Movie Reviews

The White-Bone Sword Part 2 (Review)


The White-Bone Sword (Part 2)

aka 白骨陰陽劍(下集) aka The Yin Yang Blade aka Ingentious Swords, Part Two aka Bai gu yin yang jian, xia ji
White-boned Sword
1962HKMDB Link
Written by Sze-To On
Directed by Ling Yun

Dancing with the Trees never took off like Dancing with the Stars did…

The magic of The White-boned Sword continues with Part 2, which features slightly less monsters but slightly more martial intrigue. Which means the entry is less friendly for watching without subtitles. There is some nice sword fights, nice animated martial effects, and the return of the Tree Spirit. But there is also a bunch of people arguing, a pointless martial tournament, and weird pipe fighting that sounds cool but gets old really quick. A disappointing second entry, but the next two parts give us some more monsters so I’ll take this brief break in the fun.
White-boned Sword

Wong Tin-ho (Walter Tso Tat-wah) – Helping Luk Fong-fei and Black Girl train along with Wu Sheung-fung, but is drawn into more sword-related martial intrigue. Doesn’t really do much amazing stuff in this entry.
Wu Sheung-fung (Yu So Chow) – Still helping Wong Tin-ho train Luk Fong-fei and Black Girl, she proves her martial superiority early in this entry, and even tricks some of the dumbest villains in martial history.
Luk Fong-fei (Connie Chan Po-chu) – Daughter of a murdered family and training to get revenge, while also being a rebellious teen who sneaks out to do more martial arts stuff. Like teens do.
Pak Ha-mui aka Black Girl (Yip Wai-Ngai) – Daughter of a murdered mother and possessor of magic swords. She also is easily offended when you blame her for people being killed. She’s so over being part of a franchise and being responsible for magic swords
Vampire Lady (Kong Bo-Lin) – Vampire Lady is back in domino form. This is probably her weakest appearance in the series, but she makes up for it in the other entries.
Tree Spirit (Himself) – He’s dead but he’s back, because you can’t kill a spirit. Or at least a spirit that is connected to the sword via magic and it can summon him to fight evil.
Ghost Mother (Kam Ying-Lin) – The nefarious Ghost Mother returns, now teamed up with a new group of baddies who don’t give her any respect. She’s graduated from being the big bad to being the person killed by worse villains just to show how evil they are. At one point the synopsis calls her Blue Flower Ghostly Mother so that’s probably her full, legal name for you trivia buffs out there!
Pipe Guy (Chow Gat) – Part of a pipe-based martial sect who briefly orchestrates posession of the White-boned Swords before his group is easily tricked out of them. That must not be tobacco they are smoking in those pipes!
Sek Kin 2.0 (Sek Kin) – I never figured out what his character name was, but Sek Kin 2.0 keeps up the tradition and dies just like his identical twin brother did in Part 1. He works with the Five Element Taoists in a sword-snatching scheme that backfires because they are the villains and not the heroes in the story, you see. His name might be Three-hand Lohan Mak Tin-lung, which is a cool name but as I couldn’t prove it was him, it will go unassigned until I use it in a story I write years form now…
Old Devilish Eccentric (Ling Mung) – A mad wondering monk who is good and trains Black Girl after she runs off after fighting with Luk Fong-fei. The world needs more crazy martial guys who wander around and live in trees, so I support him 100%!

White-boned Sword
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Posted by Tars Tarkas - January 12, 2017 at 8:07 am

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The White-Bone Sword Part 1 (Review)


The White-Bone Sword (Part 1)

aka 白骨陰陽劍(上集) aka White-Boned Sword (Part 1) aka The Yin Yang Blade aka Ingentious Swords, Part One aka Bai Gu Yin Yang Jian, Shang Ji
White-Boned Sword
1962HKMDB Link
Written by Sze-To On
Directed by Ling Yun

White-Boned Sword
Break out the vintage machine because we’ve got some classic Cantonese fantasy wuxia for your entertainment. The White-Bone Sword dates from 1962, and is a four-part epic that features plenty of kung fu battles, along with lots of animated martial effects and three wonderful monsters to add to our Field Guide to Cantonese Fantasy Monsters and Creatures!

The White-Bone Sword (which also goes by a lot of names such as The Yin Yang Blade and Ingentious Swords, “Ingentious” isn’t even a real word so someone done goofed up the translation machine! The Chinese title 白骨陰陽劍 has “white bone” in the name so we’re going with The White-Bone Sword as the “real” English title) is based on a serial novel by Luk Yu featured in the newspaper Wah Sing Pao. I am guessing the story has the same name in the paper, but that wasn’t explicitly stated, so don’t take that as gospel. We’re going to call the sword the White-Bone Sword, but don’t be too shocked if a stray White-Boned Sword or two slips in.

The White-Bone Sword was the inaugural film series from Longway Movie Enterprise production company, which would make about six or seven other films before disappearing. It’s directed by Ling Yun (who would go on to direct the excellent Buddha’s Palm films!) and the scripts are by Sze-To On, who wrote over 250 Hong Kong movies and if you’re even a moderate fan of Hong Kong cinema you will have seen something he wrote. Basically, this is a great creative pedigree that helped produce an above average fantasy flick series that has some cool monsters and effects even as it suffers from some of the conventions of the day, such as a slower pace and weird filler spots. As usual with these rarities, there are no English subtitles, but at TarsTarkas.NET, we don’t need no stinking subtitles!
White-Boned Sword

Wong Tin-ho (Walter Tso Tat-wah) – Martial arts hero selected by his sifu to track down the White-Bone Sword along with Wu Sheung-fung. Ends up saving Luk Fong-fei and Black Girl again and again.
Wu Sheung-fung (Yu So Chow) – Martial arts heroine selected by her sifu to track down the White-Bone Sword along with Wong Tin-ho. Ends up saving Luk Fong-fei and Black Girl again and again.
Luk Fong-fei (Connie Chan Po-chu) – Daughter of a nice local dignitary until he’s murdered and their house is torched by Ghost Mother and her gang. Flees with Black Girl and her servant with the gang in pursuit until Wong Tin-ho and Wu Sheung-fung begin saving them.
Pak Ha-mui aka Black Girl (Yip Wai-Ngai) – Her mother Pak Ching-wah has a secret knife that can kill the Tree Spirit that guards the White-Bone Sword, but luckily she hid it by giving it to her daughter. Pak Ching-wah was murdered along with Luk Fong-fei’s father by the Ghost Mother gang, and Black Girl seeks revenge. Yip Wai-Ngai is sometimes called Yip Wai-yee.
Vampire Lady (Kong Bo-Lin) – Though we don’t know her real name, Vampire Lady was ubiquitous in the series and often saves the day after our heroes get in trouble bumbling into villains. She commands an army of hopping vampires with flag commands.
Tree Spirit (Himself) – A spirit who controls the weather, has a magic sword stuck in its body, and is outfitted with mouth sparklers!
Ghost Mother (Kam Ying-Lin) – A woman who uses a skull prop as a conduit to magical powers. She is the boss of Monk of Black Wind and Cheng Hang.
Monk of Black Wind and Cheng Hang (Sek Kin and Ho King-Fan) – One of them is played by Sek Kin, and the other is Ho King-Fan I don’t know which one is which, but as Monk of Black Wind has the cooler name and Sek Kin is the cooler guy, I’m assigning the roles that way. Both of them are thugs who work for Ghost Mother.
Animated Skeleton (Himself) – Ghost Mother sends this animated skeleton to attack the heroes. It can shoot animated flames from its mouth. Totally not a prop guy off camera waving a skeleton around on a string.

White-Boned Sword
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Posted by Tars Tarkas - January 5, 2017 at 8:53 am

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The Handmaiden (Review)


The Handmaiden

aka 아가씨 aka Agassi
The Handmaiden
2016
Written by Park Chan-wook & Chung Seo-kyung
Based on the novel Fingersmith by Sarah Waters
Directed by Park Chan-wook

The Handmaiden
If you aren’t a fan of Park Chan-wook by now, I’m not sure what it will take to convince you to get out and see The Handmaiden. But if you are one of the millions of his fans around the globe, you know that Park Chan-wook is a force of awesomeness in the movie community, and The Handmaiden continues that tradition of awesome movies from an awesome guy. Basically, run, don’t walk, to the theaters and check out a wonderful psychological thriller. There is a trio of amazing performances by Kim Min-hee, Ha Jung-woo, and newcomer Kim Tae-ri. Sarah Waters’ novel Fingersmith is moved to 1930s occupied Korea, where it still manages to work in a culture of repression and male dominance.

Kim Min-hee is heiress Lady Hideko. Hideko is isolated and lorded over by her cruel uncle, Kouzuki, who covets her money and title. Her mother died in childbirth, and her aunt was found hanging in a tree when she was a child. Hideko never leaves the family estate and her only contact with outsiders is a weekly reading of erotic literature to exclusive guests. If you are familiar with the concept of that literature, some of it is ridiculous, basically the dime store erotic trash novels peppered with flowery poetry and filled with imagery that at times stretches believability that the writers have even interacted with people who have sex. Hideko’s Uncle Kouzuki has designs on becoming a Japanese nobleman despite being neither of those things and Hideko’s money and title his avenue to obtain them. Kouzuki rejects his Korean heritage in an admiration for the occupying Japanese, but his true passion is rare books, specifically the aforementioned erotic literature.

Kim Tae-ri plays Sook-hee, a gifted pickpocket and thief embedded as a handmaiden whose job it is to help convince Hideko to fall for the fake Count Fujiwara (Ha Jung-woo — Assassination). Fujiwara has a knack for making forgeries and is just the thing Hideko’s creepy uncle needs, as he can’t bear to part with any of his rare books, but is perfectly fine with selling off faked replicas of them. This gives Fujiwara the access he needs to scope out Lady Hideko and enact his plan of seduction and asset seizure, enabled by Sook-hee as Hideko’s new handmaiden. And then it is seduction time.
The Handmaiden
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Posted by Tars Tarkas - November 1, 2016 at 8:06 am

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Shin Godzilla (Review)

March of Godzilla Godman

Shin Godzilla

aka シン・ゴジラ aka Godzilla Resurgence
Shin Godzilla
2016
Written by Hideaki Anno
Directed by Hideaki Anno and Shinji Higuchi

New facial cleanses have gotten out of control!

Godzilla was on one of his occasional breaks after his Final War while the US developed their own Godzilla franchise. But after that monster hit, Godzilla reawoke in Japan to return with a spiritual successor to the original Gojira that is also one of the most successful films in Japan. Godzilla is back as a force of nature, the appearance and response directly referencing the Japanese Fukushima earthquake/nuclear disaster. Much of the film is spent in a West Wing style series of high level government meetings, in which entrenched minsters and officials do little of consequence in order to avoid looking bad if their actions don’t have the desired effect. While that sounds like it could be terrible, it’s actually really good, the scenes are cut quickly and innovatively to keep things moving briskly along while still giving you the feeling that the characters were in long unproductive meetings.

Hideaki Anno and Shinji Higuchi were given free reign to tell their story, the pair having collaborated on Evangelion, with Anno subsequently directing cult live action films such as Cutie Honey and Higuchi doing effects work on the Gamera trilogy and directing the Attack on Titan features. Their strong pedigree promised that we would get something unique and entertaining, and the pair delivered with a strong entry.

The effects are a bit mixed, the final form of Godzilla is well done, but the earlier forms look goofy and some effects with them seem more rushed. While most of the music is new, there is some nice Akira Ifukube put in at the right time, with tanks driving around and blasting away that helped made the scene come together, you won’t care that everything is now CG instead of models and a guy in a suit. It really is modern mixed with the past, besides the retro tank fight, we have unmanned drones attacking Big G at one point, and the final sequence has a bunch of industrial and civilian vehicles that make up the heart of Japan’s economic might being used to save Japan.
Shin Godzilla
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Posted by Tars Tarkas - October 25, 2016 at 8:16 am

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The Black Gambler (Review)


The Black Gambler

aka 黒い賭博師 aka Kuroi tobakushi
Black Gambler
1965
Original Story by Toshio Nomura
Directed by Ko Nakahira (as Yasushi Nakahira)

Black Gambler
Among the lesser known Japanese 1960s film series in the West is the “Gambler Series”, thanks to it never getting any sort of proper Western release. But thanks to the magic of fan subs, the sixth entry in the franchise, Black Gambler, can now be enjoyed by those of us who track down world cinema. The films are obscure enough it is hard to find much about them in English, but basically heartthrob Akira Kobayashi is a master gambler who gets involved in various intrigues thanks to the world of gambling. Most of them are unconnected besides the title and gambling theme, and there were eight in total. I’m not sure if every entry involves international spies and revenge by gambling, but I can guarantee this is the only 1960s Japanese gambling movie where the master villain is a Jewish gambler who used his gambling money to fund the Nazis in World War 2. I’m not even sure where to begin with that revelation, except to laugh out loud like I did when it was announced. As usual, the international gang of goons go up against the cool and suave Japanese hero, and let’s just say you should always bet on Akira Kobayashi (sorry, Wesley Snipes, pay your taxes and maybe we’ll bet on you again!)
Black Gambler
At this point, Akira Kobayashi was more of a lone wolf bad boy, but here he is also a suave playboy gambler, which means he got to stretch his acting muscles a bit. Director Ko Nakahira/Yasushi Nakahira is probably best known in the west for Crazed Fruit, Summer Heat (basically a remake of Crazed Fruit he directed for Shaw Brothers), and the first two Rica films. He was yet another director who had trouble with Nikkatsu’s restrictions on creativity, thus leading to his split from the studio and directing film in Hong Kong under the name Yang Su Hsi.
Black Gambler
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Posted by Tars Tarkas - August 9, 2016 at 8:40 am

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Assassination (Review)


Assassination

aka 암살 aka Amsal
Assassination
2015
Written by Choi Dong-hoon and Lee Ki-cheol
Directed by Choi Dong-hoon

Assassination
Despite the years of ups and downs, South Korea cinema continues to deliver great films, even if it isn’t at the breakneck pace that it once had. And deliver Assassination does, giving us a great wartime espionage tale with a core group of interesting players to follow. Characters battle and scheme, motivated by their honor, for some the honor of appearing strong and powerful more alluring than the actuality.

Assassination wins not because of the action sequences of the story of a ragtag group of unlikely heroes battling against a gigantic evil Empire, but because of the scenes of characters interacting. A heroic sniper, bounty hunters with consciences, and traitors that put their own power above their nation and peoples’ survival battling it out is well and good, but I’m going to remember Ahn Ok-yun sitting in a diner next to Hawaii Pistol where they concoct a fantasy of being a couple in order to evade detection by the Japanese army. Or Hawaii Pistol recounting how he killed his own father and wanting to spare Ahn Ok-yun the same fate. Or a traitor wiping out anyone who threatens to expose him because of he doesn’t want to die. The little bits in the larger whole where characters switch from the stereotypes you think they are to fully fleshed out beings.

Assassination spins its web of spies and intrigue before setting up the next big action scene that causes the surviving players to shuffle around and prepare for the next web. Choi Dong-hoon was best known for his heist films, including the international hit The Thieves, and while Assassination is a different genre, it still has the large cast and multiple story angles all coming together. It even follows some of the same story beats, with a mid-movie action sequence (or heist) that everything was working up towards, but it turns out it was just the beginning of the second half of the film with a smaller but larger staked sequence to follow.
Assassination
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Posted by Tars Tarkas - August 3, 2016 at 5:07 pm

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