The Black Gambler
aka 黒い賭博師 aka Kuroi tobakushi
Original Story by Toshio Nomura
Directed by Ko Nakahira (as Yasushi Nakahira)
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!)
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.
aka 암살 aka Amsal
Written by Choi Dong-hoon and Lee Ki-cheol
Directed by Choi Dong-hoon
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.
Still better than the remake
Robocop gets remade by Bangla cinema, and the result is far from the worst Robocop film. Shoktir Lorai (শক্তির লড়াই) takes the basic premise of a murdered man being rebuilt into a robot who fights for justice, adds an evil counterpoint built by the villains, and throws in as many other Bangla tropes as they can to bring about a movie that is amazing and ridiculous while still being as Bangla as possible.
Bangla cinema is full of over the top characters and over the top action films, and it’s amazing just how naturally science fiction fits right in. We’ve seen a prior example of Bangla robots battling it out with Machine Man, and that film even stole some of the same parts of Robocop that Shoktir Lorai did! (though it was mostly stealing from Terminator franchise!)
As usual with these rarities, the review is a longform synopsis with commentary and we’ve included plenty of pictures and animated gifs. Thanks to Bangla cinema being so rarely written about in English, the cast and character names are partial guesses, and there are no subtitles to speak of. But at TarsTarkas.NET, we don’t need no stinking subtitles! I can’t seem to tell if this film was originally made for television or if it had a theatrical run, but television is where it first caught my attention as someone uploaded a clip to YouTube, and after that it was only a matter of two years of searching before I located a copy. Basically, any rare film you can’t find in less than an hour will probably take years to locate, that’s the disparity of rare cinema. So if people can fill in the blanks on who Shahin Alam and Notun are as well as all the actresses/actors who are nameless, it would be a great help!
Written by Luca Bercovici, Jefery Levy, and Chris Ver Wiel
Directed by Luca Bercovici
It’s the final of the three films in the Dean Cameron trilogy brought to us by Midnite for Maniacs (the others being Summer School and Ski School), and while Rockula doesn’t have “School” in the title, it does have a lot of songs, so if you ever wanted to see a vampire Elvis impersonator, Rockula has you covered!
Right off the bat (ha!) you know Rockula is going to be great because it has animated opening credits. Well, maybe not great, but it can’t be worse than Catalina Caper, the lowest-grade movie with animated opening credits of them all. Most others rate far higher, and Rockula is some fun fun cheese that if you saw while you were a young, impressionable child, you will have fond memories of for the rest of your life. If you are first exposed as a cynical adult, you’re probably going to be far less amused.
I do remember Rockula from cable as a kid, but not overly so, it’s one of those movies that sort of blurred together with several other films to create a sort of super film that never existed. So Rockula can’t live up to the hype of the most memorable moments of a dozen or so films. But it does have its charm, and Rockula is a movie that deserves a chance.
Ralph is a good vampire boy, in that he isn’t bloodthirsty, he can’t even stand the sight of blood, and just wants to play his music. Also he’s forced to relive a curse again and again because long ago he failed to save the life of his beloved Mona, and ever since history keeps repeating herself as she gets reincarnated, only for them to be destined to meet, fall in love, and for her to swiftly be killed off by a ham bone due to the reincarnated rage of a pirate. It’s a curse, except this time there is the added danger that he knows it might be the last time through.
Written by David Mitchell
Directed by Damian Lee
The second film in the Dean Cameron Triple Feature Midnites for Maniacs show was Ski School (after Summer School), one of two flicks I had no experience with before the night began. This was Jesse Hawthorne Ficks’ favorite movie growing up, and the showing was his birthday bash. I was only vaguely aware of the film going in, thinking it was just another Police Academy style film that they must not have had a copy of at the video store I used growing up.
The film apes part of Summer School‘s character dynamic, though instead of Dean Cameron’s character having Dave Frazier(Gary Riley) to work off of, Cameron is paired up with Stuart Fratkin as his partner in crime. Fratkin and Cameron would again be paired in the tv series They Came From Outer Space, though Fratkin was noticeably not in Ski School 2, a movie that seemingly could only afford Dean Cameron.
Ski School is a classic snobs vs slobs scenario mixed into the Academy format the Police Academy movies help popularized while also showcasing some great 90s extreme sports events. In addition to the skiing, thanks to it being the 90s, ever character is constantly wearing neon, especially neon tracksuits and ski outfits. They even work it into the party scenes by using a blacklight to make the partygoers all glow.
Basically, Dave Marshak (Dean Cameron) and his squad of party hounds run the disrespectful part of the ski school located in Building 8 (painted sideways like infinity.) They’re opposed by Reid Janssens (Mark Thomas Miller), a classic movie jerkass who demands perfection and hates the slobs, to the point where he is conspiring with the ski school’s owners to sell the place, at which point he’ll get a promotion. Not exactly the best evil plan, but it is evil and it is a plan that interferes with their partying lifestyle, so Marshak and his friends must save the day. Marshak is joined by his best bud Fitz Fitzgerald (Stuart Fratkin) and fellow party man Ed Young (Patrick Labyorteaux, who was also in Summer School), as well as hot new recruit John Roland (Tom Breznahan), who is an awesome skier but not from the rich, established skier areas, thus earning Janssens’ ire and getting shipped of to section 8.