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 So...what have you been watching lately?, ACDBer lists (and de facto roll-call?)
Andrew King
Posted: Dec 4 2011, 09:51 PM


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THE HEROIC TRIO and NAKED KILLER in psuedo 3D using the Hong Kong Legends DVDs. I have seen THE HEROIC TRIO several times since the two disc edition HK Laserdisc (the film split over two discs only for the purpose of increasing rental revenue), and of the several DVD releases the HKL disc is anamorphic and uncut - the best of the bunch I think. Several moments in the film with scenes of Anita Mui as Wonder Woman (although this name is strangely dropped in favour of her new title Super Heroine on the HKL DVD) or as her civilian character are truly dramatic, whilst some of the other characters are broad strokes as befits the light relief cartoon/comic book/Batman essence that this film lives in. This time I was watching it in pretty spectacular 3D, more of which later.

NAKED KILLER I had not seen before, although the disc has been in my collection for several years, it remained one of the titles I had put off watching. It became the DVD I used in setting up and testing the psuedo 3D with my new Sony Blu-ray player S780 and Sony Personal 3D Viewer headset HMZ-T1.
After adjusting the players TV screen size setting for 3D to make it think it was going to a 1 inch screen (thereby tricking the player to maximising its 3D) and also turning the psuedo 3D setting to HIGH, and adjusting the CUSTOM (saveable) picture settings for black/contrast/smoothing/etc for DVDs I felt I had best estimated the look of a Blu-ray disc (this picture setting work is not needed when watching a BD as they are usually top quality mastering to the latest standard). I have manually set the player to output everything to 720p (the native resolution of the headset) and it handles PAL and NTSC DVDs with a very nice up-resolution (enhanced by my picture settings as above) and is able to convert DVDs and Blu-Rays to 3D. I intend to view many old faves and some unseen discs given a 3D makeover using this method!

NAKED KILLER is fast paced, sexy in way that is not too sleazy (compared to Category III generally) and delivers exactly what it promises. It looks great in lighting, costume, make-up, action and the script/acting is what I expected and suits the tone of the film perfectly.

This post has been edited by Andrew King on Dec 4 2011, 09:55 PM
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Marty McKee
Posted: Dec 10 2011, 05:26 PM


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13 STEPS OF MAKI (1975)—Directed by Makoto Naito. Stars Sue Shiomi, Sonny Chiba, Tatsuya Nanjo, Hiroshi Nawa. Sister Streetfighter Shiomi battles the Yakuzi in this brutal Toei classic. She plays Maki, the leader of an all-girl street gang called the Stray Cats who are always getting into wild kung fu rumbles. Fiercely protective of her girls, whenever anyone messes with them (for instance, strips them and ties them to railroad tracks or a carousel), Maki whips off her white overcoat to reveal her costume consisting of red gloves and black tights with a red 13 emblazoned on her chest and starts kicking ass.

The Stray Cats get into a war with Takako, whose father is a major businessman with ties to Yakuza boss Daimon (Nawa). Because Daimon wants to move up in the organization and into Takako’s pants, he helps the young woman get revenge by hiring handsome ex-boxer Etou (Nanjo) to hassle the Cats and frame Maki on a burglary charge. In prison, the mob-connected warden ensures Maki is bullied, but when she learns Daimon has doped the Stray Cats and earmarked them for sex slavery, Maki busts out, busts heads, and makes a new friend.

Chiba only stops by briefly to play Maki’s long-lost martial-artist brother in a flashback. Much fighting ensues in Maki’s struggles against the Yakuza, and a lot of nudity too. Fetishists may go wild at the many scenes of hot Japanese girls stripping other hot Japanese girls to humiliate them. Shiomi—you know her, you loved her in THE BODYGUARD and THE EXECUTIONER II with Chiba—is a cute, strong heroine who holds her own in the action sequences (of which there are many).


THE GREAT CHASE (1975)—Directed by Noribumi Suzuki. Stars Sue Shiomi. If your attitude towards action movies is “the odder the better,” Toei’s kinky vehicle for Shiomi (THE SISTER STREETFIGHTER) should be right up your alley. Where else can you see a mobster wearing a bear suit during sex, nuns stuffing cocaine into corpses, a blowgun-shooting Japanese Indian, a nude women imprisoned within a medieval suit of armor, and Shiomi as a master of disguise who poses as an old woman, a nun, a man (fighting a lady wrestler), and a Cambodian witch?

Sue is Shinobu Yashiro, a champion racecar driver and secret agent. She has her own fan club! She’s also still haunted by the death of her father, who was framed by the Yakuza on drug charges and murdered in prison. Revenge! The title is a misnomer in that there isn’t really much chasing going on. The film’s worst offense is its failure to incorporate the heroine’s occupation into the action. Why make her a racecar driver and not even have a single car chase? Shiomi dodges some terrifying explosions and dangles from a tram car in the swell finale though.


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Marty McKee
Posted: Dec 10 2011, 11:51 PM


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DYNAMITE JOHNSON: BIONIC BOY PART II (1979)—Directed by Bobby A. Suarez. Stars Marrie Lee, Franco Guerrero, Johnson Yap, Joseph Zucchero, Ken Metcalfe. The director of THE ONE-ARMED EXECUTIONER makes an entertainingly junky sequel to both BIONIC BOY and THEY CALL HER…CLEOPATRA WONG! Their filial relationship went unmentioned in those films, but DYNAMITE JOHNSON reveals that Sonny, the nine-year-old boy who received bionic body parts after an accident (played by Singaporean martial artist Yap), is the nephew of Interpol agent Wong (Lee, who also played the character in DEVILS THREE).

While recovering from an operation on his legs, Sonny uses his bionic ears to overhear a horribly burned man’s ramblings of a fire-breathing dragon. Aunt Cleo doesn’t believe it or Sonny’s claim of an illicit deal of some sort happening on the docks the next day. He invades the meet, beats up all the bad guys using his superpowers (which, like on THE SIX MILLION DOLLAR MAN, are portrayed using slow motion and sound effects), and intercepts a briefcase of uranium. This spurs Interpol to put Cleo on the case, while her old lover, Ben DeLeon (Guerrero, also in THEY CALL HER…), babysits Sonny. Aunt’s and nephew’s separate investigations lead them to Kuntz (Metcalfe, who wrote the movie with Zucchero, who plays his flunky), a Nazi planning to use a death ray to waste Hong Kong and conquer the world.

Helping Kuntz keep his slaves in the uranium mine in line is one of the most hilarious movie props ever: a cheap, rickety dragon that putts around on wheels and shoots a flamethrower from its mouth. It looks like a WILD WILD WEST prop and is well worth watching the movie for. The last third of the movie is basically one long action sequence. Fans of the respective franchises should appreciate that both Yap and Lee get their fair shares of fighting, leaping, running, and shooting (well, Lee does all the shooting). Yap is also acted and dubbed in a relatively non-bratty manner. Delicious clips from DYNAMITE JOHNSON appeared in Mark Hartley’s MACHETE MAIDENS UNLEASHED!, a documentary about Philippine cinema.


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Marty McKee
Posted: Dec 15 2011, 06:54 PM


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THE GODFATHER SQUAD (1974)—Directed by See-Yuen Ng. Stars Bruce Leung, Shirley Corrigan, Consalvo Dell’Arti, Gordon Mitchell, Yasuaki Kurata, Maria D’Incoronato. You know you’re in for something great when a shot of the Eiffel Tower is accompanied by a caption that says “Paris.” Cannon released this kooky Hong Kong chopsocky in the United States in 1977. It was lensed in Italy, possibly without permits, considering the number of bystanders caught looking at the camera. Somebody is killing Interpol agents in Europe. Kung fu movie star Wang Liu (Leung) saves one agent from death by exploding dog (!), which pisses off Mafia boss Carroll (Dell’Arti) so much that he hires the actor to make a film in Rome just so he can put a hit out on him. The rest of the film is Wang dodging the Carroll crime family’s bizarre assassination attempts, including one at the Vatican during a speech by Pope Paul VI (who surely died never knowing he was in a movie called THE GODFATHER SQUAD) and another by a machine-gun-toting men’s room attendant. The best fights are against Carroll’s adopted sons: Japanese Kurata in a snowbound smackdown and Eurocult star Mitchell as a whip-wielding Nazi. Enjoy one of cinema’s great final shots. The oddball music score, including a Muzak version of Bread’s “Make It with You,” is likely swiped from many different sources.


BRUCE'S NINJA SECRET (1982)—Directed by Joseph Kong. Stars Bruce Le, Lo Lieh, Lita Vasquez, Chiang Tao, Chang Lee. Did this 21st Century Distribution pickup actually play in American theaters? This crazy Philippine production appears to be a mashup of several different features, including BRUCE’S DEADLY FINGERS, BRUCE AND THE SHAOLIN BRONZEMEN, and possibly BRUCE’S LAST BATTLE (which may be just an alternate title). Bruce Le plays Bruce Wang (!), who gallivants across the Philippines (including Baguio’s Imelda Park) in huge sunglasses searching for World War II treasure. Hellfire, if you like terrible dubbing, incoherent storylines, midgets, sexy Asian women in very short shorts, and lots of ridiculous fighting, BRUCE’S NINJA SECRET, which made its home video debut in 2011, is your Holy Grail. Vasquez is great and really hot as Eiko, a femme fatale who also wants the treasure and sends out an army of fighters to get it, including foxy knife-wielding sea nymphs, a mincing homosexual, a very fat dude, and a midget with the most laughable mullet in Asian cinema. Le also fights a bunch of Filipino midgets with scythes, a fat lady masseuse, and two bullies who steal a fat guy’s ice cream, as well as his clothes. Don’t bother following the plot or wondering why KING BOXER star Lo Lieh is relegated to heavy duty in a Bruce Le movie. Part of the fun is identifying the ripped-off music cues; FLASH GORDON (Queen) and ENTER THE DRAGON (Lalo Schifrin) are among the victims.


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Brian Camp
Posted: Dec 17 2011, 11:53 AM


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CLEOPATRA JONES AND THE CASINO OF GOLD (1975) Dir.: Chuck Bail. Producers: Run Run Shaw, William Tennant. Cast: Tamara Dobson, Stella Stevens, Tanny, Norman Fell, Albert Popwell, Caro Kenyatta.

I put this in ACD because it’s a Shaw Bros. co-production and that’s how I’m reviewing it. I’m curious as to why Warner Bros. co-produced with Shaw this time and not with their frequent partner, Golden Harvest, their co-producer on ENTER THE DRAGON (1973) and many subsequent films. (This film is clearly an attempt to meld blaxploitation with “chopsocky.”)

The script and constantly cheery dialogue are ridiculous, but it moves fast and is never boring. I was pleased to see a few Shaw Bros. regulars in the cast, including two of my favorite non-fighting Shaw Bros. actresses. One of them, Tien Ni, billed here simply as “Tanny” (which is how she’s billed in several SB films), gets third billing as Mi Ling Fong, Cleo’s crimefighting partner in Hong Kong. Interestingly, Tanny has a lot of fight scenes here, even though I don’t believe I’ve ever seen her really fight in a Hong Kong film. She usually played a femme fatale of sorts but is a much more no-nonsense good girl in this one, a real change of pace for her. Even when she dresses up in a beautiful white satin cheongsam for the gambling scene, she looks uncomfortable (as befits the character), even though she played the kind of character she’s dressing up as often enough in SB films. She’s in THE MAGIC BLADE, BATTLE WIZARD and LITTLE DRAGON MAIDEN, but is especially good in BLACK MAGIC (1975) as a rich widow who uses the black magic of the title to steal her reluctant employee, Ti Lung, from his fiancée. She’s post-dubbed here, but it could be her real voice. If so, she speaks English well enough to have made more films in the west had the opportunities arisen.
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Also on hand is Lin Chen Chi, who’s got an odd arrangement of facial features, yet I’ve always found her strangely beautiful. She plays the ill-fated adopted daughter/lesbian lover of the blond villainess, “Dragon Lady” (Stella Stevens). She was only in 18 movies. I have 13 of them and have seen seven, including SPIRITUAL BOXER, BATTLE WIZARD and BRAVE ARCHER 2. I’m guessing that her real voice, heavily accented, is used here.
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Also in the cast is regular SB villain Chan Shen, who plays a bad guy here as well. He doesn’t fight very well in this, even though he was a frequent fighter in SB films. In fact, there aren’t any really decent kung fu fights in this, even though the fight direction was by SB regular Tang Chia and someone named Yuen Shian Yan (is that an alternate spelling of our old buddy Yuen Cheung Yan?). I mean, even Stella Stevens, a onetime Elvis co-star, gets to defeat Chan Shen in a pitched sword fight. I’m sorry, but if the film had had any credibility left by that point, it would have vanished instantly.
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I don’t get the character of Cleopatra Jones. She’s supposedly undercover, yet she struts around Hong Kong streets, docks and back alleys, a tall imposing black woman in the most outlandish fashions you’ll see on a woman in a 1970s movie, like a supermodel on acid, and adorned with garish facial makeup. Grace Jones looked demure in comparison.
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Oddly enough, there was not enough Chinese spoken here for me to figure out if they were speaking Mandarin or Cantonese, just short bursts or grunts here and there. Tanny has one line that sounds Cantonese, so that’s what I’m guessing is spoken the few times they’re not speaking English.

Interestingly, the music is by Dominic Frontiere. I wonder if he got the job as a way of Shaw Bros. repaying him for the countless times they ripped off his HANG ’EM HIGH score for their kung fu movies. Did they know who he was when he was hired? Did he know about the piracy when he was hired? He’s still alive (80 years old). Is it worth it to even try to ask him?

Anyway, my curiosity about this film has finally been satisfied. I bought it from the Warner Archive and paid way too much for it. As female action films from the 1970s set in contemporary Hong Kong go, I’ll stick with “real” Shaw films such as THE LADY PROFESSIONAL with Lily Ho or, from a few years earlier, TEMPTRESS WITH A THOUSAND FACES, with Tina Chin-fei.


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John Charles
Posted: Dec 17 2011, 12:38 PM


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Director Chuck Bail was interviewed in an issue of Shock Cinema and he mentioned that Tien Ni spoke no English, so that is another actress doing her lines. The film was started by someone else (can't remember if the person's name was mentioned) and he was removed early on; Bail was quickly flown to HK to take over and complete the picture.
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Patrick Lefcourt
Posted: Dec 18 2011, 02:25 PM


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QUOTE (John Charles @ Dec 17 2011, 06:38 PM)
The film was started by someone else (can't remember if the person's name was mentioned) and he was removed early on; Bail was quickly flown to HK to take over and complete the picture.

Don Medford
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Kim Greene
Posted: Dec 27 2011, 01:23 AM


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This isn't a movie, but I thought this new Heineken beer commercial I've been seeing lately was worth posting about because it uses the song from the 1965 Indian movie GUMNAAM (a scene from the film was used to open the film GHOST WORLD a decade ago). I love it because it's made with a 1960's Technicolor look, the dude with the mustache is dressed in a '60's style suit with a mustache to match (and the same one who pulls a Heineken out of his mouth) looking all smooth and suave, made me think of James Bond. It's odd in that there is no dialogue and it looks as if it was made by a European company (I don't know that for certain, I'm only going by the look and feel of the commercial, and that's what it feels like to me). That spunky get-up-and-go song's called "Jaan Pehechaan Ho"---I always seem to miss taping it on TV, dang it! Here it is---enjoy!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bywh_r0bvGs&feature=related biggrin.gif

This post has been edited by Kim Greene on Dec 27 2011, 01:27 AM
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Doug Bassett
Posted: Dec 27 2011, 09:36 PM


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SLEEPY EYES OF DEATH 5: SWORD OF FIRE (1965)
SLEEPY EYES OF DEATH 6: SWORD OF SATAN (1965)
SLEEPY EYES OF DEATH 7: THE MASK OF THE PRINCESS (1966)
SLEEPY EYES OF DEATH 8: SWORD OF VILLANY (1966)


Just a few scattered thoughts:
-- These movies have a reputation as being pretty wild stuff, but I have to tell you that they're really not. The setup, sure, is wild: Nemuri Kyroshiro is the product of a black mass between a lapsed Catholic missionary and a, uh, "sacrifice", I guess. (I never realy properly tracked how that worked, to be honest, as I was under the impression that victims don't exactly walk away from the Black Mass and deliver birth, but it's been awhile since I saw #4, where this gets dealt with. Although I don't remember this really being spelled out there, either, tell you the truth.) But for the most part Kyoshiro is akin to somebody like a Spaghetti Western hero -- maybe not conventionally heroic, but pretty definitely heroic. He usually fights the same bad guys you'd expect any standard hero off the lot to fight, just maybe a little more cynically, is all. And we've all seen that.

Actually the best movie in the series by far is #4 (SLEEPY EYES OF DEATH 4: SWORD OF SEDUCTION), mainly because that's the only one that really does try to make him a true anti-hero, with a lot of horror movie tropes and very clear parallels drawn between Kyoshiro and Satan. It's a trippy flick and very highly recommended. But I'm afraid you'll find most of these quite conventional. Don't believe the hype, y'all.

-- I am not a huge fan of Raizo Ichikawa's sword fighting through these things, and I have to say in these four he still moves around like he and his sword are on a bad blind date and they're trying to somehow stumble through the evening regardless. Really very awkward choreography, surprisingly so.

-- I am, though, consistently impressed about the basic level of quality of Japanese movies of this era. I wouldn't say any of these are particularly great, but they're all solid, all well put together, the characters have clear arcs, the plots are put together well, etc. A classic golden era in cinema, when even the not-great stuff was pretty good.

-- Of these four, the best is probably #8, SWORD OF VILLANY, which is still surprisingly conventional but has an interesting plot rather different from most in this series (drawing on interesting histpry I knew nothing about), and offers the hero an actual moral choice of sorts. Complexity in these movies is always to the good.
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Marty McKee
Posted: Jan 2 2012, 08:23 PM


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COSA NOSTRA ASIA (1974)—Directed by John Liao. Stars Chris Mitchum, Tony Ferrer, Dick Chen, Ellie Chow, Larry Elkins. Bobby A. Suarez, who directed Mitchum in MASTER SAMURAI and AMERICAN COMMANDOS, produced this action-packed concoction that combines a GODFATHER-inspired Mafia storyline with kung fu. It was directed by American-educated Liao in Taiwan. According to Mitchum, he and Joseph Lai cobbled together the screenplay during the shoot based on Suarez’s 20-page outline. He and Suarez were also filming AMERICAN DAREDEVIL COMMANDOS at the same time, though that movie was never finished. If you’ve seen any of the afore-mentioned Suarez pictures or THE ONE-ARMED EXECUTIONER, you can imagine what COSA NOSTRA ASIA is like. In one scene, Mitchum’s Chris Ballenger and Ferrer as Hawaiian mob boss Tony Dee fight for what is said to be four hours (!), though we see only a few minutes of it. They end up fighting with gladiator swords and shields until finally collapsing in exhaustion. Ballenger is an Interpol agent who helps drive a wedge between the Hong Kong mob and the Chicago Mafia led by Don Claudio (Elkins). Mitchum’s Lanky White Guy Fu is lame, of course, though it’s funny he somehow late in the picture finds a white guy to fight who’s even worse at it than he is. At least the action is plentiful, so stop trying to follow the plot.


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Doug Bassett
Posted: Jan 29 2012, 07:49 AM


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Hi,

Yeah, I'm back.

I should probably cap off SAMURAI TWO: DUEL AT ICHIJOJI TEMPLE (1955) and SAMURAI THREE: DUEL AT GANRYU ISLAND (1956) first. Truth is, they weren't really my cup of tea – after the first installment I saw maybe a half-hour of #2, a few minutes of three, and that was it.

My take on this series is the same as what I said for #1, which is that basically this is okay but nothing special. It's a by-the-book Hollywood Epic Melodrama of the late Forties/Fifties transferred to Japan. That doesn't make it bad, exactly, but it doesn't really make it good, either. The best metaphor I can come up with is that it is as though you spent a whole Saturday trying to find the little dingy joint that the local magazine in your area said had the best burgers in town. Finally you get there, and, anticipation swelling, you order your burger, take a bite, and..... I mean, it's not bad, it's okay, burgers are good generally and the mag certainly wasn't lying when they recommended them here. But it kind of wasn't worth the whole trip out and back, either. It is, after all, just a burger, and no amount of hype is really gonna change that.

Honestly, I don't exactly understand why these got the Criterion treatment. Well, I understand the historical importance and all that, maybe that's enough. But I certainly wouldn't call it timeless.

Probably best for people who don't know Musashi's life, as the whole thing will be something of a surprise. I, unfortunately, happened to catch something on Spike TV, of all things, where a Special Forces guy ran around in the woods in Japan and told me all the basics of Mushashi's life. I think the show was called “Watch as a Special Forces Guy Runs Around Japan and Tells You the Basics of Miyamoto Musashi's Life”.

KARATE BULLFIGHTER (1977) – And so imagine my surprise when I saw this and discovered that, although presumably a biopic of a completely different guy, it paralleled the Musashi. Wild man from the woods is a genius at karate but not accepted by the greater culture, slowly he learns humility and in doing so, genuine greatness. He's even got a devoted love interest along the way.

I guess the Musashi story is a key story for Japan.

Anyway, this is a quickie exploitation film with Sonny Chiba and while hardly as carefully and lovingly made as the Samurai series, I rather enjoyed it more, if only because they got on with things. Good karate, of course. Some very nice displays from Chiba in general, in fact. You will see him karate chop a bull (which apparently the guy who's story they're telling did a lot of) which is incredibly silly but rather fun to watch. Movies were invented so that you can watch a guy karate chop a bull.

One of the “your school is better than my school” kind of plots, which I now think feels like a logical outgrowth of samurai flicks and their "your clan versus my clan" politicking. A silly but great scene where Chiba is fighting a US Serviceman and apparently Douglas MacArthur himself is cheering on the action at the sidelines. Man, they really hated Douglas MacArthur, didn't they? Unfortunately padded with a lot of gloopy sentimentality – I believe some of that is drawn from the subject's actual life, too, but still. I don't want to see gloopy sentimentality from your life, either. Chiba does his best to carry it, and he was a pretty good actor even back then, but it's still something of an uphill push. There are two sequels to this, I don't feel any driving need to see them but your mileage may well vary. I suspect this public domain nowadays, this was seen streaming on “Goohead”.

SISTER STREET FIGHTER (1974) – Also saw this on “Goohead”, and gah, couldn't they have picked a better name for their service? Sounds like a skin disease. “I can't go to the Sadie Hawkins dance, Kyle, I have a goohead!”

Anyway. I'm aware there are a lot of prints about – I think this is public domain too – but this seemed pretty much uncut, it's in Japanese with a lot of gore and some nudity. There's one inexplicable jump cut fairly early on that may mean this isn't complete, but then again, it just may mean there was an inexplicable jump cut in the original, too. It's that kind of movie.

Girl investigating dope smuggling outfit and trying to rescue brother. Plot in general outlines is as cheerfully incomprehensible as any Eighties-era American actioner. Etsuko “Sue” Shihomi is likable and generally plausible as the lead, which is not common with girl action leads IMHO. (I still wouldn't say she had any real gravitas, unlike Chiba, say, but that's a problem with female action leads generally, and is not unique to her. At least she's convincing when she's fighting.) Director wisely understood there wasn't much story here, and so livened up the proceedings any way he could – nudity, gore, and most especially endlessly amusing fights. These are some of the best villains ever. My favorite, personally, is the all-girl kung-fu team in masks and Wilma Flintstone outfits, although the guys wearing wicker baskets on their heads come in a very close second. (I don't ever like sitting in a wicker chair, and can't imagine wearing one on my head.)

The final showdown is...bizarre, and while not particularly cathartic is, ah, memorable. Highly recommended, hugely entertaining. I'm psyched for the sequel, which I read they shot about two weeks after the first one and is a remake in all but name.





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Doug Bassett
Posted: Feb 4 2012, 09:35 AM


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SISTER STREET FIGHTER: HANGING BY A THREAD (1974) – And yea, verily, this proved to be pretty much the same movie as the first one. Here instead of a brother our heroine is searching for a sister; here it's diamond smuggling instead of drug smuggling. Points added for trying to be a bit more careful with the fight choreography, with the whole sequence on top of the train an especial highlight. Points taken away for a lot of razzamatazz about a middle-aged bad guy who's psyching Shihomi out by hitting his little knives together – it's silly, even for this movie. Points added for having Chiba look more like Bruce Lee than usual and wearing an exceptionally dope leather jacket (where can I get one of those?). Points taken away for reproducing the ludicrous finale of the first picture almost shot by shot. Points added for the gratuitious nudity, the weirdness of the bad guys' plan (it's one of those plans where the effort to do it probably costs more than the actual diamonds themselves -- these bad guys are missing a bad guy account who can give them bad guy cost projections), and for some fun villains, especially the crazy doc with a parrot on his shoulder. He's a pirate! Points taken away for not having enough of him or his partner, who's apparently the Japanese Cruella De Ville.

Pretty much if you liked the first one you'll like this. It does some things better, some things worse, but it's basically the same movie.
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Brian Camp
Posted: Feb 24 2012, 05:36 AM


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I started up a new blog devoted to old movies, anime and Japanese film and TV. The link is in my signature. The second entry (Feb. 15) covers “Ultra Q” (1966), the Japanese sci-fi TV series that featured a different monster every week and paved the way for “Ultraman.” It was produced by special effects genius Eiji Tsuburaya and recycled all the monster suits from the Godzilla series and other Toho kaiju films.

Here are some screen grabs. Recognize the suit in the second picture?

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Doug Bassett
Posted: Mar 22 2012, 04:54 PM


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The Executioner (1974) – Sometimes you just have to agree with the consensus – this is a great movie, probably the best Chiba movie I've seen, for all the reasons everyone says: this is a great look at Chiba's fighting skills (the cinematography doesn't get in the way); the humor is actually very nicely done – like a lot of stereotypically “intense” actors Chiba is surprisingly deft at light comedy (this is sort of a karate take on a Burt Reynolds movie from the period, and I mean that as a great complement); and the story, while not exactly great, certainly makes more sense than these things usually do. I only question the bizarre fishnet one-arm thing Chiba wears at the end, although if I ever hit levels of Chiba-awesomeness it might all become clear. Highly recommended, the best place to start watching Chiba, I think.

Shogun's Ninja (1980) – Long, very dopey martial arts epic has it's fans because it's kitschy as all get out. If you can imagine a Japanese story told in a Shaw Brothers kind of way you'll get the idea here – guy sees family wiped out by villain (Chiba, being Chiba-like intense). Goes away, comes back, takes a shot at bad guy, fails, trains with mysterious white-bearded fellow, takes another shot at bad guy, etc. The movie, it is true, is screaming for a MST3K/Rifftrax kind of treatment: the soundtrack sounds like it was done by the Atlanta Rhythm Section, of all people; hero right smack dab in the middle of the thing does a John Travolta-inspired disco dance in front of a fire (no, I'm not joking, it's my favorite scene in the movie, actually); Chiba and his henchmen do this thing where they stand on each others shoulders and glower at you, which is not scary and doesn't even look very stable; etc. This is very much a YMMV kind of thing, though – if it works for you it works for you. Me, I thought it was okay but nothing amazing, maybe because I don't fall into paroxysms of joy every time a ninja comes on screen. As I've mentioned here before, I'm not the world's biggest ninja fan. With Etsuko Shihomi for about fifteen minutes, who's costume makes me seriously think she inspired a whole raft of fighting game characters – if you see it you'll see what I mean.
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Chester Berne
Posted: Mar 22 2012, 06:04 PM


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NIPPON TANJO 1959, starring Toshirô Mifune, about the birth of Shintoism in Japan. Even though it's a little slow, and the print isn't the greatest, I never get tired of watching this.


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Doug Bassett
Posted: Apr 7 2012, 10:38 PM


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This time out: Japanese documentaries. Just two, both lifted from here –

http://jfilmpowwow.blogspot.com/2009/10/to...umentaries.html .

These are the only two Netflix had, though truthfully I wouldn't have wanted to see any of the others. I'm mighty particular about my documentaries, yo.

A (1998) – I was always curious about the Aum Shinrikyo group, even before I started watching Japanese movies seriously, just because it seemed so bizarre to me. My knowledge of Buddhism is scant at best, but I do not associate it with murder, intimidation, cult-like brainwashing and Sarin gas attacks. I understand, this was a whacked-out fringe Buddhist movement: I guess I simply didn't know such things as "whacked-out fringe Buddhist movements" existed.

A, which takes up the groups story after the arrest of it's leader, is not really about any of that, though. (Actually, I recommend the Wikipedia page, if you're interested, as a good introduction to the group and what they did.) While “about” the aftermath of the Sarin attack among Aum's followers, it's not what the movie is really about. It's really about something like “the intersections between society and rebellion”. The movie seems less interested in what these guys believed (although the director does try to force some truth in the mix here and there) than the fact that they believed something different from the mainstream of Japanese society at all. He's pretty-evenhanded, I have to say: the cult is clearly shown as being victimized in all sorts of ways (hemmed in by the press, abused by the police, screamed at by society, etc), but it's also quite clear that these guys were obviously up to no good (a rather frightening sequence – frightening in it's sheer matter-of-factness – at a lab inside an Aum temple.)

I think the key scene of the movie is an interview with a cult member where he says he'd believe even if the leader of the movement was on his hands and knees, sobbing and confessing all. It becomes clear then that no, this isn't really brainwashing: indeed (and the rest of the movie pretty much details this) it's a complicated power-sharing arrangement, where the members are looking for a faith and allowing a figure to lead them as much as the leader presumably needs members to lead. The locus of power is much more balanced than it may at first appear: each side is really getting a return on their investment. It just appears more hierarchical than it really is.

This notion is extrapolated in the movie to become a comment on Japanese society itself, I think. That is, the two forces of “Society” and “Aum” only seem to be at loggerheads; in point of fact they need each other to define themselves. They are invested in each other.

I liked this, I thought it was thought-provoking, although not exactly what it might seem to be about at first blush. The only real problem I had was that it goes on a bit too long: like a lot of documentaries of this type it says it's message, says it again, says it again in a different way, clears it's throat and says it again, etc. It doesn't really end properly, the film feels more cut-off here than anything, like the movie just got tired of talking and decided to shut up. But still, worthwhile.

The Emperor's Naked Army Marches On (1987) – I personally knew somebody very much like Kenzo Okuzaki in the past. Older gentleman, history of violence in his past, “eccentric” (to say the least), a monomaniac on many subjects, bullheaded, strangely able to get certain results by sheer force of personality. Watching this, and seeing Okuzaki turn on a dime from “sympathetic champion of the truth” to “complete nut” was like having him around again.

I didn't like Okuzaki one bit. One thing people will not tell you about the crazy is that they're incredibly boring, and honestly Okuzaki comes across that way to me. People like this have nothing but their monomania, you'll get what they have to offer quickly. I read some reviews on imdb after seeing this, as is my wont, and saw a lot of people, while making sure to question his methods, think his mission here (to discover what happened to two Japanese soldiers in New Guinea shortly after WW2) is intrinsically noble. Knowing this type, I have no doubt in my mind that Okuzaki doesn't really care all that much about the small story here. Well, take that back: I think he 'cares' on some level, sure, but to him the importance is more how this story plays a larger role in his interior drama, his “big story”, which is “Okuzaki against the world”. The most interesting part of the movie to me is where the relatives drop out of the mission – the movie kind of brushes this over, but it would be interesting to hear from them exactly why they did.

One thing about crazies like Okuzaki is that, occasionally, they're in the right place at the right time and can do some good. That seems to be the case here: while the story of the two Japanese soldiers seems to be a piece in Okuzaki's interior chess game, he does, through sheer persistence and willing to violate Japanese societal norms, discover some fairly horrific truths : that the men were executed after the war and (most likely) eaten by officers. My favorite scene in the movie is an interview with a Medic who goes on, in banal detail, about cannibalism, “Black Pig” (native New Guineans), “White Pig” (white men) and the Japanese (who he insists were never eaten). The story is vivid and memorable, with his images of dead Japanese stacked up by the side of the road, bloated purple and swollen, bodies stripped to the bone for food, etc.

Director Hara stays out of the action, even when our hero is (actually, rather comically) wrestling with recalcitrant interviewees. I think Hara simply fell in love with his subject – I'm not going to sit here and pretend I understand Japanese culture, but in the relative handful of Japanese movies I've seen I've noticed that there's an interest/sympathy in rebellion qua rebellion, and I think that's on display here as well. I was neither particularly bothered by his hands-off stance (“what are the ethics of a documentary filmmaker in this situation”) or challenged by it (“are we not implicated in Okuzaki's violence”). I just thought he saw Okuzaki as entertaining and ran with it. I do think his lack of judgement of Okuzaki ends up weighing the picture down, though, as Okuzaki really can't carry the whole thing himself. Like I said, crazy is boring.

I can't really recommend it, although there's some interesting stuff here one can't help but wonder if it wouldn't have been better presented by somebody else. I am neither interested in rebellion qua rebellion nor crazy qua crazy. But then again my own life experience might be coloring this; if you haven't met crazy you can meet it here.
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Alex Ross
Posted: Apr 9 2012, 03:15 PM


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Hi Doug, Haruki Murakami wrote a book mainly of interviews with the victims/Aum cultists: http://tinyurl.com/bnq4vz9

It's a long time since I saw THE EMPEROR'S NAKED ARMY.... so I can't offer any counter-crtitique, but I came off it thinking it one of the best documentaries I had seen. Here's an interview with the directory anyway:

http://www.dartmouth.edu/~jruoff/Articles/HaraInterview.htm

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Doug Bassett
Posted: Apr 13 2012, 09:14 PM


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Nosing around the “J-Film Pow-wow” site I found this list:

http://jfilmpowwow.blogspot.com/2011/01/to...0-favorite.html

Which is more or less their 100 favorite – though they shamelessly hedge their bets and say it's the movies they're most 'excited' by, not necessarily the best or most important. Anyway, I like movie lists, and it seemed as good an excuse as any to watch a few movies and maybe broaden my knowledge a bit.

And hell, you gotta do something, right? I'll try to watch them more or less in order, and so, 100 – 91.

I'm going to skip over #100, A Last Note (1995) as Netflix doesn't carry it and I can't imagine myself actually trying to buy it anywhere. (I ain't THAT interested in movie lists.) Anyone out there who's seen it? I'm also going to skip #97, Shinobi No Mono 2 (1963) and #92, Miike's Thirteen Assassins (2010), as I've seen them both and don't feel a pressing need to revisit them. (They're both quite good, if you haven't seen them. Shinobi No Mono 2 is easily the best of that franchise; Thirteen Assassins is probably going to go down as an action movie classic.)

So, #99, Youth of the Beast (1963)

The first Seijun Suzuki movie I've ever seen. This is really best described as a crime comic book – like, if you were trying to crudely rip off Mickey Spillane, this is the kind of thing you might do. So much of what's here feels Spillane-ish: the protagonist, who's clearly kind of crazy but okay because he's on the side of the angels; the rough division of women into the equivalents of “Madonnas” and “whores”; the violence, rather graphic for it's time; the upfront sexuality, much of it perverse. The conclusion here is classic Spillane, exactly the sort of thing he might have written.

I rather suspect the source material was heavily influenced by Spillane, which, considering the general time frame, wouldn't be surprising at all.

Now, all that said this isn't a Spillane movie, exactly: Spillane is another subject for another time but generally his graphic-ness was there to make a point. Here it mainly seems to be about entertainment, and being shocking, and, most importantly, as a base on which Suzuki can experiment visually. Like I said – a Spillane comic book. The people who love this movie love it for the visuals and there's a lot of things to love in this. An office set whch functions like a goldfish bowl. Another one that appears to be behind a movie screen, and has movies playing constantly in the background. A strange beginning that plays with black and white and color, for no reason I can see except it's kind of cool. A rather extraordinary scene involving a whipping that moves outside where the outside world seems to model the inner world of the characters. (There's a complicated poetic term for this that I can't remember.) Weird jump cuts in otherwise routine scenes, I suspect there just to bounce up the rhythm. A general visual rhythm, in fact, of jerkiness, never really letting the camera settle down anywhere. (Characters always seem to be crashing into the shot from off-screen, for example, sometimes even climbing up from below or down from above.)

The plot is a variant of the one about the guy who sets two warring factions against each other, you've seen it before and I'd argue the storyline is sort of beside the point. If you like this, you'll like it for the visuals and tone. I did, anyway. I thought it was great fun, in fact, the visual equivalent of drinking two pots of black coffee lacked with dark rum. You're both wired and drunk.

Not sure I get Jo Shishido's weird chipmunk cheeks, though.

This post has been edited by Doug Bassett on Apr 13 2012, 09:17 PM
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Kim Greene
Posted: Apr 14 2012, 11:36 AM


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@Doug

I've met a lot of crazy folks in my life, and believe me, they were far from boring--in fact, some of them were the most charismatic and fun to be around---I don't mean just the crazy people/drug addicts/alcoholics you meet talking to themselves in the streets or on the buses--I've also known quiet, thoughful, eccentric folks who lead everyday normal lives and are also cool to hang with, as well as an ex-friend who was fun/exciting as hell and very charismatic,but who turned out to have some serious mental problems. I guess it all depends on what one personally defines as crazy, and what society defines it as.

That said, where did you find THE EMPEROR'S NAKED ARMY MARCHES ON? I tried looking for it years ago only to be told that it wasn't available in a Region 1 DVD at the time. I had read reviews on it and it sounded pretty fascinating to me at the time--I've never even seen a clip of it. Also, if you haven't seen Suzuki's BRANDED TO KILL, you HAVE to see that---even though it's nilhillistic, sexist as hell, and has some excellent creative scenes of extreme violence, it's fun as hell to watch--it's that insane,crazy and that good! I love it to death! I also love YOUTH OF THE BEAST and have it on VHS,BTW. Also check out TOKYO DRIFTER if you get a chance---it has a similar crazy, whacked-out post-modern deconstruction drive going on through it.

Anyway, what I really wanted to mention is that a new Indonesian action thriller called THE RAID just opened yesterday at the Birmingham 8, so naturally, me and my film geek friend are gonna rush off to see it. I just happened to run across this trailer for it a week or so ago on YouTube:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PkULMOFpuCo

Since Indonesian action thrillers rarely play at a theater anywhere near me, I'm definitely catching up on this one---plus it stars the tough fighting cutie from MERENTAU, Iko Uwais---I still haven't seen that one yet,though. Here's a review of it from Detroit's Metro Times:

http://metrotimes.com/screens/the-raid-redemption-1.1296393


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This post has been edited by Kim Greene on Apr 14 2012, 11:43 AM
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Doug Bassett
Posted: Apr 14 2012, 03:05 PM


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Hi, Ms. Greene:

Well, I'm no adventurer when it comes to tracking down dvds -- I found EMPEROR'S NAKED ARMY on Netflix. Try searching for it there yourself, if you have an account. It's from Facets video -- the same company that released A, interestingly enough.

I guess we'll just have to agree to disagree on how interesting truly crazy people are. In my own life I've been lucky to only know a few, so maybe it's just a sampling error, but everyone I've met have been so locked into their manias that there's no space for anything else but them. I suppose they can be initially charismatic, because they do often have drive and people tend to like drive, especially in a complicated world where it's hard for a lot of folk to muster up the motivation to do much of anything. They stand out by way of contrast.

But after you hear them out you might as well split, because you've just seen the best of 'em. Hang out with them for any length of time and you'll be "hearing them out" over and over and overandoverandover again.

Believe me, I know whereof I speak on this. In EMPEROR'S, once you get that Okuzaki hates current Japanese society the movie has no where else to really go, IMO, because there's nothing else to Okuzaki. Ridiculously, for a documentary, Okuzaki is a "flat" character.

Interesting that the sexism of YOUTH OF THE BEAST was repeated in other Suzuki movies; I'll have to check that out.
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