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What Asian Films Have You Been Watching Recently?

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  • TCM showed a quite good but dubbed print of Crippled Masters last night. Sounds like it will be getting a BD release.


    • Takuma, interesting takes on the HK films, Takuma.

      My disagreement is with your IN THE LINE OF DUTY 3 comments. I think the action, with the exception of the first scene, is extremely stylish and inventive: the fashion show massacre/shootout; the brutal fight in the warehouse; the sex scene with the Japanese couple where male's hair comes out because he has cancer.


      • Originally posted by AngelGuts View Post
        Takuma, interesting takes on the HK films, Takuma.

        My disagreement is with your IN THE LINE OF DUTY 3 comments. I think the action, with the exception of the first scene, is extremely stylish and inventive: the fashion show massacre/shootout; the brutal fight in the warehouse; the sex scene with the Japanese couple where male's hair comes out because he has cancer.
        Part 3 actually used to be my favourite. I still have the old HK DVD though it must be more than 15 years since I've last viewed it.


        • I have the HK dvd, too. But it did see it first in a Chinatown Cinema in Melbourne. Four times!


          • Originally posted by AngelGuts View Post
            I have the HK dvd, too. But it did see it first in a Chinatown Cinema in Melbourne. Four times!
            That's awesome!


            • Centipede Horror (Hong Kong, 1982) [BD] - 3.5/5
              A long sought after Hong Kong cult horror isn't quite as original as one might expect, but the last 20 minutes delivers the notoriety is spades. This is yet another tale of urban Hong Kongers venturing to South East Asia were they get a wicked curse laid upon them (the Shaw Brothers made several similar films with higher production values). The film proceeds as an entertaining, but slightly mediocre horror picture until the jaw dropping gross-out last 20 minutes that alone earn the film a minor classic status. Animal splatter is thankfully kept near zero, limited to some mistreatment of centipedes and a chicken losing some of her feathers. The new BD release by Error 4444 offers an optional animal cruelty free version, which however only eliminates about 30 seconds of not particularly shocking footage, alongside the full uncut version.

              Seeding of a Ghost (Hong Kong, 1983) [BD] – 3.5/5
              A slightly out of ordinary premise in this Shaw Bros. horror as it has the protagonist using black magic against adulterers and criminals rather than the other way around. This is a solid entry though it doesn’t reach heights of Bewitched or The Boxer’s Omen, or the prominent smaller studio output like Red Spell Spells Red, partly because the Hong Kong setting lacks their exotism. It is also a bit mediocre in terms of directing and editing, though it doesn’t matter too much in the end. Where this delivers is the special effects, gore, concept, and abundant bare skin. The climatic black magic ceremony, which among other things includes a rotten corpse having sex with a fresh corpse, may have the biggest gross-out factor of any of the films mentioned above. It’s another lovely relic of a bygone era to be cherished as these type of films are surely never to return again.

              Calamity of Snakes (Taiwan, 1983) [BD] – 2.5/5
              Notorious, but underwhelming Taiwanese shocker released around the same time as the similarly themed Hong Kong productions Centipede Horror and Red Spell Spells Red. This one however lacks their cinematic style and merely relies on excess. The storyline is simple: a greedy construction boss has thousands of snakes massacred to make way for an apartment complex. 10 months later the snakes take revenge against the construction workers and new inhabitants. That does result in a couple of standout scenes, such as an old kung fu master taking on a giant snake, and the film’s last 15 minutes which likely features more snakes than any other movie has ever has. Unfortunately the film makes for needlessly heavy viewing due to its colossal amount of animal cruelty. The more civilized version offered as alternative on the Unearthed BD cuts a whopping 10 minutes from the film, and might actually be a partial improvement not only for toning down the genuine cruelty displayed on screen, but also for shortening the severely overlong snake sequences, even if it may become a bit incoherent in the process. As it stands, the film is more of an interesting curiosity than a genuinely well made exploitation film.

              Red Spell Spells Red (Hong Kong, 1983) [BD] – 4/5
              The 2nd and superior Nikko International production, following the previous year’s Centipede Horror. This one goes all the way, even to the unfortunate authentic animal kills. The plot is the usual one, with a Hong Kong documentary film crew having a slight mishap in South East Asia where they unleash a vicious spirit who wants to kill them all. The spirit gives them just enough time to relocate to a primitive village (whose people sacrifice animals and humans alike, and invite visitors to deflower their daughters) before they start dropping dead. There’s some obvious resemblance to Centipede Horror in how the film plays out, but with an added Cannibal Holocaust influence to the plot and violence. It’s also tighter paced film and somewhat expanded in scale compared to Centipede Horror, with a hugely spirited black magic battle climax in which lead lady Poon Lai Yin is rotated in a huge water wheel while a chorus chants about Jesus Christ. Curiously enough, both this and Centipede were scripted by a woman, Amy Chan, who was also in charge of handling scorpions (frequently placed on people’s bodies and faces) on the set! Speaking of which, reviewed here is the animal cruelty free version which runs approx. three minutes short compared to the uncut version which is also included on the Error 4444 BD. The edits are noticeable, but not particularly jarring, and save you from some animal slaughter that appears worse than anything in Centipede Horror (which I viewed uncut).


              • Kanto Street Peddlers Clan (関東テキヤ一家) (Japan, 1969) [Streaming] – 3.5/5
                The first in a five film series focusing on tekiya / street peddlers, a lesser covered breed of yakuza than their sexier cousins, the bakuto / gamblers. It's very much a ninkyo film, but set in modern day and starring Toei's new hell raiser Bunta Sugawara instead of the stoic old timers Takakura or Tsuruta. Director Norifumi Suzuki adds his own brand of fun with comedy, nudity (wait for silly vice cop Toru Yuri visiting a strip club) and one of the defining Takuzo Kawatani moments when the beloved bit player gets his ass kicked by a team of female wrestlers. Sugawara plays a slightly reckless but good hearted tekiya who promised old oyabun Kanjuro Arashi to keep his dagger sealed, something made increasingly difficult by villains Fumio Watanabe and Bin Amatsu. There's also a rather charming romantic subplot with Sugawara and fellow gang member Kyosuke Machida falling for the same woman, and a solid ninkyo backbone in form of friendly enemy Tatsuo Terashima who earns Sugawara's trust by trying to prevent unnecessary bloodshed between gangs. Completing the cast are Sugawara's allies boss Minoru Oki and female boss Hiroko Sakuramachi, the latter of whom adds a bit of colour to the mix. All in all, a surprisingly entertaining and visually good looking film that started Suzuki's first own film series (he'd helm four of the five entries). It's no surprise the film was a success since in addition to being filled with humour, action and romantic emotion, Sugawara is great as a short tempered but lovable yakuza hero who is not entirely unlike the protagonist in Suzuki & Sugawara’s later Truck Yaro series. This film would be even better if not for a couple of overly talkative autopilot scene.

                Kanto Street Peddlers Clan: Violent Loyalty (関東テキヤ一家 喧嘩仁義) (Japan, 1970) [Streaming] – 2/5
                Disappointing routine sequel lacks the action, romantic emotion and stylish visual touch of the original film. The first 20 minutes is filled with comic relief, followed by a good 70 minutes of talking heads before the standard bloodbath ending. Most surprising however is that for a Bunta Sugawara film there is very little Bunta Sugawara in it. He’s absent from roughly every other scene, and even when he does bother showing up he often fades to the background. Could it be that he was too busy to fully commit to this production? That might just be it, considering this was already the 5th movie he appeared in in 1970, and it was only March! He would find his way into 15 more movies by the end of the year (yes, that’s a total of 20 films for 1970).

                P.S. the film’s title is incorrect on IMDb where it’s spelled as Kanto tekiya ikka: Goromen jingi. It’s actually Kanto tekiya ikka: Goromentsuu.

                Kanto Street Peddlers Clan: Royal Temple Duel (関東テキヤ一家 天王寺の決斗) (Japan, 1970) [Streaming] – 2.5/5
                The third film brings the series a bit more back on track after the disappointing part two. Sugawara still plays the same Kanto street peddler, who this time ventures to Osaka where he defends a blind girl at a street market. The area is targeted by rotten Asao Koike and Tatsuo Endo, who have lured local senior female boss Nijiko Kiyokawa’s rebellious but not entirely indecent son Goro Ibuki to their side. This isn’t a particularly accomplished film, still mostly lacking the visual touch and the romantic pathos of the first movie, but at least Sugawara is firmly present this time (he was absent from large portion of the previous film despite playing the protagonist) and Suzuki handles the narrative with just enough energy to keep the viewer entertained. Also worth mentioning is fan favourite Yumiko Katayama as Koike’s mute woman, though sadly she’s given little to do other than look mean.

                Kanto Street Peddlers Clan: Violent Fire Festival (関東テキヤ一家 喧嘩火祭り) (Japan, 1971) [Streaming] – 3.5/5
                The fourth film in the series and the first sequel to rival part one is quality. This has a dynamite opening with silly detective Tatsuo Endo (basically in a Toru Yuri role) assigning tekiya truckers Bunta Sugawara and Toshiaki Minami to assist in a chase to catch a girl gang lead by Yukie Kagawa. It’s hard not to see this and several other scenes in the film foreshadowing the Truck Yaro series, especially considering the chemistry between Sugawara and Minami, the presence of trucks and festivals, and of course a mix of action/comedy/drama. More good stuff follows when Sugawara sides with female boss Yumiko Nogawa to fight evil Hiroshi Nawa, who at one point employs rebellious young hood Tsunehiko Watase and Kagawa (wearing the same black jump suit as Miki Sugimoto later in Girl Boss Guerilla, and Marianne Faithfull before them in The Girl on a Motorcycle, 1968). Tatsuo Umemiya also shows up as a cool, leather jacket gunman who gains Sugawara’s respect despite playing for the opposing team. What eventually keeps this film from being as good as the first is the loose script that doesn’t really tie all the fun stuff into a coherent package. Much is forgiven however when the last 20 minutes arrives with several visually striking set pieces (including one death scene stylized to the point of ridiculousness) and a terrific final massacre. This was Suzuki’s last contribution to the series; the fifth and final picture would be helmed by Takashi Harada.

                Kanto Street Peddlers Clan: Shallow Clan Honor (関東テキヤ一家 浅草の代紋) (Japan, 1971) [Streaming] – 3/5
                Norifumi Suzuki headed to pinkier pastures with his newfound muse Reiko Ike (something this film makes very obvious by featuring a billboard for the first Girl Boss film in one scene), leaving this fifth and final entry in Takashi Harada's somewhat mediocre hands. He had already worked with Bunta Sugawara several times in the Wicked Priest sequels. He helms this film in similar fashion, without much originality, but hitting the genre notes with action, comedy, and some nudity in a very Suzuki esque context when Sugawara's boys try to make money with nude photos. Hiroki Matsukata makes a series debut playing the usual conflicted foe/fried character whose incarnation can be found in every entry in the series, but it is Noboru Ando as a retired gangster with a mysterious past who gets the film's best role. Now, as stated there's not much originality to the film... until the fantastic climax where Takada somehow manages to do western and slasher in one scene, before taking the bloodshed to an eerily desolate early morning city street. Great ending to a pretty good film, and a fitting farewell to the entire series.


                • Toho x 3

                  Yagyu Secret Scrolls (柳生武芸帳) (Japan, 1957) [35mm] – 2.5/5
                  The first of Toho’s two Yagyu Scrolls films, helmed by Hiroshi Inagaki and starring Toshiro Mifune himself. Despite the big names and the film not being too bad, I must say I prefer Toei’s more action packed and pulpy nine film Yagyu Scrolls series (1961-1964) starring Jushiro Konoe.

                  Detective Story: A Brother's Rule (刑事物語 兄弟の掟) (Japan, 1971) [TV] – 2.5/5
                  Screenwriter Shun Inagaki's only directorial effort, a partly experimental character study dressed up as detective film. Kunie Tanaka is a troubled detective unwillingly working with cocky cop Yuzo Kayama in a drug case that even relates to his own family, he discovers. Some of the more experimental sequences don't really work, and while the decidedly iffy and slow character drama is acquired taste, the film does wonderful job capturing an era on film. The atmospheric footage filmed on real streets feels particular valuable in retrospect.

                  Lady Snowblood (修羅雪姫) (Japan, 1973) [35mm] - 4.5/5
                  A masterful revenge tale with Meiko Kaji as a girl born in prison for the only purpose of avenging her parents who were killed and raped by four ultra-nationalist. In equal parts tragic, lyrical and political, with an old fairytale-like atmosphere, it’s very much the kind of film that would never get made in Japan today. Kaji is terrific (though her limited swordplay skills is one of the film’s only weaknesses) and Ko Nishimura appears in one of his most memorable roles as a priest who trains her. The film’s storyline, theme song and several images (particularly in the snow) have since become iconic, but I would argue the single most impressive part in the film is how the main character’s background is told in brilliantly structured unchronological flashbacks. Fans Kazuo Koike, whose comic served as the blueprint, will find much familiar ground here besides the exceptionally female-lead premise (certainly a big contrast to Hanzo the Razor that was being adapted at the same time). However, the same can’t be said about director Toshiya Fujita, who is almost exclusively associated with contemporary youth films. It is ironic that this, most a-typical film, is what he’s best known for outside of Japan.

                  Note: this was my 2nd time viewing this from a 35mm print in Tokyo, and it served as a reminder that the Criterion Blu-Ray features probably one of the most revisionist masters ever created for a 70s Japanese film. Based on screencaps at least, the Criterion looks literally like no 70s Japanese studio film ever. The older, murkier Arrow release doesn’t do the film full justice either, but is much closer to what the film ought to look like.

                  Toei x 3

                  Red Flowers of the Harbour Mist (霧の港の赤い花) (Japan, 1962) [Streaming] – 4/5
                  Journeyman Shinji Murayama isn’t particularly well remembered among Toei directors, but he made a number of good films especially during the early years of his career. This atmospheric romantic noir is probably his best movie. Koji Tsuruta is a yakuza who falls in love with married woman Kyoko Kagawa, whose husband is away on a trip. The relationship starts out platonic, but Tsuruta wants to take it a step further, much to the confusion of Kagawa who is not quite sure of her feelings. This being nominally a gangster tale, the pistols, back stabbings and drug dealings eventually find their way into the tragic tale; however Murayama is more keen on following the doomed lovers, staging visually lyrical scenes full of lights and shadows, and drawing from Tsuruta's slightly melancholic, tortured persona. A particular stand out is a small French bar where some of the film's most atmospheric and romantic scenes take place. There’s a bit of a evident Nikkatsu Action feel to the picture, though one feels the picture owes more to American and European noir. Tsuruta is terrific in the lead and this film is also a prime example of how he was always more of a “lover” whereas his younger colleague, the stoic Ken Takakura who would soon challenge Tsuruta as Toei’s no. 1 yakuza film star, would be difficult to imagine in a role like this.

                  Lion Enforcer (唐獅子警察) (Japan, 1974) [35mm] – 2.5/5
                  Not bad, but a little dull yakuza film from Sadao Nakajima. Tsunehiko Watase is a young hothead who teams up with his older brother and gangster Akira Kobayashi until his temper starts causing trouble and the brothers find themselves fighting each other to death. The film suffers from the fact that it's not that interesting nor particularly violent despite coming out at the height of the jitsuroku wave (the tale here is entirely fictional, though). It does however come with some solid performances, Watase in particular and a number of amusing scenes. The two most memorable ones must be fan favourite Hideo Murota’s over the top interrogation scene, and a scene where Watase rapes a horny French woman who doesn't seem mind it at all. For much better yakuza films by Nakajima, see Escaped Murderer from Hiroshima Prison (1974), Authentic True Account: Osaka Shock Tactics (1976) and Okinawa Yakuza War (1976).

                  Female Convict Yakuza (女囚やくざ) (Japan, 1974) [TV] – 3.5/5
                  Reiko Ike made her final delinquent girl appearance in this atmospheric crime drama released in the waning days of Pinky Violence (*). The general impression at the time was that Ike was getting a bit old for delinquent girl roles, which is probably why she’s taking a back seat role here to pass the torch. Yuko Horikoshi and Tsunehiko Watase play bank robbers who are thrown in jail (not actual prison) where they meet Ike. She plans their escape in hopes of getting her hands on the stolen money which is being held by additional members of the gang Teppei Nagahama and (cute & subtly spunky) Kyoko Naito who are in the hiding. The police, a jealous accomplice from the bank, and a small yakuza gang lead by Harumi Sone are also after the money. This film was intended as the first in a new series (as confirmed by the trailer) that never materialized beyond the opening picture, which is a bit of a shame. Though the film is low key, low budget and largely void of the adrenaline rush found in the best Pinky Violence films, it works quite well as an atmospheric crime drama following a group of social outcasts hiding from the police. The group dynamic comes through well and Ike in particular is surprisingly good in a role that mainly involves her hanging out bored in the background. Lead Horikoshi on the other hand is a bit of a flop with a bland presence that led to no further starring roles (holding on to her robes probably didn’t increase her market value either). Things didn’t work out any better for Masahide Shinozuka, a long time assistant director helming his first and last own picture here.

                  * The golden age of Pinky Violence came to a rapid end in early 1974 when karate movies replaced them as Toei’s most popular B-films in theatrical double bills. Premiering on March 1, 1974, one month after The Street Fighter had initiated the domestic karate film boom, Female Convict Yakuza perhaps never stood much of a chance at the box office.

                  Additional note: though the film’s kanji title is Joshu yakuza (Female Convict Yakuza), the furigana reads Suke yakuza (Girl Yakuza).


                  • I somehow managed to motivate myself to sit through the Delinquent Boss films that I had not seen yet.

                    Delinquent Boss: Blues in Prison (不良番長 練鑑ブルース) (Japan, 1969) [Streaming] – 3/5
                    Part 3 in Toei’s long running biker gang comedy series that produced 16+1 films. There's a common misconception that these films are hard-boiled exploitation movies. The series started that way, but soon descended to farcical comedy. Most of the sequels were nothing more than a string of astonishingly childish comedy sketches followed by one action scene at the end. There were a couple of more serious films in between, however, such as this one. What this entry does fairly well is depicting a lower echelon gang in the dog-eat-dog underworld. Tatsuo Tatsuo Umemiya’s Capone gang is against Hirohisa Nakata’s rival biker gang, both small-timers inhabiting the same Shinjuku area. This is not left unnoticed by a bigger and far more rotten yakuza gang lead Asao Uchida, who has the smaller street gangs compete for job gigs from the big gang, which they do no matter how demeaning it may be. That aside, this is a light, but fast moving and entertaining gang tale with decent performances. There’s some good brotherly character interaction between Umemiya and guest star Bunta Sugawara, all the way to an unexpectedly ninkyo-like ending that however comes with a fun modern twist. Another highlight is Hayato Tani and biker chick Tamami Natsu’s cross-gang Romeo & Juliet sub-plot. And then there’s a rather amusing segment with the boys managing a gentlemen’s gambling den for foreigners (who all speak decent Japanese, for once!). Good stuff! This would be an even better film if not for the slow start filled with lame comedy. Oh, and he title is misleading: there are no prison scenes in the film.

                    Delinquent Boss: Wolf Escort (不良番長 送り狼) (Japan, 1969) [Streaming] – 2/5
                    Part 4. It would be incorrect to say that this is where things started to go wrong for this series (after all, the abysmal part 2 had already been made), but there are a number of unfortunate firsts to be found in this entry. Toei's former assistant director Makoto Naito (also AD in part 1) takes over from Yukio Noda and opens the film with silly, nonsensical comedy routines that have nothing to do with the biker gang premise. This is something that would become increasingly common later on in the series. The little plot this film has deals with the boys running escort services and other night life ventures, a theme that Naito would revisit in several other (mostly poor) films with Umemiya. Now, there are a couple of genuine highlights in the film, including Umemiya grabbing a mic and performing at a club, and a decent machine gun action finale that makes it all feel at least somewhat worth it. But a good film this is not.

                    Delinquent Boss: Operation Rat (不良番長 どぶ鼠作戦) (Japan, 1969) [Streaming] – 2.5/5
                    Part 5. Yukio Noda returns to the director's chair after being absent for one film. He and Makoto Naito would take turns helming the rest of the films from here on. It is not really necessary to specify who was behind the camera each time as there was very little to set them apart. Anyway, this fifth entry is a very light affair that still manages to be somewhat entertaining. This time Umemiya and the gang end up helping a struggling strip theatre, which produces some fun bits (“what kind of father asks his daughter to substitute for a missing stripper?!”) and amusingly outdated drama (the fore-mentioned missing stripper issue is solved when a good-hearted husband lends his wife to the stage, but all the teary-eyed melodrama that accompanies this great “sacrifice” is between the men! Never mind the wife who actually has to go on the stage…). Also kudos to Shingo Yamashiro who delivers some comedy that is actually funny. Bunta Sugawara, who appeared in a lot of the early films, is missing from this film.

                    Delinquent Boss: Checkmate (不良番長 王手飛車) (Japan, 1970) [Streaming] – 3.5/5
                    Makoto Naito delivers a major surprise with this 6th film which might be the best in the series. This is a genuine yakuza film, even if a very light one in tone, with a solid story, good characters and several actors giving top performances. There’s even a small surprise at the start with Umemiya and his hoods for once thrown in prison for their conman activities. Nothing much changes once they’re out, with the gang setting up a shady consulting business as advised by new member Toru Yuri. One of their targets is construction company boss Toru Abe. Turns out Umemiya’s old pal Bunta Sugawara is working for Abe as a subcontractor, but is unable to proceed with their plans because local print shop owner Tamami Natsu and her loyal worker Shingo Yamashiro refuse to sell their lands. Meanwhile rival construction entrepreneur yakuza Fumio Watanabe tries to steal the project from Sugawara. Umemiya agrees to help Sugawara, but also can’t help falling in love with the woman he’s supposed to con, creating a solid moral dilemma, which aren’t typically found in this series. It makes for a thoroughly solid film with good pacing, complex story, and of course some decent action at the end. The film also features excellent supporting performances from Watanabe who looks remarkably confident in his evil boots, Abe who appears in one of his best and most unusual Toei roles as an easily fooled civilian, and Yamashiro whose low-key drama/comedy performance is spot on (with hilarious dialogue and line delivery) and doesn’t descend to the kind of random childish gags that plague most of the films in the series.

                    Delinquent Boss: Hooligans on Buggies (不良番長 暴走バギー団) (Japan, 1970) [Streaming] – 1/5
                    Part 9. A mind-numbingly dull entry with lame jokes, little plot, and no exploitation excess. There is nominal entertainment value from the inclusion of Maki Carrousel in the cast, and Shun Ueda whose Sammy Davis Jr. looks earn a couple of laughs. The film’s only other highlight is the titular buggies utilized in the not-too-bad action climax. But it is frankly nothing unmissable, and certainly not worth the suffering it takes to get there.

                    Delinquent Boss: Wolves on Motorcycles (良番長 やらずぶったくり) (Japan, 1971) [Streaming] – 2.5/5
                    Part 11. An astonishingly childish entry with several gags so bad they develop an almost surreal quality. Perhaps it's a sign of the viewer's brain starting to melt by this point in the series, but some of it actually works. Better yet, the film comes with rather functional buddy dynamics. Umemiya and others are joined by Rikiya Yasuoka, Bunta Sugawara and the always good Tsunehiko Watase. In some of the film’s best scenes it feels almost like hanging out with old idiot buddies (that you hopefully never had). We also get Yayoi Watanabe at her absolute cutest in her Toei debut (she had done one film at Nikkatsu before) and fellow Pinky Violence player Rena Ichinose in her first ever film role. Ichinose might have earned the role for her willingness to undress, something Watanabe surprisingly doesn’t do here. The plot, if you can call it that, features Umemiya’s pirate gang clashing with the yakuza who polluted fishing waters and caused a shit panic. It all leads up to a huge action finale with some inspired, though incredibly silly mayhem.

                    Delinquent Boss: Smooth Talking, Good Fighting (不良番長 手八丁口八丁) (Japan, 1971) [Streaming] – 2.5/5
                    Part 12. This is another incredibly silly entry, though it manages to be more amusing than most. There's a dynamite opening with Umemiya's pirate gang (who get killed in almost every film, but are resurrected for each sequel) steal bikes, sabotage police property and finally get their asses kicked by Flower Meg's red dressed biker chick gang. None of this has much to do with the rest of the film where the boys proceed to act in a number of conman jobs (including sex therapist), gang rape Junko Ohara in a comedy scene, and even meet Chuji Kunisada in the forest. Somehow, the stupidity manages to come out moderately entertaining, Flower Meg struggles to keep her clothes on, and then there is guest star Kyosuke Machida in full ninkyo attire. Passable low brow fun.