aka 迎春閣之風波 aka Ying Chun Ge Zhi Fengbo 1973 Written by King Hu and Wong Chung
Directed by King Hu
King Hu’s works are amazing, and he is one of the most influential artists in martial arts film history. That being said, The Fate of Lee Khan was made after Dragon Gate Inn and A Touch of Zen, and the biggest flaw is it just doesn’t live up to those classics. It is a good story, full of intrigue and great choreography. But it just feels smaller scale and lacks some of the smaller character moments that a smaller story should have. Lee Khan just doesn’t seem as dangerous as he should be considering he is supposed to be this big ultimate villain. The best way to describe him would be as the mediocre villain of the second film in a super hero series who bridges the gap before the more memorable villain in the third film.
The word is The Fate of Lee Khan was one of two productions of King Hu’s under his company, Gam Chuen (the other was The Valiant Ones). The films were to be distributed by Golden Harvest, who would gain the rights to Lee Khan while Hu would own The Valiant Ones. As usual, Hu’s films fell behind in filming, Lee Khan was barely finished by 1973, while The Valiant Ones wasn’t completed until 1975, and Gam Chuen then petered out.
It is a time when the Mongols have overstayed their welcome and General Zhu leads an army to fight them, spies are rife and everyone is paranoid. Lee Khan is a local overseer of two provinces and prince of the royal family, with his sister Lee Wan-Er as his loyal assistant. He found a member of General Zhu’s army to sell out and leaves to personally receive a map of battle plans. But this leads to opportunity and intrigue at a local inn, as these matters often do…
Madam Wan Ren-Mi (Li Li-Hua) – Runs the Ying Chun Inn, where Lee Khan is rumored to be staying at when meeting with a traitor that works for rebels. Is friends with benefits of the local governor Magistrate Ha Ra-Ku (Wu Jia-Xiang). Hires the waitresses who are all members of the rebellion, as is she.
Lee Khan (Tien Feng) – Leaves the safety of his palace to personally receive a map of the battle plans of the rebel general (the spy would only deliver to him personally) The map is legit but it is also an opportunity to attack Lee Khan out of the safety of his palace and numerous guards Tien Feng excelled at authoritative villainous roles in the 50s-80s, appearing in films such as Black Falcon, One-Armed Swordsman, Vengeance of a Snowgirl, King Boxer, Fist of Fury, By the 90s he had reduced his screen appearances, though still managed to appear in Green Snake and Sex and Zen.
Lee Wan-Er (Hsu Feng) – The sister of Lee Khan. Deadly villainess in her own right, including much more of a violent streak of wanting others to die for their crimes than Lee Khan. She seems to be the only person he cares about besides himself.
Black Peony (Angela Mao Ying) – Waitress dressed in black clothes. A former infamous pickpocket, Black Peony has mended her ways (sort of) by helping the Chinese resistance to the Mongol rule, and becomes a waitress at the Ying Chun Inn. I think she’s the only waitress whose character gets a name spoken on screen. Had her character been born rich, she’d probably be robbing from her rich friends and distributing it to the poor while wearing a super hero mask. For more Angela Mao films TarsTarkas.NET has covered, click on her tag.
Blue Waitress (Helen Ma Hoi-Lun) – A former bandit whose past makes her a poor choice as a waitress, but a good choice for someone you need in a fight. For more Helen Ma films TarsTarkas.NET has covered, click on her tag.
Red Waitress (Woo Gam) – A former street performer who now works for the rebels, she is adept with dealing with customers who have naughty hands than the other girls. For more Woo Gam films TarsTarkas.NET has covered, click on her tag.
Green Waitress (Seung-Goon Yin-Ngai) – The fourth waitress, she’s given the least amount of characterization except her character is hinted to be a con artist.
Wang Chun (Pai Ying) – A rebel sent to help, pretends to be Madam Wan’s cousin helping look over the books. Pai Ying was also in Dragon Gate Inn, A Touch of Zen, and Lady Whirlwind
Sha Yuan-San (Han Ying-Chieh) – Wandering singer and annoying rebel sent to help pretends to be Wang Chun’s assistant. Another King Hu regular who was in Come Drink with Me, Dragon Gate Inn, A Touch of Zen, and the non-King Hu film Sword of Emei.
Tsao Yu-Kun (Roy Chiao Hung) – High-ranking bodyguard to Lee Khan but also plotting against him. Roy Chiao had a prolific career including The Dark Heroine Muk Lan-Fa, Enter the Dragon, and Bloodsport.
aka シン・ゴジラ aka Godzilla Resurgence 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. Continue reading →
aka 刺客聶隱娘 aka Nie yin niang 2015 Written by Hou Hsiao-Hsien, Chu Tien-wen, Hsieh Hai-Meng, and Zhong Acheng
Based on a story by Pei Xing
Directed by Hou Hsiao-Hsien The Assassin is a great film that will bore the living crap out a whole bunch of people thinking they’re going to see something that it’s not. It’s one of those films that makes me feel like a bad movie review website guy because it should be a film I’m jazzed for, but I just don’t really have strong feelings for it. I’ve even seen some of director Hou Hsiao-Hsien’s other work, thanks to a particularly well-stocked Blockbuster that had Millennium Mambo (great!) and Flowers of Shanghai (greater!). This was before I moved to an area with great independent video stores, and also way before movies became easy to find on the internet, but that’s a whole different topic! But that meant The Assassin should have been right up my alley. And yet, I never really connected with it.
The Assassin has beautiful cinematography, some of the best I’ve seen in a long time. If anything the cinematography is too beautiful, every shot of the landscape looks out of a storybook, it’s a wonder how anything was ever done in 9th century China as everywhere people looked they would just see beautiful landscapes and spend all their time admiring them. The plot is steeped in historical characters as the story is literally dropped in the middle of actual history. I don’t know if Shu Qi’s character actually existed, but much of the rest of the characters are actual historical figures. Historical spoiler alert, Tian Xing, the guy who is exiled, will eventually have Tian Ji’an’s job. If anything, The Assassin got me to read up more on Chinese history, something I hadn’t done as much as I would have liked before. Continue reading →
1987 Screenplay by Jeff Franklin
Story by Jeff Franklin, Stuart Birnbaum, and David Dashev
Directed by Carl Reiner
At one point Summer School was a cable staple, but I first saw it as a lad probably in ’88 or ’89 during a Showtime free preview weekend on cable. You see, we had HBO and Cinemax, but not Showtime, which meant there was a huge chunk of films that we didn’t have the pleasure of watching a billion times. Summer School was one of those, but it was also popular enough it was used to entice people to sign up for Showtime, which we never did, but we did watch their free films. After that, I managed to miss it the hundreds of other times it played on the TBS/TNT/USA channels, until 27 years later when it was screened in an theater again.
Summer School was actually part of a Dean Cameron triple-feature that also saw Ski School and Rockula played at a Midnites for Maniacs event at the San Francisco New Mission Theater. Not only was there three Dean Cameron movies playing, but Dean Cameron himself was there to regale us with a few tales of his career and filming these pictures. Summer School is both an artifact of the time and a harbinger of the future where school testing has become controversial. The kids here being unmotivated high school students who failed a required basic skills test they need to graduate and their teacher. Freddy Shoop is the gym teacher more interested in having fun and summer vacation than teaching, but he’s roped into the summer school gig because he’s up for tenure. His girlfriend goes off to Hawaii without him, and Mr. Shoop now has a room full of rambunctious kids and no desire to be a responsible adult. It’s fun seeing Marc Harmon as the beach bum teacher when he’s now best known for headlining NCIS for a bajillion years, especially since he fills the fun-having teacher role so easily.
No good 80s film is without a stuffed shirt villain, and the vice-principal Phil Gills (Robin Thomas) fills that role nicely, being a constant thorn in Shoop’s side while also dating his love interest, Robin (Kirstie Alley). He is satisfyingly slimy and provides a great foil for the hero and students while putting in a good, cheesy performance that only rarely slips into cartoonish territory. Continue reading →
aka 春子超常現象研究所 aka Haruko Chojo Gensho Kenkyujo 2015 Written and directed by Lisa Takeba
Fun time Japanese films are a bread and butter of TarsTarkas.NET, so of course we’re gonna check out a film about a girl who marries her tv. As a bonus, we got a wonderful film with a lot to say about entertainment culture and consumerism, much of which is as relevant in the US as it is to the Japanese audience. Also there are UFOs, random commercials, sideshow entertainers battling it out, and random cosplayers to spice things up!
Haruko is a young Japanese lady who spends her days alone in her apartment depressed and wishing for something paranormal to happen. Her early life had her interested in adventures, but thanks to a trauma involving spying her teacher father kissing a schoolgirl while out trying to hunt UFOs, she has abandoned her passion for the paranormal and just works a dreary job, watches tv, and makes tea stain art that she tries to sell on the street.
All of this changes one day when her ancient tv transforms into a real person! Well, a real person with a tv for a head, because he is a television brought to life. So much so that he’s called Terebi instead of getting a real name, and Haruko is harassed into paying tv licensing fees for him. Terebi is a young stud, and soon he and Haruko are lovers, but soon Terebi becomes unsatisfied with a homebody life (thanks in part to some harassment by children) and sets out to get a job, eventually becoming a successful television personality. This new lifestyle causes some friction, along with suppressed memories of a former life, Haruko’s desperate housewife coworker, and a perverted neighbor. Continue reading →
aka 俺にさわると危ないぜ aka Ore ni Sawaru to Abunaize aka If You Touch Me Danger 1966 Screenplay by Ryuzo Nakanishi and Michio Tsuzuki
Based on the novel by Michio Tsuzuki
Directed by Yasuharu Hasebe Black Tight Killers is an essential film. In a just universe, it would be a well-known classic instead of a fairly known cult movie. It assaults the senses with a full force blast of 1960s gogo excess from the opening credits, and just puts the pedal to the metal. The awesomeness is of such force that even viewers who shy away from the 1950s and 60s Japanese action cinema will be pulled along. The film is a visual feast, with nearly every scene so full of glorified excess of ocular excitement that your eyes will be in danger of going all ADHD on you. Black Tight Killers starts with Akira Kobayashi as dashing war photographer Daisuke Honda doing daring deeds during a pitched battle that wouldn’t look out of place in any cheap 1960s Italian war movie that was also shot on a small set. But soon he’s flying back to Japan and we’re blasted by dancing gogo girls in black tights stomping through the opening credits. The film features a gang of fighting femmes (the titular Black Tight Killers) who use their ninja skills on a quest to recover stolen treasure before the villains can. They cross paths with Daisuke Honda, whose recent girlfriend Yuriko Sawanouchi (Chieko Matsubara) is kidnapped due to her family connections to the looted treasure. While the ninja ladies are at first adversarial with Honda and were attempting to kill Yuriko, eventually they become a team to go after the real villains. Honda’s lady killer charms combined with the actual ladies who are killers using ninja seduction skills (the Octopus Pot move traps you know which part of Honda’s body inside you know where of the ninja lass!) means we have plenty of sex to go with violence and music.
Of particular note is a technicolor jazz dream sequence of Daisuke Honda’s, as we follow dream Yuriko as she’s chased through long hallways by stalking menaces while a different-hued black tight killer lady prances in every direction. She frantically bursts through the paper walls of different colored rooms, the ladies chasing her all the while. It’s a literal technicolor fever dream! In the awake world, whenever characters are driving around in vehicles, the projected background is rendered in primary colors, recalling the dream sequence but also forcing focus on the characters in the car just through blasting out any distractions. Continue reading →