Time, once again, to look back at some of the films that have helped shape my love of Asian cinema. In tiny, easy to digest, nugget-like form. In Part III we learn that revenge is a dish best served cold, Takashi Miike is nuts, Shu Qi shouldn't be given a gun, and The Black Sheep Affair isn't a Welsh rom-com after all...
If this latest bout of extreme cinema teaches us one thing, it's just how beautiful murder, revenge and vengeance can be in the hands of a talented director. Freezer looks fantastic, some of the imagery is breathtaking (not just our leading lady) and the performances are spot on.
If you can ignore the dubious sexual politics and the occasional logic defying twist, Freezer is an entertaining blend of gruesome imagery, gratuitous nudity and startling set pieces. A few words of warning though, take stock if your girlfriend asks you over for ice cream. Revenge is rarely as pretty as this.
Happiness Of The Katakuris *****
A dazzling mix of black comedy, zombie sing-along's, karaoke, claymation set pieces and performances to die for, topped off with Takashi Miike's unrelenting passion for creativity. If Hollywood cinema has become a wasteland of tried and tested formula, remake after remake and excessive CGI, maybe it's time you looked a little further east. Happiness of the Katakuris is like nothing you've seen before.
It's the sublime performances that linger longest. The unluckiest family in the world, battling to save its lively-hood from the veil of death that surrounds its happy home. Directed with style to spare, Happiness of the Katakuris is a bullet to the head to all things mainstream. You'll never look at cinema in the same way again.
The Ring Virus ***
Here's a success story for you. Seven versions of one film in almost as many years. The original Japanese version, a sequel called The Spiral (which Japanese moviegoers detested), a sequel directed by the original helmer, a prequel entitled Ring 0 and an American remake that spawned a sequel, once again directed by the original director, Hideo Nakata. Confused? Ringu was superb. The Spiral was rubbish. Ringu 2 got lost in science, Ring 0 was drenched in Carrie-like goodness, and the overrated American version screwed up the film's most iconic scene.
Now comes the seventh version. Directed shortly after the original but not released until now. It's also Korean, which means it keeps its original flavour. So much so that it plays almost exactly the same, minus a few scares. Story telling wise it actually works a whole lot better and is written in a more appealing fashion. Sadly, the director lacks the kind of talent that made Hideo's version so incredibly haunting. Perhaps over familiarity prevents this movie from being the classic it almost is, but too close for comfort springs too close to mind. Still, at least there are no horses.
Save The Green Planet ****
Save The Green Planet is on another planet to say the least. The first act is comically quirky, building slowly but lacking obvious focus. We should have had more faith. The second act is where this splendid little movie steps up a gear. Dark, edgy and twisted, Save The Green Planet takes a surprisingly moving turn, packing an emotional punch the opening act doesn't even hint at.
Somewhere over the rainbow doesn't even come close to describing the final act. Crazy, bizarre and surreal, Save The Green Planet is smart enough to make all the right moves at all the right times, raising this Korean mindbender above the realms of original entertainment. Indisputably insane it might be, but a pot of cinematic gold none the less.
Run 2 U **
A film that goes nowhere and has nothing new to say, Run 2 U is saved by random acts of violence that might just jolt you from your slumber. Blending two love stories and a sprinkling of gangsters, this latest eastern effort is certainly well made - complete with strong performances - but fails to ignite the senses in a positive way. Kitano Takeshi won't be losing any sleep tonight, that's for sure.
The Duel ***
As a follow up to both The Stormriders and A Man called Hero, on first viewing The Duel is definitely a disappointment. Especially seeing as they have the undeniable talents of Andy Lau this time around. Similar in style to its predecessors, The Duel takes a dive into farce with a tale that follows two martial artists on a journey towards the ultimate face-off.
The action sequences never quite live up to those of its siblings and even the presence of Kristy Yeung can't take the focus away from the juvenile humour. Not that the film isn't funny. It certainly has charm, which becomes more apparent on repeat viewing, and though the climax isn't quite as breathtaking as it should be, The Duel is an entertaining mix of romance, childish humour and action, which completes a jarring - yet intriguing - trilogy of sorts.
A Chinese Odyssey ***
Both Tony Leung and Vicky Zhao are excellent in this quirky offering that mixes Crouching Tiger, Kung Fu Hustle and In The Mood For Love. Tony Leung enters comedic territory here as the hero of the piece, far removed from his sturdy portrayal of an undercover officer in the Infernal Affairs movies. Vicky Zhao is her ever-reliable self, incessantly charming as she was in both So Close and Shaolin Soccer.
It's not a perfect movie by any stretch of the imagination. Some of the jokes miss the mark completely, a lot of the humour is aimed squarely at fans of eastern cinema, and a plot that concerns mistaken identities is trite to say the least. The two leads are always engaging though, guiding us through 90 minutes of harmless entertainment. Not everyone’s cup of tea then, but a fun-packed, lightweight slice of eastern cinema all the same.
A Chinese Ghost Story *****
A great example of what Hong Kong cinema is all about. Martial arts. Romance. Action. Adventure. Horror. A little more romance thrown in for good measure. It's hard to imagine a movie that makes that work, but Chinese Ghost Story is the perfect example. One of the most successful films in Hong Kong cinema history and it's easy to see why.
Sure, it's overblown and criminally daft, but the Evil Dead style effects and stunning cinematography raise this supernatural thriller above the realms of mainstream cinema. Forming the first part of a trilogy, Chinese Ghost Story is a film that deserves your full attention, a movie that wears its heart and influences on its sleeve. Hong Kong cinema fans aren't Hong Kong cinema fans without this movie in their collection. It's that simple.
Into The Mirror **
Into The Mirror. An Asian horror movie. An Asian horror movie about a ghost. An Asian horror movie about a female spirit out for revenge. An Asian horror movie... you get the point. Into The Mirror is over familiar to say the least, and it really isn't creepy enough. There are some nice moments to savour though. Having a male lead is refreshing in the world of modern horror, the imagery is quite striking and the concept is cool. Up to a point.
Into The Mirror lacks any kind of thrills, call it over familiarity if you will. The characters are weak, and more importantly, where are all the women? That's what I really want to see in a horror movie, whether it be Psycho or Scream, Hideo Nakata finds it easier to film with female leads and who am I to argue? Not a great movie then, even if the ending is almost worth the purchase alone. If only the rest of the movie had been so memorable, we may have been in for a treat, but a handful of WTF moments don't atone for the conformity. The Hollywood version however was far worse. Silver lining and all that.
The Blacksheep Affair ***
Black Sheep Affair may sound like a Welsh rom-com but for pure popcorn pleasure it hits the spot over and over again. Some of the action is superb and if nothing else, the set pieces will keep you entertained as Chiu Man Chuk and Andrew Lin kick, punch and slice their way through ninety minutes of overblown entertainment.
Sadly, the movie does falter whenever they take a break from kicking each other around the room. The production values aren't exactly high, some of the western dubbing is atrocious and the plotting is simple to say the least. But then, did I mention the action yet? The best thing about The Blacksheep Affair however, is the presence of my favourite waste of time. Shu Qi; beautiful, charming and completely reckless with an automatic weapon. Great stuff. AW