's sister and this torments his brother-in-law played by Kim Sung-kyun, who is hellbent on meting out revenge & getting the killer to disclose the whereabouts of his wife's remains. This is where the story falls apart as it veers off into some ludicrous side plot involving the Korean mafia and Kim Sung-kyun turns into a Korean Travis Bickle sans the mohawk. The finale just doesn't have the emotional impact due to the abrupt shift in tone earlier (where I ultimately gave up caring about the trajectory of the characters within the story arc) although there is a pretty cool shower knife fight scene that semi-redeems the boring middle part. Anyway, nothing special here but worth a watch if you're a fan of Korean revenge thrillers. Also special mention to Yoon Seung-ah, the actress who plays the final victim of the killer and the sister of Kim Sang-kyung and focal point of the revenge for the brother-in-law. She doesn't get much screen time other than the beginning and a few flashback sequences but she is really cute!


          • Zatoichi Meets the One-Armed Swordsman (新座頭市・破れ!唐人剣) (Japan, 1971) [35mm] - 3/5
            This is the only film in the series where Zatoichi farts! On someone's face, even! The reason I bring this up is that that fart in descriptive of the film: funny and functional, but rather unambitious, which is a shame for this being Zatoichi vs. the One-Armed Swordsman, Katsu vs. Wang Yu. Pitting the two giants against each other is only right, but doing it on the excuse of cultural and linguistic misunderstandings is just lazy writing. There was potential for more. Also, you've got to wonder how smoothly the filming went? Neither one of the two stars are known as the easiest people to work with, and this has them playing their most beloved characters in a Japan vs. China death match. Reportedly an alternative cut was released to HK audiences with additional and altered footage.

            The War of the Sixteen Year Olds (十六歳の戦争) (Japan, 1973/1976) [35mm] - 4/5
            Funeral Parade of Roses director Toshio Matsuda's bloody excellent youth film set in rural Japan. This has one of the best opening scenes I've seen since Kiyoshi Nishimura's Too Young to Die (1969), with a young man arriving a town, and falling in love with a 16 year old girl as they watch the police pull two dead bodies from a river, all against a great rock song (the film's soundtrack is absolutely stunning!). Pure cinema! The film then follows their relationship as WWII traumas begin to surface in the town and lead the film down a far darker - and ambiguous - path. There are some jarring cuts and imperfections that make the film no less fascinating, and an amusingly gratuitous topless scene for Akiyoshi who looked pretty stunning at 19. Filmed independently in 1973, but not released until 1976. This became instantly of one my favourite 70s youth films!

            Failed Youth (青春の蹉跌) (Japan, 1974) [35mm] - 4.5/5
            Tatsumi Kumashiro's legendary youth film. This was his first movie for Toho, a departure from Roman Porno. The politically conscious script by Kazuhiko Hasegawa (The Youth Killer, The Man Who Stole the Sun) follows indecisive university student Ken'ichi Hagiwara and hopelessly in love younger girlfriend Kaori Momoi in the midst of young confusion, violent student radicalism and an era where modern and traditional clashed. It's a slow-burner, but excellently acted by Hagiwara and Momoi (also look out for Meika Seri as a street beggar) and filmed with loads of meaningful long takes, including an amazing love scene in the snowy mountains near the end. And the score is just beautiful! Kumashiro's masterpiece, no doubt! The film's obscurity shows just how little Toho cares for their own catalogue titles: chosen by the nation's best known film journal Kinema Junpo as the 21st best Japanese film ever made, Toho has not even bothered putting the film out on DVD (though it's finally coming in December 2019).

            Crazed Beast (狂った野獣) (Japan, 1976) [35mm] - 3.5/5
            Sadao Nakajima's outrageous action farce that is essentially one 78 min action sequence. Punks Takuzo Kawatani and Ruyji Katagiri highjack a bus which, unbeknownst to them, is already carrying a bigger bad guy Tsunehiko Watase. This is an obvious production follow-up to Kinji Fukasaku's car chase film Violent Panic: The Big Crash (1976), with largely the same cast but more hysterical approach. The bus is loaded with quite some characters and the cops chasing the bus are the most self-destructive bunch I've ever seen. Watase, who had already starred in Violent Panic, got a bus driver's license and proceeded to do his own stunts, including flipping the bus on its side (the other actors who remained inside the bus were the expendable Piranha Corps. Kawatani, Katagiri and Takashi Noguchi, the rest of the passengers were replaced with dolls) despite Nakajima trying to stop him! I hated this film upon my first viewing about 10 years ago when I expected a serious action drama í  la Violent Panic, but found it quite amusing this time. The funniest scene: an old woman consoles children who are scared of Kawatani's character: "don't worry, that uncle will be caught and get death penalty".

            Mosquito on the 10th Floor (十階のモスキート) (Japan, 1983) [35mm] - 2/5
            Yoichi Sai's debut, a depressing life-is-shit picture with Yuya Uchida as a cop in debt (to the bank, not the yakuza, unfortunately). He proceeds to do... very little. I first saw this on DVD and found it largely a bore; a 35mm screening a decade later did not change my mind. Flat filmmaking and a non-eventful story that Uchida's convincing performance can't save.

            The Miracle of Joe Petrel (海燕ジョーの奇跡) (Japan, 1984) [VoD] - 3.5/5
            Toshiya Fujita's gangster film loosely based on the 4th Okinawa Yakuza Conflict (also the base for Okinawa Yakuza War, 1976) where a Kyokuryu-kai president was shot dead by a hitman. The film starts out a bit dull, but gains momentum when the titular killer flees to Manila (fully fiction from here on) where he hooks up with Japanese small time gangster (Yoshio Harada) who deals anything from women to VCRs. Fujita uses the foreign location expertly, capturing the corruption, dirt, sleaze and beautiful nature, while steering away from the travel show / tourist filmmaker approach that plagues many similar Japanese productions. Leading man Saburo Tokito could be more charismatic and there are a couple of misfire clichés in the action, but overall the film is impressive.

            Trivia: Toei originally acquired the rights to the novel the film is based on, and intended to make it with Kinji Fukasaku and Yusaku Matsuda. It went into pre-production and reportedly had a sales poster ready, but after various problems (it seems first Matsuda insisted on re-writing the script, then heroine Setsuko Karasuma dropped out because she felt Toei had exploited her in her previous film The Four Seasons: Natsuko (四季・奈津子) (1980) and she wanted nothing to do with the studio, and the release date was closing) the production was cancelled.


            • Takuma, it really seems like Japan treats their classic golden era films no better than Hong Kong does, a real shame.


              • Originally posted by Richardrli View Post
                Takuma, it really seems like Japan treats their classic golden era films no better than Hong Kong does, a real shame.
                If you're referring to studios not bothering to put out some of their own classics, yes, that's a real shame.

                But at least when they do, the quality is almost always tolerable, unlike with HK films.


                • Heaven Sent (Kamisama ga kureta akanbo) (神様のくれた赤ん坊) (Japan, 1979) [VoD] - 3/5
                  A surprisingly good road movie drama/comedy with careless Tsunehiko Watase finding out he's a dad to a small kid - maybe. The mother took off and left a list of 5 potential dads. Watase of course figures it must be one of the other 4. Companion Kaori Momoi isn't all too happy but stick along for a road trip to dump the kid to the real dad (the others can be blackmailed out of some money, they figure). One of the funniest segments features Watase catching one of the potential dads… in the middle of his wedding ceremony! Jidai geki & yakuza veteran Kanjuro Arashi (in his last role at 76 years old, he died the following year) is in the film too, in a bit that's bound to bring a smile to any genre film fan's face. Also, the child (child, not baby despite the erroneous Japanese title) is not irritating at all, in fact, he barely does anything but sit silently). Honest crowd pleasing entertainment, but also well made with good pace and script. Haruhiko Arai is credited as contributing writer, but the main credit should no doubt go to writer-director Yoichi Maeda.

                  Play it, Boogie-Woogie (スローなブギにしとくれ) (Japan, 1981) [VoD] - 3/5
                  A slice of life picture with a bar / semi-drifter girl, an angry youngster with a bike, a divorced asshole, and a middle aged woman living with him. There's no plot, just one year of gritty life. And it works. Yoshio Harada (the asshole's friend), Hideo Murota (bar owner) and Kahori Takeda (teenage mom) have supporting roles, Kenji Sawada, Akira Takahashi and several others cameos. Toshiya Fujita directs.

                  Time and Tide (時代屋の女房) (Japan, 1983) [VoD] - 2/5
                  Nice guy antique store owner Tsunehiko Watase meets idiosyncratic girl Masako Natsume, then later another odd girl (also Natsume). A rather dull and very Shochiku-like drama co-scripted by Haruhiko Arai, whose usually identifiable touch is barely visible here, save for the normal guy / strange girl premise. Watase is very good (he's hugely under-rated, with solid performances one after another in both action pictures and dramas), the score is alright and there's some good use of cat-cam, but the film lacks bite.

                  Downtown Heroes (ダウンタウンヒーローズ) (Japan, 1988) [VoD] - 1/5
                  Deadly Yoji Yamada boredom. Even Hiroko Yakushimaru can't save this as she is barely in it despite being the 1st billed. Yamada is more interested 1940s boy's boarding school drama and nostalgia than her or, well, anything of interest. Had I had a rope, I would've probably hanged myself watching this.

                  Sting of Death (死の棘) (Japan, 1990) [VoD] - 2.5/5
                  An unfaithful family man and a 'jealous to the point of mental illness' wife face each other in a series of heated but unnaturally formal dialogues only interrupted by occasional surreal visions and scenes of almost horror film like dark atmosphere. Not an easy watch at 114 min, nor am I sure if this is good cinema, or just pretentious art. But it is, at least partly, oddly captivating and somewhat memorable, and that's something. 1990 Cannes Grand Prize of the Jury winner. Director Kohei Oguri releases films very sparsely: he has directed only six movies in 34 years, from 1981 to 2015.

                  The Lowlife (最低。) (Japan, 2017) [VoD] - 3.5/5
                  Exceptionally unbiased examination of women involved in the Japanese AV industry, based on a book by the AV superstar Mana Sakura. The film follows a young AV actress (Kokone Sasaki) whose narrow minded mother keeps putting blame on her over her career choice, a high school girl (Aina Yamada) bullied over her mother's AV past (the same moral composition as the 1st story but in reverse), and a 34 year old woman (Ayano Moriguchi) who tries AV due to her husband's lack of commitment to family life. This must be one of the most female centered films I have seen, not only all main and most supporting characters being women, but every scene focusing on how they feel as opposed to what they do. Rather than focusing on the industry; the film deals with people involved in the industry. Thoroughly well acted (with Kokone Sasaki way above her usual level) and directed with unexpected finesse by the frequently disappointing Takahisa Zeze. That is, before the film becomes a crying fest towards the end. Somehow I feel like forgiving that. And no, the film doesn't shy away from the sex and nudity that naturally accompanies the subject despite being a mainstream film with major female audience appeal.


                  • I've been going through the Otoko No Monsho (Symbol of a Man) series and Kiyoshi Saeki's The Young Boss on Amazon Prime. Some company called Midnight Pulp put up English subs and captions.
                    Last edited by 47lab; 09-27-2019, 11:53 PM. Reason: corrected title as it was Young not Fight Boss


                    • I recently watched Tatsumi Kumashiro's 1979 court room drama/murder mystery thriller, FARAWAY TOMORROW based on a A.J. Cronin novel and starring Tomokazu Miura. This was one of Kumashiro's mainstream non-RP flicks and it revolves around Miura's character as a wayward troubled young man who embarks on a journey to find the truth about his father who is a convict on death row sentenced for the murder of woman 19 years earlier. Miura plays an anti-establishment/rebellious role here but he's not very sympathetic at least to this viewer. He comes across as an obstinate asshole but his detective work does turn up results and eventually he gathers enough evidence to grant a retrial for his old man. Considering Japan's high conviction rate and the way the legal system works in favor of the prosecution and law enforcement, this is no small feat. As Miura rankles the local authorities by digging up the past, he brings the attention of Tomisaburo Wakayama a newspaper magnate cum real estate mogul who shares a deep dark secret of his own. The most interesting character was a homo librarian (forget the actor's name who played him) who takes a fancy to Miura and decides to help him in his quest to seek justice for the wrongful imprisonment of his father. He was so aggressive in his overtures to Miura that it took on a comedic feel and a shame that his character went by the wayside about a third of the way in. Props to kagetsuhisoka for paying for and timing the custom subs!

                      Last edited by 47lab; 09-29-2019, 01:20 AM.


                      • I caught Renny Harlin's latest Chinese flick, BODIES AT REST starring Richie Jen & Nick Cheung. I believe this is his 3rd flick since he's moved to China and it's mediocre like the others. Heard this described as DIE HARD 2 in a morgue and yeah, it has some of the old 90s blockbuster action feels but unfortunately not enough to redeem it. Nick Cheung, who can usually be counted on to play competent roles is surprisingly a weak link here and he looks really old to top it off even with all the stage makeup (he is in his early 50s after all and finally this Asian is starting to raisin) & just seems to be sleepwalking throughout. I'm sure the weak script with numerous implausible twists and turns didn't aid matters (how many times are the baddies going to kill Nick but he gets a reprieve at the last second?!). I read the script was originally sitting in a pile somewhere in Hollywood never to see the light of day but was bought by the Chinese and translated & reworked into this story. That might explain why it's such a mess. Garbage in, garbage out.

                        Richie Jen the second co-lead is okay here but by now he can play these villain roles in his sleep. The real "star" of this flick was Andy Yang aka Yang Zhi who plays Nick's growing love interest and coroner assistant/intern. She like Richie Jen is also a singer and they both contribute to the theme song. She takes a beating in her role but keeps on ticking. Not sure how often she was doubled for her physical stuff onscreen but she was at least game for it. Watch once and forget.


                        • I recently watched Kiyoshi Nishimura's HAIRPIN CIRCUS starring Kiyoshi Misaki as a retired professional race car driver who now lives a quiet reserved life as a driving instructor with a young wife and child. Early on it appears to be a story of redemption as the viewer through a series of flashbacks witnesses the past tragedy which led to Misaki's early retirement from racing but is actually shares a lot of themes with the "sun tribe" flicks from the 50s. Misaki is woken out of his slumber by witnessing the pretty girl who head a group of delinquents who terrorize the streets after dark with their street racing antics. Misaki slowly succumbs to the temptation and his need for speed arises once again as he is lured to a fateful street race by the young temptress played by Yuko Enatsu. She is the best part of the flick as the taciturn morose Misaki does little to excite the viewer while Enatsu is the opposite with her good looks and wild spirit. Some nice action shots of cars speeding through the streets and expressways of Tokyo including a nice dream sequence driving in the snow (although one has to wonder where the hell are the cops?!) especially the close ups of Enatsu's gorgeous modified yellow Toyota 2000GT but it quickly starts to become repetitive and tiring. The funky jazz soundtrack by Masabumi Kikuchi was a standout though. Kikuchi's pulsing energetic score was intoxicating. I'll watch again just for the OST!


                          • I've been watching some of Spectrum Films blu ray releases and one of them was the Vietnamese horror film, KFC directed by Le Binh Giang. Calling this flick a traditional horror film is a disservice as this flick is really a genre mashup. What's absolutely hilarious is the product placement and the setting of a real KFC franchise is used! I can't imagine KFC would be very pleased to be associated with this flick in anyway haha. There is deliberate mention of Coke and Pepsi throughout as well. I'm sure the director is critiquing these Western multi-national conglomerates taking over Vietnam and the deleterious health effects that Western fast food and soft drinks are having on the locals. I'm not sure though because that message is drowned out in the unrelenting violent images of cannibalism, necrophilia, sexual violence that follow.

                            This flick's central plot revolves around a cannibalistic doctor and his aid who not only partake in eating his unfortunate victims but he also indulges in his necrophiliac fantasies with any attractive deceased females he finds along the way. There are a bunch of secondary characters involving a makeshift gang of delinquents and street kids. Somehow despite the seemingly unrelated events & characters, they all come back in the end to the central figure of the sadistic doctor & his obese young son. The production values and special effects are surprisingly decent for what started out as a student film project and while ultimately this flick was not my cup of tea, I'm interested in what the future beholds for the young director. Hope he isn't rotting away in a jail cell somewhere for violating the standards of decency of the Vietnamese government because this flick definitely has to be the most transgressive film in Vietnamese cinema history.


                            • I watched the Netflix Sion Sono flick, FOREST OF LOVE earlier. It's Sono's version of the infamous Kitakyushu serial murders. Of course being Sono, it's not just a straight forward retelling of the serial killings but instead he recycles a lot of his past themes such as teenage angst, societal alienation, sexual abuse, dysfunctional families, etc. Yes, this movie also has his trademark extreme gore - there is one scene that is reminiscent of COLD FISH. One of the more enjoyable, if I can use that term to describe this flick which goes down very disturbing paths, Sono flicks of late. I have to say veteran character actor, Kippei Shiina is superb playing the sociopathic lothario conman, Joe Murata who is the fictional character based on real life convicted serial killer, Futoshi Matsunaga. He has such magnetism that even those who are aware of his evil deeds are compelled to follow him like a modern day Svengali. Recommended!

                              For those who are interested in the true crime version, here is a mini-documentary on the crimes of Futoshi Matsunaga and his female accomplice Junko Ogata.



                              • Originally posted by 47lab View Post
                                I watched the Netflix Sion Sono flick, FOREST OF LOVE earlier.
                                I didn't even know Sono had done a new film. Might watch this next time when I take a 1 month Netflix subscription (1 month a year should be well enough for Netflix, as they have the absolute shittiest film selection of any streaming service...).