Under the Skin looks like…

July 16, 2014

Word up.

When I’m not trying to convince people that watching ”Zatoichi” would not be a waste of time, I dig modern non-testosterone fueled cinema. The kind where people somehow resolve their differences through words or worse vague symbolic gestures.

A few months back I had the pleasure of watching Under the Skin. (spoilers: it’s a mutha of a film). Looking at home video options, the UK steel book version using the original poster is especially nice looking.

Get rid of the reminder that the film features an Avengers
and you have got a purty cover

It just dawned on me now that I’ve seen this before. Dig the back of the Canadian steel book for Total Recall.


This a beautiful film too

The similarities do not end there!

Both films have the following

  • characters luring each other with sex
  • hostile aliens
  • characters who think they are in dreams
  • people with great physical deformities
  • people from another planet who disguise themself as women
  • Dig Total Recall‘s own Under the Skin moment:


    It’s obvious which film is superior


    Gamera 3: The Revenge of Iris Review

    November 1, 2013

    This blu-ray is for sale for $5 everywhere! Get it!

    Does the “Giant Monsters from Japan” genre fall into the action genre? From my research, Godzilla and friends seem to be of greater interest to a sub-suction of science fiction fans who can’t get enough of their favourite monster’s showcasing their powers and unique designs more than the how good the films are when the monsters are battling.

    I have seen a number of Godzilla films that came out in the 2000s, but have never watched the Gamera series until recently. The original 1960s Gamera series make some of the sillier Godzilla films look like Annie Hall. It does not help that the Mystery Science Theater 3000 crew has permanently etched in the minds of audiences that Gamera films are juvenile junk. Surprisingly, their jibs and jabs have become a blessing in disguise. Godzilla expert David Kalat has stated that special effects artist Shinji Higuchi was watching MST3K in a Los Angeles hotel room when he saw the mocking robots tear apart the Gamera films. Both Higuchi and director Shusuke Kaneko were on the cusp of rebooting the Gamera series in the 1990s, and did not want their creation to be viewed in the same light.

    The first two films in the 1990s Gamera series are mostly notable for their special effects. Gamera: Guardian of the Universe has very nicely detailed models but is hampered by poorly done compositing visuals that took me out of the film. The human characters are as stiff as ever in the first film, but they get a decent boost in Gamera 2: Attack of Legion, which has a story that feels inspired by/rips off Aliens and Them! As the third film re-uses and references the characters and plot points of the first two films, it is best to watch those if you want to get the most out of Gamera 3.

    That being said, Gamera 3: The Revenge of Iris is a great improvement from the first two films. Gone are the flatly lit sets, dull military planning scenes and half-asleep actors that only exit to talk about Gamera when he’s not on screen. The film also benefits from a darker tone and visuals that wouldn’t be out of place in a film like Dark City or Tim Burton’s Batman. The monster Gamera now looks far more threatening than before which suit the film’s plot written by director Shusuke Kaneko and screenwriter Kazunori Itō. This was Kaneko’s first time as a screenwriter in a Gamera film, while Itō’s resume includes the acclaimed Ghost in the Shell and the Patalabor anime series.

    Put your mouse over the poster to see what could have been.

    Gamera 3 isn’t as serious as Ghost in the Shell, but as of its release in 1999, it was probably one of the most entertaining monster mashes of the decade! The characters are not leveled with complexity, but they are far more memorable than any previous entries in the series. Characters like Ai Maeda who has a delightfully bizarre bond with the monster Isis adds a human element to both the story and the monster which is desperately needed in this genre. Thankfully, secondary characters like a scenery chewing mad video game programmer are also amusing in their own right.

    Not all is perfect in Gamera 3, the film’s pace slows down a bit towards the middle where it becomes overtly talky. The anime influenced storyline is…daffy to say the least. Take the part of the plot that involves Gamera needing mana to survive…or something! These nature-preservation themed things are handled in much less derpy manner in films like Princess Mononoke.
    Some reviewers have complained about the computer generated imagery of Isis as straying too far from traditional kaiju territory. I’m not 100% for CGI in films, but I feel that Gamera 3 is a very strong combination of practical and computer generated effects. Besides, there are far more dated effects in Guardian of the Universe. If CGI was needed to create Isis, than I’m all for it as the creature is one of the more interesting beasts in the series. He/She/It follows my rules for a good monster in film.

    1) Don’t tease the audience about the look of a monster. People entering the film know it’s a monster movie and have seen trailers and posters so we all know how the monster looks! Give us something and make the monster evolve and change so it’s not some giant reveal for the last 15 minutes of the film. Gamera’s first reign of destruction happens fairly early in the film and is then followed by the development of Iris.

    2) Keep the monster motives interesting. After it attacks once, let part of the plot be finding out why it attacks and what kind of unique strengths and weaknesses it has. It’s more interesting to see what it can or cannot do and how people in the film deal with their monster problem. This works well in films like Tremors with the rock hopping to avoid the creatures or The Descent where the crawlers can only hunt their prey through sound. In Gamera 3,the characters who trust Gamera as a savior begin to have doubts while Isis’ connection with Ai Maeda keeps their status above par.

    The film was released on Blu-ray a few years back and is very easy to find at a price of under $10. So why is Gamera 3 never talked about?
    According to the website, the film was not as financially successful as the previous Gamera films. The film ends in a cliff-hanger and no direct sequel. The next Gamera film was released in 2006 and was not part of this 1990s series, not made by Toho, and was a more family-friendly affair with a cute baby Gamera.

    I think Western audiences were more interested in the wave of J-Horror films like The Ring and The Grudge which were the newest hip films from Asia at the time. Not to mention that Battle Royale and the controversial films Takashii Miike were also a hot commodity of their day. It’s too bad, because Gamera 3 deserves as large of a fanbase as these films have. Perhaps it was because Gamera as a monster is harder to market. Gamera’s has to to appeal to a fanbase by sticking to it’s roots: he better still spin in his shell and fly around! Outsiders will definitely have a tricky time with the concept as, surprise, surprise: Turtles do not fly. Godzilla at least resembles more familiar lizards and audiences can associate him with a fire breathing dragon or a gargantuan dinosaur. It’s not easy being a turtle, let alone a flying one.
    Despite some minor flaws, Gamera 3 is heads and tails above other giant monster films in terms of story, action and spectacle. I have no hesitation in recommend picking it up the Gamera trilogy, so you can watch the other two films first to prepare yourself for the monster-bashing feast that is Gamera 3.

    Put your mouse over Gamera!
    Go Go Gamera! Happy Halloween!


    Heroes Among Heroes Review

    August 27, 2011

    Why did I take so long to write about Heroes Among Heroes? I should have whipped out this review a month ago! It could be that I left the screening a bit frustrated. Quick story: When I was rushing to get to the theater, I was parked less than a block away. What I didn’t take into account was that we would be getting the worst downpour of rain that night. I can suffer running through a storm but what I didn’t realize was that my iPhone would be caught in the rain and all of a sudden, have no audio when I tried to make a call! Quick Google searching later let me find out that if water gets near an iPhone’s headphone socket, it makes your phone think it is constantly connected in headphone mode. The Solution: Place your phone in a pack of rice overnight. Worked for me as it absorbed all the water out of that thing!

    Regardless of being phoneless for a day, I had quite an enjoyable time watching a nice print of Heroes Among Heroes. It’s not the best Yuen-Woo Ping film, but it was good to see my faith in Yuen still last after a disappointing screening of True Legend. The story cribs a bit from other popular Hong Kong films of the era such as the Once Upon a Time in China series, but 1993 was a year of excess when it came to those kinds of films film. How much excess? There were over five Hong Kong films revolving around the Wong Fei Hong character! Not only that, but at least three of them were worked on by Yuen-Woo Ping. Talk about milking it! Imagine if next year there were five Robin Hood films and they were all directed or produced by Ridley Scott. Madness!

    How did Yuen-Woo Ping not die of exhaustion? The Hong Kong Film Archive and Hong Kong Cinemagic websites state he was not alone in directing these, as Chan Chin-Chung is also credited as a director. Who the hell is he though? This seems to Chan’s only film credit. Joining him in a one-time only role is Yuk Wong who co-starring alongside Donnie Yen as the role of Wong Fei Hong himself. Then much like Chan: nothing ever again! It doesn’t really matter as it’s Donnie Yen as Beggar So who is the real star of the film. In fact, I think even Ng Man Tat (lots of “wasn’t that the coach from Shaolin Soccer?” after the screening) and Sheila Chan take up a large amount of the screentime. Sheila has some embarrassing prosthetic teeth in this film…people gasped in the audience when they first saw her pearly whites.

    Sheila Chan's teeth
    Prepare to see these chompers quite a bit when sitting down to Heroes Among Heroes

    Both Sheila and Ng Man Tat both have a good amount of screen time for their comedy scenes. If you aren’t a fan of the comedy relief in Yuen Woo-Ping’s other films, this won’t change your mind. Personally, I found it forgettable outside the visual memory of her teeth.

    Regardless of how you feel about the comedy, you have to appreciate a film that has a subtitle that attempts to explain the play-on-words as shown below

    Ng Man Tat subtitle Heroes Among Heroes
    Ng-Man Tat says this during the film…apparently!

    Despite a confusing production history and joke-explaining subtitles, Heroes Among Heroes is an entertaining if lesser picture from Yuen Woo-Ping. The anti-drug PSA themed opium tale is not nearly as memorable as the more popular Iron Monkey also from 1993. On the other hand, we get the bonus of not having any child actors which is a definite downside to Iron Monkey for me. Kids ruin everything.

    Many of the action scenes during the first half of Heroes Among Heroes are far too short. By the time you’ve asked yourself “was that it?” the characters are already on to their location. The later action scenes, are more extended and extravagant. These scenes include Donnie Yen fighting a member of the Red Lotus group which involves Donnie dodging the rivals long hair used as a fighting extension. Another strong action scene involves Chan Chin-Chung who sits at a dinner table and has a seated kung-fu battle…with his fist on fire! Perhaps he burnt his bad so badly that he didn’t want to do another film again?

    What any man would do when they light their hand on fire.

    If the above sounded interesting, I’m unhappy to report that Heroes Among Heroes has not been treated kindly on home video. Two Region 1 DVDs of the film have been released with one under the title Fist of the Red Dragon which is only available in an English dub. I’m feeling especially lucky now to have caught an actual film print. In comparison to much of Hong Kong’s modern day output, this film feels a lot stronger than it probably ever did in 1993. If you need something that has the Iron Monkey and Fong Sai Yuk kind of flavor, you might just find it in Heroes Among Heroes…that is if you aren’t bored about another tale of Wong Fei Hong.


    The Suspect Review

    June 27, 2011

    Ringo Lam’s The Suspect (1998)

    Now that I have your attention with the image, I have to ask, what happened to Ringo Lam? He vanished off the face of the earth after for a few years after a string of Van Damme films in the early 2000s, than returned for briefly for a project with Tsui Hark and Johnnie To for Triangle which no one really talks about too much. And then nothing. Twitch reports that Ringo Lam has given his first camera interview in ten years in a French documentary titled Tarantino: The Disciple of Hong Kong, but I doubt that interview will go into too much detail about his absence but discuss the comparison between City on Fire and Resevoir Dogs for the 400th time.

    On that note, It’s a good excuse to look at one of Ringo’s films that I’ve forgotten I had in my DVD collection. I don’t even really remember buying The Suspect so it must have been a gift, a prize or someone lent it to me without me returning it. Regardless, it doesn’t hurt to investigate. The Susepct is about Don Lee (Louis Koo) who has been released from prison after serving about 12 years. Don wants to start a new crime-free life but is met with an old friend Max (Julian Cheung) who wants him to continue his work for the mob by assassinating the popular candidate in an upcoming election. Lee refuses which leads Cheung to pull the job himself using the same type of weapon left for Lee (the bazooka seen above!). This leads the police to believe that Don is the suspect as he is chased down by both the cops and his former friends.

    I’ll keep it short and quick with this one. The Suspect is kind of dull. Both Julian Cheung and Louis Koo don’t have the charisma to breathe life into their roles that someone like Chow Yun Fat brought for Ringo’s earlier films such as Prison on Fire or Full Contact. Even if you factor out Chow, compare both Koo and Cheung to Simon Yam who plays the aspiring political candidate / triad leader in the film and you can see how the two are outshone by someone in a smaller role. Does Koo even change his facial expression?

    The Suspect is also saddled with a pretty typical plot that lacks a lot of energy you’d expect form Hong Kong films. Perhaps he was influenced by his work in the United States Maximum Risk, but the plot feels kind of “quickie-American” thriller. At least half the film is in English at that as well so what does that leave us with? It’s a film that lacks Hong Kong flavour and it’s pretty damn average. Don’t expect a re-release on blu-ray anytime soon.


    Hard Boiled Review

    May 8, 2011

    Now I’m not only recovering from screenings, but recovering from Canadian elections too. I don’t want to use this blog to push any politics so let’s talk a film that elicited genuine gasps and shock from the audience when it was shown at the Mayfair theatre in Ottawa: Hard Boiled!

    On paper, the production of Hard Boiled is kind of a mess. Some scenes such as the the tea-house fight were shot when there was no shooting script. When the film’s screenplay was written by Barry Wong, Wong sadly died while on vacation leaving it unfinished. Plot points that were originally in the script such as a baby-poisoning psychopath are mostly lost in the mix with elements stirred in towards the end during the heroic and slightly hilarious baby-rescue. Other re-writes involve Michelle Yeoh who was originally going to have been cast in Teresa Mo’s role. I’m not sure why this was changed, but Mo’s character was greatly re-written after Michelle was unable to be in the film. I assume somewhere in Hong Kong there is a huge cabinet full of nothing but screenplay drafts for Hard Boiled.

    Here’s where I’m a bit confused. All credits and books I’ve read relating to the film say that John Woo completed the script himself, but an interview on the Hong Kong Cinemagic website with director and writer Gordon Chan suggest that he helped finishing the draft of Hard Boiled after Wong died. Gordon Chan even goes on to explain little bits of his draft that are in the film such as the warehouse scene. If this is the case, how come his name does not appear in the credits? I’ve read most books relating to Woo and have heard two audio commentaries on the film and I never heard Gordon mentioned once. So what gives?

    Despite production troubles and my own historical confusion, Hard Boiled is a film that can maintain quality while not just being over the top in terms of action sequences but in basic plot elements which range from implausible to silly. Let’s look at some enjoyable nonsense we have here:

    Hard Boiled Hospital
    Hospitals have secret underground weapons bunkers
    with Scrooge McDuck-esque sliding doors.

    Hard Boiled Song

    Coded messages being delivered through Lionel Richie lyrics
    (and sung by Chow-Yun Fat and Teresa Mo!)

    Weapons are hidden in Shakespeare and bird cages!

    I’m just scratching the surface with that kind of pulp! To match them, we have the equally over the top action scenes which I consider to be some of the best filmed. When mentioning action scenes like “the teahouse scene” or “the hospital scene” to anyone who has seen Hard Boiled, they know what you are talking about without hesitation. This level of action also separates some audiences as some find it goes too far, while others rejoice in the glorious chaos. Personally, I like this film quite a bit, but I do see it in a slightly lesser light than Woo’s other major Hong Kong films, such as The Killer, A Better Tomorrow and Bullet in the Head. I do like it more than A Better Tomorrow II and Once a Theif. As for going too far, I think it doesn’t go as overboard as Kurt Wimmer’s Ultraviolet so it suits me just fine.

    Even though I do love action cinema, I’m a firm believer that if you are not going along with either the plot or characters, than you can have gorgeous action scenes that will not impress if you don’t care about the characters or what they are doing. Woo has compared the film to Dirty Harry with it’s tough police detective who makes vigilante justice seem appealing and Die Hard. I agree, especially with Die Hard for having really riveting action scenes in an isolated area all while giving quality actors some roles which are a bit thin on character and interest. To further the comparison in Die Hard, there are two actors with a lot of charisma (Bruce Willis and Alan Rickman) while in Hard Boiled we have some of the best actors to have graced Hong Kong screens, namely Chow Yun-Fat, Anthony Wong and Tony Leung (the real Tony Leung, not the fake one). Their performances (especially Chow’s and Tony’s) I think give enough depth to their characters to make them rise above the slightly messy plot. Tony and Chow seem to be having a blast, but not everyone had the fun working with Woo on the film. This was Anthony Wong’s only film with John Woo and he was not to happy on set. Wong felt the film was too comic-book like and didn’t like how Woo treated his actors. This is interesting, as everyone in America who’s worked with Woo had said that he is very polite and kind on the set while in Hong Kong, Woo is sometimes referred to as “the black faced God” being dead serious while working. I wonder how everyone felt about him during the production of Red Cliff?

    On watching the film at the Mayfair theater, the audience was really taken by it. I don’t remember hearing so many loud gasps come from the audience since watching the joker do his pencil trick years back. I think this goes to show the quality of the film despite any plot’s short-comings: it still is exciting, keeps the audience hooked and is still talked about today. It set some pretty high standards for the action scenes in an action film so despite it’s flaws, I think Hard Boiled could easily creep in to a list of the top action films of the 1990s.

    Sources: [1] [2]