Sunday, 8 February 2015


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 V we discover that Hollywood remakes can keep their eastern flavour, Stephen Chow needs to work harder, Takashi Miike is an old romantic at heart and Hideo Nakata keeps making the same movie over and over...

House of Flying Daggers ****

Crouching Tiger, Hero, The Warrior; three films with one girl in common. It's a shame that's she's recently announced her retirement from action cinema (didn't Jet Li say something like that too?) because Ziyi Zhang obviously isn't afraid about cutting loose every once in a while. 

Flying Daggers is a worthy follow up to Hero. Not a sequel as such, but you do get the same director, same female lead, more blistering martial arts action and the same glorious attention to imagery. For a time at least, thanks in large to this and Hero, martial arts movies were known more for their beauty than their thumping action sequences. Flying Daggers, however, is a far more intimate piece of film making. A love story of sorts with an edge made from the finest steel. Hero was exceptional, Flying Daggers proves that the film was no fluke.

The Grudge ****

The original movie was a ninety-minute roller coaster ride of nerve shredding tension about a calcium deficient dead girl and a small boy who seemed to have swallowed a cat. For all its relentless terror - incredibly classy scares it has to be said - the completed picture lacked soul, in the sense of human souls you could genuinely care about.

The Hollywood remake - same director, same location and pretty much the same cast -attempts to restore the balance with a little more focus on character development. The American cast are all-fine and some of the set pieces are improved greatly by a bigger budget and a second opportunity for Shimuzu to perfect his art. If you are over familiar with Asian horror you may come away from this cold, or of course, if you absolutely detest remakes. I for one still loved it. It's by no means perfect but it's probably as close as American remakes are ever likely to get. And Buffy is in it. Not even Mr Pointy could have helped her on this one...

Casshern ****

For sheer scope and scale, Casshern deserves to find a massive cult following and a place in your film collection. Based on a popular Manga TV series, this sci-fi spectacular is a feast for the eyes, so much so, it might even make your eyes bleed. In a good way of course. Casshern is a movie experience like no other. On a visual level at least. However, just like the source material upon which it is based, Casshern can be a little overwhelming at times and there are times when congestion rears its ugly head. 

So much is crammed in to the two and a half hour running time that character development and intriguing storylines are dropped in a heartbeat, leaving the senses wandering and emotions cold. Still, even if the film does lose you two thirds in, there is enough to keeping you coming back time and time again. But I'm not going to tell you it makes perfect sense on repeat viewing either. Maybe my brain's just not cut out for this level of visual splendour. And hey, I didn't even mention the giant robots. Too damn cool.

Shaolin Soccer *****

The beautiful game. Kung fu. Slapstick. CGI. What's not to like? Steven Chow is one of the biggest stars of Asian cinema, I just wish he would work a little faster, that's all. In the vaults at Miramax for so long it was never certain whether this Asian blockbuster would ever see the light of day, but here we are and boy was it worth the wait. 

The effects are superb, the action is first rate (as long as you're not expecting realistic ball control, these guys are kung-fu experts) and Stephen Chow's brand of comedy works wonders in this gem of a movie. Fast, daft, laugh-out-loud funny and hugely inventive, if only Sunday league football was as entertaining as this, I might rise from my pit every once in a while. And hey, I didn't even mention Vicky Zhao. Too damn cute...

MPD Psycho Part 1 ***

Fans of Takashi Miike will know that the maverick director is one of the most prolific filmmakers in the world today. He knocks out two movies a year and when he gets it right, boy does he get it right. Ichi the Killer, Happiness of the Katukuris and Audition are just some of the best examples. Other films in his back-catalogue just plain knock you off your feet. Dead or Alive and Gozu are just two examples of the, "Huh, did that really just happen!?!" variety. Both feature moments of Miike madness that have to be seen to be believed. Don't get me started on the kung-fu cocks in The City Of Lost Souls. 

Which brings us to the intriguing and incredibly baffling MPD Psycho. A horror TV series made in Japan, which (wait for it) is a cross between Frost (English detective drama), Fallen and well, any other messed up Takashi Miike movie you have ever had the chance to watch. Bar code retina's, body swapping, baby theft and brain gardens (yes you read that right) are but a selection of the twisted delights that await you in the first two episodes. Both directed with considerable flair, I just hope that the remaining episodes shed some light on the incredibly dark proceedings. (Note: They didn't. Not really)

Azumi ***

A little more restrained than Versus, director Ryhuhei Kitamura follows up his spectacular action-fest with a striking adaptation of the popular comic book, Azumi. Whereas Versus was a relentless juggernaut of action and pitch-black humour, Azumi binds exhilarating set-pieces with a human tale about would-be assassins and their rise to notoriety. 

Azumi is, after all, a highly trained killer played with sweet naivety and considerable menace by Aya Ueto. Despite limited swordplay skills, Kitamura is talented enough to cover the cracks with a vast array of stylish editing and directorial flourishes. Less manic than its predecessor, only in the final act does Kitamura leave you with an abundant sense of wonder. Not as strong as Versus then, but Azumi is an entertaining waste of an evening.

Avenging Fist ****

From the director of The Stormriders and A Man Called Hero, two personal favourites of mine, comes this electrifying action packed fantasy that comes on like an out-of-control live-action video game. Martial arts purists will no doubt bemoan the fast editing and manic choreography, especially as the film reunites and wastes the presence of two of Hong Kong's biggest action stars. Yuen Biao and Sammo Hung barely get a look in hidden behind some distracting (and inventive) computer generated effects. 

However, if it was Andrew Lau's plan to create a live-action Tekken adaptation then he hits the mark with considerable style. The plot is a confused mess but the imagery is breathtaking at times and though the action probably wont be to everyone's taste, it does present a movie going experience that is both vibrant and satisfying. Not a perfect movie then but the cast is as beautiful as the production and the film is all the more entertaining for it.

Audition *****

Takashi Miike is one of Japan's most accomplished directors, Audition is one of his most accomplished films. Building up a sense of dread for the first hour of the movie, Audition tells the tale of a lonely businessman hoping to restore his faith in life after the death of his wife seven years earlier. Setting up a casting session for a new film he has no intention of making, Shigeharu believes that his prayers have been answered the day he meets a mysterious yet incessantly charming young girl by the name of Asami Yamasaki. 

So far so romantic drama. Hang on a minute, didn't we say this was a Takashi Miike movie? Cool. If the first hour of Audition was designed to suck you in, prepare to be blown away by a nerve-shredding, wince-inducing, soul destroying final act, which makes for an uncomfortable evening of excellent entertainment. Dog lovers should stay away too. Audition is without a doubt extreme cinema at its very best.

The Stormriders *****

The Stormriders made almost three times as much money as Crouching Tiger at the Hong Kong box office. It's very important to me too. Hollywood movies had long lost their spark of originality and I needed something fresh to reignite my passion for film. The advent of DVD had made it easier for me to look elsewhere and in truth, I haven't looked back. 

Style, colour, blistering choreography and overblown theatrics; it's what Hong Kong cinema is all about. The Stormriders will always be a personal favourite of mine, just don't get me started on the ill-conceived follow-up. One of the greatest disappointments ever committed to film. Thankfully, I'll always have The Stormriders; escapism at its finest. And hey, I didn't even mention Shu Qi. Too damn beautiful...

Dark Water ****

Dark Water is a perfect companion piece to Hideo Nakata's worldwide hit, Ringu. Similar in both tone and style, Dark Water tells the spooky tale of a young mother fighting for the custody of her child. Little does she know that their haunting new home brings with it a dark past and sinister consequences. 

Some might argue that Dark Water's biggest weaknesses are it's similarities to Ringu, they certainly have a lot in common. A mother and child dynamic, the creepy isolated setting and a sinister sense of dread that builds up to a heart-stopping conclusion. It's amazing how much tension a talented director can wring out of a drop of water. And another. And another. Even though the outcome is never really in doubt (it's more about execution than storytelling), the way that we get there is what counts and Dark Water crashes down with unquestionable flair.

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