We continue our A-Z experience with the letters I through to Q. What follows depicts Adam Wing's passion; an A-Z of Asian influence that best illustrates his love of Eastern Cinema. Some letters proved easy, some provided him with way too many options. If you're new to Asian cinema it might just act as a guide. If you're something of a connoisseur it may well remind you of how your love affair began. Enjoy.
I is for ICHI THE KILLER (2001)
Back in 2001 Hollywood had all but recovered from the curse of the 80’s bogeyman, with the likes of Freddy and Jason better suited to comedy circuits than mainstream horror. The post-modern horror movement had run its course and the curse of the remake was about to strike. Strangely enough, the phrase ‘torture porn’ was nowhere near as prevalent as it is today. These days, barely a week goes by without the arrival of the latest ‘revenge thriller’, but in 2001 it was prolific director Takashi Miike who turned the world of extreme cinema on its head.
After spending five years watching Neve Campbell getting chased by a group of incompetent pre-school killers, to say I was unprepared for the ultra-violence of Ichi is putting it mildly. Based on Hideo Yamamoto’s manga series of the same name, Takashi Miike’s delirious feast of bloodthirsty violence brings together the world’s biggest sadist and the world’s meanest masochist – which means hugs and puppies are definitely off the menu. As it turns out, for the midnight screening at the Toronto International Film festival, sick bags were handed out as a publicity gimmick. Takashi Miike has made some great films since, but Ichi The Killer remains one of his most memorable works. Blessed with wonderful performances, a twisted sense of humour and gruesome comic book imagery, my life was changed forever the day I met Ichi.
Also See: Infernal Affairs, Ip Man, I Saw The Devil.
J is for JEE-WOON KIM
My love of Asian horror led me to the doorstep of Jee-woon Kim. A Tale of Two Sisters (2003) is one of my favourite horror movies of all time, blessed with stunning performances, stylish direction and a killer ending. Kim started out directing theatre, but it was his sublime debut - the dark comedy The Quiet Family (1998) - that made him famous. If the plot sounds familiar to you (a family hunting lodge whose customers always wind up dead), it’s probably because you’ve seen Takashi Miike’s loose remake The Happiness of the Katakuris (2001), a zombie musical like no other.
More success came with Kim’s segment in Three (2002), a horror anthology co-directed by Peter Chan and Nonzee Nimibutr. The success of the film led to an even more agreeable sequel, Three Extremes (2004), featuring the works of Takashi Miike and Fruit Chan. 2005 saw Kim team up with Byung-hun Lee for the breathtaking revenge fantasy A Bittersweet Life. From dark comedy to revenge thrillers, Jee-woon Kim has never been one to hold back, as he once again proved with quirky action comedy The Good, The Bad, The Weird (2008).
Byung-hun Lee was back on the saddle, joined this time by screen favourite Kang-ho Song (The Host). Two years later Kim completed work on I Saw The Devil, an action packed thriller, both brilliant and disturbing in equal measures. He makes his Hollywood debut next year with The Last Stand, notable also for being the big screen comeback of action legend Arnold Schwarzenegger. A strange combination on paper perhaps, but when has that ever-stopped Jee-woon Kim?
Also See: Ju-on. Ju-on: The Grudge 2.
K is for KITANO TAKESHI
Takeshi Kitano is a comedian, singer, actor, film editor, presenter, screenwriter, author, painter and poet – he also makes movies. 80’s TV show Oretachi Hyokin-zoku is one of his biggest success stories back home, but Western audiences will most likely recognise him from wacky game show Takeshi’s Castle. I first saw him as an actor in Battle Royale (2000), as the twitchy (he required major surgery after a motorcycle accident in 1994) teacher of class 3B, but it was the 1995 Takashi Ishii movie Gonin that truly won me over.
The yakuza played a big part in his early career, with Violent Cop (1989), Boiling Point (1990) and Sonatine (1993) paving the way for future success. Much of his work is characterised by contemplative pacing, random bursts of violence and black comedy. International success came in 1997 with HANA-BI (Fireworks), a beautifully crafted drama that also features his work as an artist. In 2000 Kitano moved production to Los Angeles where he made the criminally underrated Brother, a bruising gangster thriller co-starring Omar Epps. Kitano’s biggest success however came in 2003, with his flawless portrayal of blind swordsman Zatoichi.
To say he went off the rails after that would be an understatement, films like Takeshis’ (2005), Glory to the Filmmaker! (2007), and Achilles and the Tortoise (2008) proved a little too personal for audiences the world over. Thankfully he returned to form (and gangster territory) in 2010 with the release of Outrage. An unmistakable talent, Kitano remains a major force in Japanese filmmaking, and fans will be pleased to learn that Outrage 2 is due next year.
Also See: Kick The Moon, Kang Je-gyu, Kamikaze Girls, The Killer, Kung Fu Hustle.
L is for LEE BRUCE
I’m not sure there’s anything I can tell you about Bruce Lee that hasn’t been said before. It wasn’t until his films were released in their original format that I took the time to track them down – the rest as they say is history. There’s something inherently sad about watching his films today, because every breathtaking moment is a painful reminder of the legend we lost. His acting career started early in life, with his dads influence as a famous Cantonese Opera star leading to roles in several black and white movies. He had already appeared in 20 films by the age of 18, but it’s his work with Golden Harvest that he’ll best be remembered for.
The Big Boss was released in 1971, with Fist of Fury arriving a year later. Way of the Dragon (1972) saw Lee team up with the mighty Chuck Norris, where he took on the role of writer, director, star and action choreographer. Game of Death is infamous for being Lee’s final movie, but he actually started work on it before making Enter the Dragon (1973). Enter the Dragon was the first collaboration between Golden Harvest and Warner Bros, but Lee died six days before the films official release. Fist of Fury will always be my personal favourite though, even if Enter the Dragon is a film I can watch time and time again. I sometimes wonder where his career would’ve taken him had he not died, but in four short years Lee had achieved more than many actors will achieve in a lifetime. He had written his name in movie legend, and his influence will forever stand the test of time.
Also See: Andy Lau, Dante Lam, Love Exposure, Andrew Lau, Angelica Lee, Tony Leung, Love on a Diet.
M is for MIIKE TAKASHI
Quentin Tarantino is one of his biggest fans and he knocks out almost three films a year, not only is Takashi Miike one of the most talented filmmakers in the world today, he’s also one of the bravest. He has slowed down a little in recent years, so I probably have enough time to cover my own favourite Takashi Miike moments.
Audition (1999) – slow, thoughtful, intoxicating, brutal, exquisite, scary as hell.
Ichi the Killer (2001) – shocking, funny, vibrant, twisted, ruthless.
The Happiness of the Katakuris (2001) – laugh out loud hilarious, catchy, quaint, bonkers, brave, sublime.
Gozu (2003) – messed up.
Gozu (2003) – messed up.
Zebraman (2004) – bizarre, crazy, sweet, hysterical, funky, daft, delirious.
Three Extremes “Box” (2004) – creepy, twisted, clever, extreme, unforgettable.
The Great Yokai War (2005) – crack-brained, mad, crazy, zany, weird and wonderful.
Masters of Horror “Imprint” (2006) – see “Box” with added brutality.
Sukiyaki Western Django (2007) – cool, hip, street smart, action packed, crazy beautiful.
Crows Zero (2007) – fast-paced, action-packed, homoerotic, comically cool.
Yatterman (2009) – see “The Great Yokai War” with added shine.
13 Assassins (2010) – arguably Takashi Miike’s greatest achievement.
13 Assassins (2010) – arguably Takashi Miike’s greatest achievement.
I’ve yet to see the follow-ups to Crows Zero and Zebraman, but I’m sure I’ll get around to it in the near future. You’ll be pleased to know that Miike’s work rate isn’t slowing down any time soon, with movies Ace Attorney, The Legend of Love & Sincerity, and Ninja Kids!! on the way later this year. Just for the record, he once cited Starship Troopers as his favourite movie - the man clearly has great taste.
See Also: Machine Girl, Memories of Murder, Milkyway Productions, The Man from Nowhere, Magnificent Warriors, A Man Called Hero, Karen Mok, Metade Fumaca.
N is for NAKASHIMA TETSUYA
My quest to discover fresh Japanese cinema led me away from extreme brutality and into the arms of Tetsuya Nakashima. Some of his offerings have recently landed on U.K. DVD and more are sure to follow, including I hope the wonderfully offbeat Paco and the Magical Picture Book (2008). The three films below come highly recommended though, and I can’t wait to see what Nakashima has up his sleeve next.
Kamikaze Girls (2004) is a colourful film based on the hit Japanese novel Shimotsuma Story by Novala Takemoto, starring Kyoko Fukada as the irresistibly quirky Momoko. Kamikaze Girls, with all its surreal charm and outlandish flavours, was made for high definition TV screens. Colourful, refreshing and fun, it’s the dictionary definition of dreamy, whimsical, bubblegum pop - light on substance but heavy on flavour. Memories of Matsuko (2006) is a heart warming, humorous and touching celebration of life, and a great example of why HD has become the new L&A. It’s a treat for the eyes and mind, a visual feast that engages on so many levels.
Last but certainly not least, Tetsuya Nakashima’s finest hour (make that two), Confessions (2010). Based on the award-winning novel by Minato Kanae, Confessions (a.k.a. Kokuhaku) is a beautiful, tragic and deeply affecting drama about a teacher's terrifying plan to avenge her daughter's murder. It also provides us with the most breathtaking ending of the year, of quite possibly the last ten years, a sublime tribute to the filmmaking prowess of Tetsuya Nakashima. If you haven’t seen any of these films yet, now is most definitely the time.
Also See: Needing You, Nightmare Detective, Nowhere To Hide.
O is for ONG BAK (2003)
Forget the bloated sequels that bare no relation to the original hit, ignore the troubled times that followed for leading man Tony Jaa, focus instead on one of the greatest action movies of the last ten years. Ong Bak signalled the end of wire-fu (for a time at least), with Tony Jaa doing all his own stunts and keeping it real. Ignore the gaping plot holes, the cartoon villains and the hokey set up, focus instead on the jaw dropping action sequences - so good you’ll want to see them twice. Tony Jaa’s mesmerising performance is played back from a multitude of angles, and the relentless athleticism on show never gets dull.
Ong Bak is a shameless showcase for Tony’s talents (real name Panom Yeerum), which plays hard and fast like a video game beat-em-up. Coming on like a real life Spiderman, he somersaults over random obstacles, jumps up and off the side of walls, and leaps over tall buildings in a single bound. Ok, so I’m getting a little carried away here, but for a time at least Jaa looked superhuman. Putting the stunt work to one side for a moment, few would deny that his technical prowess is second to none; Jaa is highly skilled in Muay Thai, Tae Kwon Do, swordplay and gymnastics.
If that’s not enough to float your boat, how about an electrifying chase sequence on a three-wheeled tuk-tuk? It’s an action sequence that demands your full attention. Ong Bak mesmerises from start to finish and Jaa’s follow up, Warrior King (2005), is none too shabby either. Together they opened the door to Thai action cinema, and without them we might have missed out on remarkable talent like Jeeja Yanin. She’ll be starring alongside Jaa in the sequel to Warrior King, his highly anticipated comeback – lets just hope there aren’t any caves nearby.
Also See: Old Boy.
P is for PANG BROTHERS
Few filmmakers thrill and frustrate the way The Pang Brothers do. Early collaborations – Bangkok Dangerous (1999) and The Eye (2002) in particular – were smash hits the world over. Bangkok Dangerous is a visually stunning (you’ll hear that phrase a lot when it comes to the Pang Brothers) hitman thriller with a beautiful twist. The Eye (their first collaboration with Oxide’s wife, Angelica Lee) is probably their best-known work, a haunting masterpiece with a spectacular hook. Both films were remade in Hollywood (The Pang’s helmed Bangkok Dangerous themselves in 2008) but something was lost in translation. They made three sequels to The Eye as well, none of which lived up to the original films success.
Their solo outings have been something of a mixed bag too, with Oxide fairing slightly better than Danny. Abnormal Beauty (2004), Diary (2006) and The Detective (2007) are certainly worth a look, but recent offerings has been more miss than hit. Storm Warriors (2009) – a sequel to smash hit movie The Storm Riders (1988) – was a huge disappointment, and over the last few years we have had to endure Hollywood misfire The Messengers (2007), as well as 3D infused (should that read infuriating?) features The Childs Eye (2010) and Sleepwalker (2011). Re-cycle was released in 2006, sandwiched between The Eye 2 and their Hollywood debut; it’s also arguably their greatest achievement. The fantasy genre has been missing something of late, and with Re-cycle, horror has never looked more beautiful. Hit or miss, succeed or fail, The Pang Brothers will always have my full attention. Time for a comeback me thinks…
Also See: Prachya Pinkaew, Perfect Blue, Police Story, Project A.
Q if for QI SHU
Shu Qi was my first true love of Asian cinema; she’s the type of actress that can change a movie just by smiling. It’s often said that her manic acting style outshines her stunning beauty, but whatever your opinion, she actually got her big break by taking off her clothes in several lowbrow Category 3 movies (soft porn to you and me). She may have missed out on a leading role in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000), but that hasn’t prevented her from starring in over 50 movies since the start of 1996.
Love is not a Game, But a Joke (1997) is one of my favourite Asian comedies, and since then she has made a successful career out of crossing genres. The Storm Riders (1998) was a massive fantasy hit and saw my favourite waste of time flexing her action muscles. In the same year she grabbed hold of a gun alongside action hero Man Cheuk Chiu in high-octane thriller, The Black Sheep Affair (1998). A Man Called Hero (1999) showed off her darker side, followed by a vulnerable turn in ghostly horror hit, Visible Secret (2001). So Close (2002) did big business around the world, but then again, how can a dumb-ass action movie that teams Shu Qi with Karen Mok and Vicki Zhao possibly fail?
The Transporter (2002) was her first Hollywood venture alongside our very own Jason Statham, but back in 1999 she starred alongside the worlds biggest action hero (Jackie Chan) in the quirky martial arts romance, Gorgeous. The Eye 2 (2004) and Home Sweet Home (2005) saw her return to horror with mixed success, with My Wife Is a Gangster 3 (2006) and Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen (2010) marking a return to full-on action mode, the latter alongside Donnie Yen. I should also mention her two starring roles with Andy Lau, in the underrated crime thriller Blood Brothers (2007), and the charming romantic comedy Look for a Star (2009). Don’t get me started on Beijing Rocks (2001), Millennium Mambo (2001) and If You Are the One (2008), that just makes me sound like a stalker.
Also see: Maggie Q.
Keep checking back for part three!