Retaliation Review

May 11, 2015

In the past, I have denounced films on this blog for not having an engaging enough narrative to back up their action sequences or having action sequences that had too much shaky cam, both of which removed my ability to engage in the action as it was shown. However, I’m about to praise the film Retaliation from 1968 for having both these issues. How is that fair? Does anything separate it from any number of Luc Besson produced wannabes?

Let’s bounce back for a minute. Retaliation is a Japanese film from the Nikkatsu in the 1960s. The crime films made by the studio were generally b-films that directors such as Yasuharu Hasebe or Seijun Suzuki could churn out quickly. Suzuki himself would casually quickly spew out four or so a year, but what made his so special was a matter of peppering the simple plots with all the energy, pace and strangeness you could desire on a tight budget. Suzuki’s Branded to Kill features men who become turned on by the smell of rice and feature women with dead birds hanging from their rear-view mirrors.They borrowed from James Bond films: gangsters, machoness and noir cool to create a delerious cocktail that made them unique creations. Suzuki has already earned his cult status with fans like John Woo,Jim Jarmusch and John Zorn. Seeing Suzuki’s films makes you wonder what the other films are like from Nikkatsu. Are they useless derivative junk with Suzuki being their only real diamond in the rough?

Outside Suzuki, Nikkatsu’s action films have been more written about about then watched. Retaliation is directed by Yasuharu Hasebe in 1968 and has recently been released on blu-ray and DVD by Arrow Video. It’s been screened on rare occasions at some Asian film festivals, but has only received an English-subbed home video release in 2015. The film, as of writing, this has less than 50 votes on IMDb. I hope this changes, as this film, when approached with the knowledge of Nikkatsu’s history, is quite a firecracker.

Japanse film poster Retaliation (1968)
Film poster for Retaliation

Retaliation was made quickly, with scripts written as the film was in the middle of shooting. This could lead to some messy narrative confusion, but actually allows the filmmakers freedom to go as far as they want when it comes to camera angles and pure cinematic staging. This film is about a gangster named Jiro Sagae (Akira Kobayashi), who is released from prison and finds himself lent out to another Yakuza clan, who are interested in purchasing land to increase their own grasp of the area. This makes the film’s original title I Own Your Turf! more apt. He meets with Jo Shisido’s character, Hino, who is forced to work with him – an act he cannot really sink his teeth into as Jiro had killed his relatives several years in the past. Shootouts between gang members and double-crosses ensue!

The film’s plot is a bit crude, with perhaps one too many characters. The fact that Jo Shishido’s character is more interesting than Kobayashi’s is an issue, as he has a motive for revenge while Kobayashi’s role is limited to his relationship with Meiko Kaji’s character and his old gangster leader who returns to the story towards the end. What shapes this film into something more interesting is how it’s shot. There is lots of hand-held camera work and the crew is quite playful when trying to illustrate the action. Take the opening scene, where we have a quick duel between Jo and Akira.


Normally, I’d leap at the chance at the point out scenes so obviously constructed to hide what’s going on, but peeking through the bushes and spying between train carts gave me this “you are there” feeling that I feel like shaky-cam developers like Paul Greengrass are trying to pull off in his Bourne series. It works here, I believe, because I can still see follow the action by seeing who’s attacking who and what they are attempting to do, but am given this in a new perspective of the “not having the best seat in the house” type camera. This type of camera trickery isn’t set strictly to the action scenes either and is often deployed in bizarre fashion such as a dinner meeting between gangsters where an argument erupts from a bird’s eye point of view. I’m not going to spoil any other scenes, but let’s say they involve spot light lit battles and one surprisingly brutal bathroom brawl.

If there’s sour parts, it’s the obligatory scenes of nudity and rape that began coming up in the 1970s. These scenes feel tossed in and only suggest that those bad guys we saw earlier are, guess what, bad! I know this is coming from a man who later directed films with titles as explicit as Raping!. What could that one be about. . .

I’m getting far off topic, but I’d suggest that if you like your films with the cool vibe of the John Woo and Johnnie To and just want to be swept into unique and kinetic camerawork and violent action scenes, please seek out Retaliation. For those requiring a new narrative or political importance in your crime sagas, I’m sure there are some Jean-Pierre Melville films you haven’t seen yet.


Sucker Punch Blu-Ray Review

August 19, 2011

Sucker Punch is a film I put off seeing in theaters as the cinema of Zack Snyder…let’s face it, he’s not my bag! In my eyes, Snyder’s Frank Miller adaptation 300 is a lesser film than Robert Rodriguez’s Sin City, Romero’s Dawn of the Dead is obviously stronger better than the remake and Watchmen was always un-filmable. I haven’t read the original comic, but only the character of The Comedian stood out for me as a memorable superhero. With those previous experiences, I’ve put off on watching Sucker Punch until yesterday. Time to play catch-up with the rest of the internet.

After minutes of deep thought, I’ve come to the conclusion that this is Snyder’s worst film yet. Here’s a handy chart.

Zak Snyder Filmography: His films aren't great
I haven’t seen that owl movie he made. Chart Incomplete!

Sucker Punch is an original story that Snyder penned with the idea of a film that contains action scenes that “aren’t limited by the physical realities that normal people are limited by, but still have the story make sense so it’s not, and I don’t mean to be mean, like a bullshit thing like Ultraviolet“. Ouch! Take that Kurt Wimmer! To do so, Snyder had created a film that revolves around a young girl nicknamed(?) Babydoll who is sent to an insane asylum/brothel/magical-emporium where her plans to break-out involve gathering four (or is it five?) everyday items. To get these items, Babydoll performs dances which put her into a fantasy world where she battles various monsters/robots/dragons with her pack of wigs.

Why wigs? That’s pretty much what the characters in this film amount too in separating themselves from each other. There’s already a dozen articles online from various sources about how much of how the females are treated in this film, but let’s face the facts: both men and women in this film are pretty characterless. Whether it’s the villains who are distinguishable because they have accents or are silent drones such as the I, Robot-esque robots from the bomb-on-a-train hijacking scene. The girls in this film are not divided by personality but by their hair-cut. My least favourite of these girls is the main one: Babydoll. The unending close-ups of her face and her overall plasticity make her character robotic and lacking in a personality. Doll-like might have been what they were going for, but it translates all too literally. The story explicitly states she is 20 years-old, but I really get some serious pedo-bait vibes from her. It’s PG-13 though, so nothing overly sexual happens unless corsets and upskirt shots during the action scenes tickle your fancy. If your sadomasochism is your game, these girls don’t even get bruised. I smell a film that was chopped up to get a PG-13 rating. I wonder if the level of gore in films like 300 and Watchmen had anything to do with that?

Babydoll gets a visit from Pedobear
Tough luck bear! She’s 20!

The actors in this film are still thankfully more competent then let’s say…Corey Yuen’s DOA. The action scenes are silly steampunk infused malarkey but I’m still not a fan of how Snyder handles them. His scenes are large and fantastical but when you overlay physical characters (whether it’s Babydoll in Sucker Punch or Leonidas in 300) in these green screen arenas. If I can’t feel that a character is really there, how can I myself as a viewer feel like I’m there with them? Perhaps these scenes work better in a fully-animated works like that owl film which will not be named here. Unless someone wants to send me a copy of that, I’m not going to be watching it anytime soon. For a contrast of how these computer-boosted fights look to real-scene locations, look no further then the credit sequence involving a cover Roxy Music’s “Love is the Drug“. It’s more cinematic than anything in the story…it’s more steamy too if you were looking for that!

If you a fan of the film, both the image and sound quality on the American blu-ray which is what’s expected for a film this new. The “Extended Cut” should not be confused with a “Director’s Cut”. It involves slightly extended action sequences and an added dance scene. No extra story details are hidden within to flesh out the film. The bonus features are a joke. There are four animated blips to expand on the fantasy sequences. Their narrations feel like they should be in the latest Mortal Kombat game while they only raise further questions for me. Do these scenes that are dreamed up by Babydoll need back-stories? Are they even happening? Does anyone care?! Bah! Even more of a joke is the information involving the soundtrack which ends with Zack Snyder announcing that yes! Even he himself drives around in his car listening to the soundtrack involving Bjork’s “Army of Me” as well as the covers of “Sweet Dreams” and “Where is my Mind?”. Since there is a unique choice of covers for the film, it’s a mighty shame there’s no information of why these songs were chosen. In short: it’s an ad for the soundtrack.

Sucker Punch does live up to Snyder’s desire to make something better than Ultraviolet for the fact alone that it does not include a baby in a suitcase like Ultraviolet does. The cast has the ability to act with their limited characters, but I wouldn’t rush to check it out. As far as films go in the cheesy category of Heavy Metal magazine influenced fighting-girl-gangs go, it’s better than Corey Yuen’s DOA but not as strong as let’s say…Johnnie To’s The Heroic Trio. Even if you are a Snyder fan, approach which lowered expectations.


Goodbye Blockbuster! and Bargain Bin Gold

June 21, 2011

As George Harrison says “All Things Must Pass”. This is the Blockbuster that was within walking distance from where I lived during my high school years. All the Blockbusters on the west side of Ottawa have been shut down and are selling off their entire stock. Sounds cool, right? But I remembered the fact that Blockbuster never had that much I wanted in the first place. Regardless, I did get some good items. But even the deals I got at blockbuster don’t match the deals I just dug up in a bargain bin at Zellers.

Read the rest of this entry »


Thunderball Blu-ray Review

April 29, 2011

Hover over this image for immense joy.

Time to take a last minute advantage of a blogalong deal with The Incredible Suit’s attempt at world blog domination. Want more details? Read about it here. (Warning: It’s in British English which I assume is slightly different and therefore inferior to my Canadian English). I sadly missed out on all opportunities to blog about the first three films which are sometimes known amongst fans as “the good ones” but I still want to take a shot at reviewing a Bond flick. So I’m stuck watching the two-hour-plus of Thunderball.

On paper, Thunderball should’ve been a lot better. It was directed Terence Young who directed Dr. No and From Russia with Love. Young’s not really a name spoken to often outside the Bond fan base, but he also made the great 1960s thriller Wait Until Dark and a film I haven’t seen called Soleil rouge that has the strange cast of Alain Delon, Ursula Andress, Toshirô Mifune, and Charles Bronson. It looks pretty bad, but that’s what I expect from a film where samurai’s fight euro-cowboys.

Outside having a good Bond director, we have other goodies to boast the appeal of the film. Thunderball had the highest budget of any Bond film to this point and was the first one shot at 2.35:1. This film is mint looking on blu and you can really appreciate the details of these sets since the image is an obvious step up from any other format this film’s been released on. I could watch the introductory scene of the attractive anonymous ladies swooshing around to the sound of Mr. Tom Jones on repeat for a good while. If you don’t care for Tom Jones, consider yourself lucky you didn’t get that other Bond theme made for Thunderball. Country singer Johnny Cash did his own Thunderball theme which was released on a few compilation albums and not used for the film. Works for me as the song would be more appropriate for some sort of underwater-western.

Johnny Cash sings Thunderball. Bizarre.

The Blu-ray is an easy recommendation if you love yourself some Thunderball. The Blu-ray contains all the bonus features from the 2006 Ultimate Edition disc and still has the confusingly titled menus called “minisitry of propaganda” and “007 mission control” so good luck finding what you are looking for. Cause, y’know, that three-second TV advert for the film on the disc will change your life I’m sure.

As for the film itself, it does feel like a drop in quality compared to Bond’s previous missions. The James Bond films at this point were still popular (Thunderball was the highest grossing Bond film and praised by critics in both the UK and US on it’s initial release), but I feel that a few decades later that the film is only good for a few selected moments and gets tiresome in the middle section. The good bits in the film for me are the action scenes and some of the underused cheesy spy gadgets.

Despite how they are edited and sped-up, I like the action scenes such as the first prop-oriented fight scene involving Bond dropping entire shelves on a knife-wielding cross-dressing villain. I even love the back-stretcher scene which never fails to bring a smile to my face in it’s utter goofiness. I don’t know why they would create a device like this that can be set at lethal speeds, but I don’t really question much that happens in the Bond universe. If Bond wants to escape five feet away in a Jet Pack than that’s fine by me, too bad the rest of the movie is set underwater. Some of the gadgets that Bond gets from Q are boring as they aren’t flashy are there to just fill potential plot-holes. No one cares that Bond is popping pills so he can be tracked later on or that he has a camera that can take pictures of the Disco Volante underwater. BORING.

Summary of Gadgets in Thunderball
Fig 1: How to spot gadget quality in Thunderball

For the plot, the film begins to feel like a chore around the time the Avro Vulcan is hijacked and sinks in the water. It leads to a series of pretty tedious and episodic events that don’t advance the plot a great deal. It’s great that we get to see Domino in her black-and-white bikini and it’s fun to see Bond tossed in a pool full of live sharks, but do we have to sit through the rest of the plodding story to get to these parts? The rest of the underwater scenes go on for an eternity. Were they ever interesting? Even technically? You can get all these Connery-based spy scenes done better and just as many attractive Bond girls without these water scenes in the earlier films and without all the filler.

I’m not the first person to trash the underwater scenes, but I am someone who is actually fond of the final scene involving various spear-men attacking each other underwater. This scene is a surprisingly violent, involving lots of kills within the seven minutes. Being underwater also stops the amount of puns that Bond must be aching to deliver as he’s killing the SPECTRE agents off one by one. I like this scene, but I understand that it’s not everyone’s cup of tea as it’s a bit chaotic. Terence Young didn’t like this scene either. He didn’t even like the whole film.

James Bond Terrence Young

Not a great sign when the creator himself is trashing the film. If you didn’t like the earlier Bond films, than Thunderball will not change your mind. If you are someone who is willing to get up and do laundry or something in the middle part than you won’t miss too much and can find Thunderball to be a moderately enjoyable piece of sixties spy cinema. You can do much worse in the Bond series. How much worse? Check back in a few months when I get around to reviewing Never Say Never Again.

Sources: 1 | 2


DVD Hunting in Ottawa’s Chinatown

April 11, 2011

Inspired by this post at the A Hero Never Dies blog, I thought I’d show off what Ottawa’s Chinatown has to offer in terms of Asian DVD selling locations. There are some good places that offer DVDs for those who have decided to not opt into the world of ordering their films online.

Chinatown’s gate was only put in last year, but it’s pretty impressive.
Makes Little Italy‘s look like a joke.

The first place I’d discuss is what I believe is the New Capital Book Store (there’s so many signs here, I don’t know what is called what). Their film section is pretty minimal and I can’t say I’ve actually bought any films there, but they do have decent prices on imports. They also have some film posters there but they are mostly of Asian pop idols. Don’t expect a poster of The 36th Chamber of Shaolin to be waiting for you. I did find that I could’ve got Gallants there instead of ordering it online for a more extravagant price. Ah well, Live and learn.

The store is a bit hidden. The location of it on Google Maps doesn’t exactly show it off to well.

The only picture of the place I have! They are pretty anti-photography there. I suspect secret operations.

The only other place I’d hunt is the curiously titled “Ottopik”. If you could only go to one place in Chinatown for DVDs, I’d recommend this one for some physical film hunting. It’s in walking distance from the other place and you can see it here on Google Maps.

Tons of DVDs (and some blu-rays!) from Hong Kong, Japan and Korea!

They have a fairly decent selection even if some of the stock there is quite old. Some films have been there forever, as I’m pretty sure no one is rushing out to buy a copy of All’s Well that End’s Well ’97. What’s not shown in the photo above is that they even have some VCDs that they are trying to get rid of. They sell them at 4 for $20. Not exactly cheap, but the store is a bit pricey. There’s some unusual choice of films in stock. Next to some erotic themed films there was a copy of Inspector Gadget (?!). Other oddities include imports of some films that do not need to be imported (does anyone need a Hong Kong import of Rush Hour? Didn’t think so!). Other films I have no familiarity with at all. For example:

Happy Naked Christmas DVD
I’m not going to make fun of this as Happy Naked Christmas is potentially a masterpiece.

Ottopik has some blu-rays as well that they will gladly try to sell to you. The last few times I’ve wondered in there, the woman at the counter was quite chatty and has tried to sell me anything I looked at! From Karaoke machines to the blu-ray of Detective D and the Phantom Flame to Korean television series. It’s more amusing than annoying so I’m not bothered by it. She also made sure to mention that if I can’t find what I was looking for, she could order it for me. I’d rather order things myself and avoid the middleman in this case as their orders are just pulling things from Yesasia. Regardless of prices, it’s still fun to browse and see what’s in stock. If you are young or without your own credit card, it’s not a bad alternative to ordering online. It worked for me when I wanted my own copy of Bullet in the Head.

Speaking of Asian films, I remind all Ottawa residents that they should definitely attend the double feature of John Woo’s excellent action flicks Hard Boiled and A Better Tomorrow at the Mayfair Theater in Ottawa on April 12. The current DVD and Blu-Ray of Hard Boiled has dubtitles and I think A Better Tomorrow is only available through import. It’s definitely worth your $6. So cancel your plans and get your butt to the Mayfair! See you there!