All's Well, Ends Well Too
A frantic Lunar Year comedy that helped to kick off an endless stream of follow-ups. It's no surprise that Ko was going for a martial arts setting in this sequel, as '93 was one of the biggest years for the genre in Hong Kong. The result is a funny and entertaining comedy, but some familiarity with Hong Kong humor will definitely come in handy.
The concept is pretty much set. A bunch of ladies and gentlemen are looking for partners, there's a lot of complaining, fighting and wrong pairings, but in the end the film remains true to its title. This is not something you watch for the great plot, instead Ko puts all his money on the comedy.
The cast is perfect, with comedy veterans like Sandra Kwan, Man-Tat Ng and Raymond Wong doing their usual thing, and actors like Leslie Cheung, Rosamund Kwan and Teresa Mo lending some extra star quality to the film. The result is a zany, corny and hilarious mix of comedy and action that is over before you know it.
A delightfully dry and elegantly absurd little comedy. There's nothing grand or particularly ambitious about Yamashito's film, but that's hardly a problem when you're happy to settle for an enjoyable 90 minutes. The biggest hurdle for Ramblers is that the comedy won't be to everyone's taste.
If you're a little unsure about what to expect, think of a slightly less animated Kitano comedy, without the crime elements. Just two guys who end up in a dull little village and wander around, hoping to catch a break. Of course, they never do, but they get into some pretty odd situations that are good for a couple of healthy chuckles.
Visually it's not Yamashita's best, but at least the camera is nice, and he makes good use of the setting. The actors are pretty hilarious without being explicitly funny and the film is so short that the slow and deliberate pacing doesn't get in the way of the fun. It's a very nice showcase of Yamashita's knack for dry comedy.
I'm quite certain I would've liked this film better if I'd watched it 20 years ago, back when it was originally released. Not because I've grown tired of the genre, but simply because I've seen this kind of drama been done better in the meantime. Face isn't a bad film, it just feels a little murky by modern standards.
The presentation is definitely part of that. Rather plain camera work, muddy colors and poor framing take away from the overall appeal of the film. The soundtrack too is a little disappointing, and the drama, while relatively effective, is something I've seen many times before too, with better results.
That's not to say Face is a terrible film. Fujiyama's performance is laudable, the supporting cast is good and the film has some neat little surprises in store, but overall they don't have the impact needed to make this a stand-out feature. Japanese drama fans won't be disappointed, it just felt a bit dated to me.
Sorrentino is a great director, no doubt about it. But he isn't a great thinker, and when his films are explicitly dealing with concepts, emotions and musing about life, it can get a little iffy. Youth is no exception. While the film has a couple of clear highlights, it is dragged down by its musings about aging.
The setting is quite nice, a fancy spa/clinic in Switzerland where the wealthy meet to relax and get better. Caine and Keitel are amusing and the first hour Sorrentino takes his time to have a little fun with the characters and setting. Nothing too highbrow or complex, but fun nonetheless. The second hour, which tries to flesh out the drama and bring some extra depth to the film, falls flat though.
Visually there is a lot to like here, though it doesn't feel quite as fresh as his earlier films. The soundtrack is worse off, balancing between generic and pompous, without ever anything substantial to the film. Maybe it's the type of film that becomes revelatory once you reach the age of its characters, but that is still quite a way off for me. Not bad, but I expect better from Sorrentino.
A pretty inconsequential Jing Wong production. Treasure Hunt is a rather run-of-the-mill mix of comedy and action, executed in true Jing Wong fashion. That means it makes for an amusing, but rather hollow and forgettable experience, though in all fairness the film doesn't look like it aspires to be anything beyond that.
The plot, about a commercial director being sent to an uninhabited island to shoot an ad with a big-wig actor, only to end up in some far-fetched treasure hunting scenario, is pointless. It's merely an excuse for some comedy antics and a few action scenes. The lack of A-listers mean that neither are truly noteworthy.
But Jing Wong's silliness also keeps thing light and the frantic pacing makes sure that the film never gets boring. It's not bad filler as such, but hard to recommend when there are so many films that do a better job at it. Treasure Hunt is for the true Jing Wong collector, he who has seen at least 75 of his other films and still has the energy to persist.
City Hunter: Goodbye My Sweetheart
A decent but not very notable film within the City Hunter franchise. I've probably said it before, but I feel a franchise like this benefits more from shorter episodes, somewhere in the range of 45-60 minutes. A full hour and a half is simply a bit much for the material at hand, which is exactly what's holding this film back.
One problem is that it feels like every new film is just a variation on something you've already seen before. Characters are very stereotypical and keep on pulling the same stuff over and over again, to the point where I was getting actual déjà vus. Don't expect anything too original from this one in other words.
The animation is a bit better compared to the older entries, which is normal I guess, just don't expect anything grand or exceptional. The comedy is decent, the action is fun, the plot a little too plain. With 90 minutes to fill though, it feels stretched and somewhat forced in places. Cut this film in half and you'd have something a lot better.
A surprisingly amusing samurai romp. I honestly didn't expect too much from this film, then again I should've known better than to write off an aging Japanese director. It's one of Kon Ichikawa's final films, and while not really a highlight of contemporary film making, Alley Cat still feels remarkably fresh.
The film's biggest selling point is Kôji Yakusho, who is visibly having fun with his character. It's also a pretty thankful role, as he can smash protocol and still come out on top. It gives the film a certain lightness that I didn't see coming, not in the least because the rest of the film is a pretty classic samurai affair.
The film reminded me quite a bit of Mitani's The Kiyosu Conference, not in the least because the setting and Yakusho's part show great resemblance. Mitani handles the material slightly better, with an overall more pleasant presentation, but Ichikawa's film has plenty to offer too. This was a nice find.
The Secret Rivals
A rudimentary martial arts film. The film is split into two very basic parts. On the one hand there's a plot, mostly conveyed through dry and static dialogues, on the other hand there are the martial arts scenes, which feature endless strings of kicks, jumps and punches. The film alternates between the two and that's pretty much it really.
Don't expect Shaw Bros quality, this film was made for action fans who love to watch people beat each other up. The plot is extremely poor and too much time is spent on detailing the story. Then again, you can't have people fighting for 90 minutes straight, so they had to come up with something.
The martial arts choreography isn't that great either, but picks up somewhat near the end. The camera work is disappointing (with lots of pointless, crappy zooms) and the soundtrack is as generic as can be. The film can't rely on star power either, which makes this a pretty lackluster action flick.
Where Are We Going?
A decent indie drama, though not really a remarkable one. For those who've seen their fair share of Japanese dramas, it will feel comfortable and expected, but also superseded by more impressive and skilled entries in the genre. If you're starved for Japanese dramas though, it's a solid choice.
Matsui's film finds itself on the darker end of the spectrum. Akira doesn't lead a very happy, fulfilling life and problem seems to follow him wherever he goes. When he falls in love with Anzu, a transsexual, things are finally looking up again, but trouble at work drives him over the edge.
The actors do a decent job and the unpredictability of the plot is a definite plus, but the presentation of the film is sorely lacking. Uninteresting camera work, rather bland cinematography and a dull soundtrack make this a barren-looking film. It fits the overall mood, but that's not much of an excuse. The rest of the film is pretty interesting, just nothing that stands out.
Another Dreamworks fluke, based on some long forgotten commercial property. Whoever thought it was a good idea to revive the 90s troll hype should probably be fired, though I'm sure they're enjoying their promotion right now. This film turned out to be another box office hit, artistically it's as dire as they come.
The only positive thing I have to say is that the scrapbook-style segments were a nice touch, but they are few and far between. The rest of the film looks like you'd expect a US CG animation to look, with little in the way of a personal touch. Character designs are ugly, the environments are dull and the colors are bright but terribly kitsch.
The story and characters are extremely childish, the comedy is depressing and the soundtrack ... it's like listening to a commercial radio station, the only thing missing were the commercial breaks. It's everything I'm not looking for in a good animation, but as long as it draws crowds that's what we're going to see from companies like Dreamworks I'm afraid.
Yamaguchi's Wonogawa feels like the Hellevator sequel I never knew I needed. A low-budget, ultra creative mix of dystopian sci-fi and light fantasy elements that comes with its own unique lore. While a film like this is tough to make on a shoestring budget, Yamaguchi gives it his all and ends up with a pretty nifty and satisfying film.
A very fine epic by Yuen Chor. There are some moments of genuine beauty here, making this one of Chor's best films. At the same time the film isn't entirely without fault, which keeps it from becoming and all-time Shaw Bros best. But Shaw Bros fans owe it to themselves to seek this one out.
Like many of Chor's best films, Heroes Shed No Tears has strong fantasy elements. Not so much in the plot or characters, it's the setting that feels very fantastical. Moody lighting, beautiful sets and plenty of smoke make for an extremely atmospheric film. The fitting score also adds to the film.
The action is solid, but nothing you haven't seen before. My main critique is that the film's a bit too long. Some scenes are extremely talkative and the plot/characters aren't that interesting to warrant so much dialogue. Some tighter editing would've helped, but in the end Chor's amazing direction prevails.
A somewhat inconspicuous slasher that kindly sticks to the rules of the genre. It's prom night, a bunch of horny kids are getting ready for the night of their lives and a mysterious, masked man is on the loose. If you're not a big fan of the slasher genre, there's little here, genre fans on the other hand are in for a treat.
One thing that sets the film apart from its peers are the special effects. The kills in most slashers tend to be very disappointing, often off-screen too. There's none of that here. The film is pretty brutal and Savini's handiwork is surprisingly effective. The body count may not be too high, but Zito makes every kill count.
The rest of the film is rather mediocre though. The performances are poor, the plot and background story are rather lame and the final reveal was pretty disappointing too. These are just minor issues, as most slashers suffer from them, but it does hold the film back. At least the pacing is nice and the film doesn't outstay its welcome. Pretty decent.
A very simple, basic action flick. It's a shame Desrochers isn't a little more ambitious here, because there are clear signs that this film could've been better. Instead, Desrochers seems to be taking the easy way out wherever possible, settling for a run-of-the-mill genre flick that amuses, but nothing more.
Banderas is an army captain who can't land a job after coming back from the war, on top of that he is suffering from PTSD. A desperate plea to a job consultant lands him a job as a security agent, but things don't go as planned on his first night on the job. Obviously they didn't put much effort into the plot.
The film looks decent enough, but the action scenes could've used a little extra effort. Desrochers does well building up the tension though and the film is trimmed down to perfection, the only thing lacking is something that would set it apart from similar films. It's a pretty fun diversion, just not all that memorable.
A pretty disappointing film from Feng, which oddly mimics the kind of cinema he helped China to move away from some 20 years ago. Youth reminded me of a film Yimou Zhang could have made during the 90s, only without the natural grace and visual splendor that made Zhang's films stand out.
Youth follows Xiaoping, a young country bumpkin joining a military dance troupe in the hope of finding some respect and appreciation. It doesn't take long before the bullying starts though and when the war erupts she is sent to a frontline hospital to tend to the wounded soldiers. Unfazed, she accepts her destiny and becomes an overnight hero.
Visually I expected more from Feng. The film doesn't look bad, but there are few memorable moments, even though it's clear the budget wasn't lacking. Actors do a decent job, but there are no stand-out performances. It's the score that is by far the weakest element though. It's loud and saccharine, leaving a bitter aftertaste. While not terrible, Youth simple isn't good enough for a director like Feng.
Wakamatsu has a reputation for making divisive and unflinching films, but this one offers a whole new level of nihilism. The title says it all really, the film follows a serial rapist on his murderous rampage. He wanders around, talks to random women, isolates them, rapes them and kills them.
And that's pretty much it. Little to no context is given to explain his actions, his victims remain completely unknown to the audience, all we get to see is the continuous torture, shot in a very detached and matter-of-fact way. It's not a very pleasant film to watch, neither is it very titillating, but if you like dark and relentless films, is it quite impressive.
The presentation is pretty cheap though. Wakamatsu's camera merely registers, there's little in the way of a soundtrack and the actors aren't exactly A-grade material either. It's clearly a film made on the cheap, but it does get its message across. An interesting watch for Wakamatsu fans, but it's pretty hard to recommend.
A lesser-known Sammo Hung feature. Hung directs and leads, but it's clearly little more than mandatory filler in order to pass the time between bigger projects. The Owl Vs Bombo is a pretty basic mix of comedy and action, with some mediocre dressing to fill in the gaps, which makes it best suited for completists.
When Hung actually takes his time to focus on the comedy and action, the film is pretty decent. A pretty silly but fun moment with a cherry is pretty hilarious and the end fight isn't too shabby either, but these moments only make up a small part of the film. They almost feel like leftover scenes from a better feature.
In between these scenes there's a lot of animosity and shouting that amounts to very little. The plot isn't very interesting, performances are rather weak and the soundtrack is terribly cheesy. At least the fun moments are spread quite evenly, so you never have to go too long without something interesting happening, but a good film this is not.
Don't get fooled by the poster, this isn't a big fantasy epic. Instead, you should expect a romantic drama with some urban fantasy elements thrown in to make things more interesting. Giant Fish reminded me of the kind of genre films that were made during the '00s, when China's film industry was completely turned upside down and desperately searching for a new identity.
Yin's direction is a little insecure at times, which is a shame because this film has a lot of potential. The leads do a solid job, the mystery is intriguing and the fantasy elements are executed surprisingly well. There are also several stand-out scenes, but the drama feels a little lost and the romance never quite hits the mark.
Giant Fish is the Chinese indie companion of Children of the Sea. A fine film that has plenty to offer, especially to people who are looking for something a little different, but it's obvious the film's reputation is going to be destroyed by people coming in with the wrong expectations. This film deserves better.
Not quite Chang's first film, but this is the oldest one that is easily accessible to his fans. It's not hard to see why, as The Magnificent Trio is a perfect blueprint for the following 20 years of Shaw Bros martial arts cinema and thus a film with some historic significance. But it's also just a pretty decent film regardless.
Like other early Chang films, the direction is surprisingly solid. It's probably a mix of the inability to quickly skip through yet to be established genre clichés and the lack of pressure to deliver multiple films per year, but these older films often feel more finished and detailed than the 70s and early 80s ones.
That sounds great, but it also means the pacing is a bit slower and the martial arts scenes aren't that elaborate yet, which is kind of the reason why I like the Shaw Bros martial arts catalogue. It's the classic contradiction between good cinema and good genre cinema. That said, Chang films will still find plenty to like here.
Not bad. Not all that great either though, as the director seems ill-equipped to hide the film's low-budget roots. It's all very cheesy, at points even amateurish, but at least Davenport made the right choices and aims to make a genre film that impresses where it matters the most: the horror bits.
The acting is quite atrocious and the soundtrack is a complete fluke. The cinematography is overall decent, though the camera work isn't always up to par. Luckily the mystery is effective and the practical effects look decent enough, as does the creature design. It's nothing mind-blowing, but it does the job.
What makes the film stand out are its absurd touches. Things can get pretty freaky, without any clear purpose or explanation. That does make the film a bit incoherent at times, but it also adds tons of fun and intrigue. No doubt it's a little alienating for the general audience, but genre fans will be able to handle it just fine.
The mash-up between samurai and western universes isn't exactly new, but leave it to Miike to turn it into something completely unique. Apart from the Japanese actors struggling with the English dialogue and a less than stellar cameo from Tarantino, this a vintage Miike ride that delights from start to finish.
It didn't take long before Jing Wong came into his own. His first film might've been relatively serious and well-constructed, a lot of that was thrown overboard in Winner Takes All, and replaced by the cheer silliness that would come to define Wong's brand. The result is a full-blown comedy with some martial arts thrown in for good measure.
The beginning is still somewhat straight-faced, but when Pak-Cheung Chan appears and enters a rather hilarious Mah-jong game to the death, there's no doubt that you shouldn't take this film too seriously. It's the kind of over-the-top stupidity that would help to launch Stephen Chow's career a decade later.
The acting isn't all that great and some of the effects are pretty cheap, but they're never gratuitous. The soundtrack is pretty cheesy too, but is used to good comedic effect. If you don't like Hong Kong comedy, it's probably best to avoid this film, but Jing Wong fans (or those who can tolerate his films) will have a blast with this one.
The Love Witch
There is no denying that Biller's The Love Witch is extremely effective in what it sets out to be. You may be excused for thinking this film was actually made in the 60s. The crisp image quality could be attributed to a recent remaster, apart from that everything in this film really looks the part. That's cool ... if you like the 60s.
My problem with The Love Witch is that it is too faithful to its source material. The murders are extremely lame, the pacing is sluggish and the practical effects look worse-than-CG fake. Once the Thunderbirds effect wore off, there wasn't much to keep me interested, which isn't good for a film that lasts 120 minutes.
Biller also had something to say about feminism and the male/female divide, but that's only worthwhile if the film itself works. After about half an hour, I'd pretty much had it with The Love Witch. Robinson's performance is good and it's impressive what Biller achieved on a limited budget, but the film itself is just dull.