Black Cat (Steven Shin) – Hollywood aren’t the only one remaking ‘Nikita’, as this enjoyable but almost pointless Hong Kong film shows. It’s pointless, because Besson’s original was the nearest any Western director has come to reproducing the style and pace of the best Eastern action. Shin’s version tweaks the story in several ways – the heroine is now an innocent waitress, sent down after shooting a man in self-defence (and, admittedly, blowing away a cop as a nervous after-reaction), and her final hit is on the man she loves, but these have little impact on the feel of the film. One interesting idea is using an implanted chip to control the heroine but, save for one beautiful scene on an aircraft, it’s also sadly wasted. However, the set-pieces are easily up to the level of the original and had it not all been done already, it would have been heartily recommended. C+
Body Parts (Eric Red) – I’d have expected better from the writer of ‘The Hitcher’ and ‘Near Dark’ than a rehash of those old “psycho limb” movies, but in essence, that’s what this film is. Jeff Fahey loses his arm in a road accident and gets the limb of an executed murderer. Fill in the blanks yourself for most of the next 70 minutes, as the film skirts the more interesting questions such as, “If he were to jerk off, would it feel like someone else was doing it?”, in favour of predictable menacing-the-family sequences, as the people who got other bits from the criminal meet neo-grisly deaths. Only in the last quarter does the film show much imagination, a pity, as the ideas on view there aren’t bad – if you can stay awake that long. D-
Burden of Dreams (Les Blank) – This documentary chronicles the making of Herzog’s “Fitzcarraldo”, and ends up being more fascinating than the movie it portrays, though with the same central theme: grand folly. Like a Shakespearean tragedy, heavenly ambition becomes hellish nightmare, as Herzog is forced from his first location at gunpoint by local Indians, lead actors Jason Robards and Mick Jagger drop out and the vital rainy season is missed. Then things really start to go wrong. See Klaus Kinski, smiling on arrival, metamorphose into a scowling wreck, muttering about the “fuckin’ stinking jungle”. See Herzog spend four years trying to make a film. See a bulldozer taken on the Amazonian jungle, and lose – the jungle didn’t need spare parts flown in from Miami – all depicted with unflinching detail. A nightmare. B+
Death Leaves No Footprints in the Snow & other films (Justino Gaveleto) Amateur films are usually at their best when they attempt things no Hollywood director would, and this batch of shorts mostly appeal in direct relation to their incoherence. Wisely using film stock rather than video, Justino produces some striking, surreal, and weird images, especially when (as in ‘Death…’) he’s unencumbered by plot. Then there’s ‘Gratuitous Violence & Garlic’, which tries to tell a vampire story, but is let down by seriously bad acting, and actively annoying technical shoddiness. These represent the two extremes – most are in the middle, dumping raw imagination onto the screen without much intervention. While the ideas are definitely there, a willingness to edit out failures would be welcome. Justino would make a fine director of photography, but definitely needs to keep an eye on any storyline. I’ll still be interested to see his next project – a ‘heroic bloodshed’ shoot-out. Contact Just, 77 Crystal Palace Park Road, London, SE26 6HT. B- to E-
The Golden Years (four directors!) – An American TV series repackaged here as one massive four-hour tape. Which is the main problem. It’s unwatchable in one chunk, and barely palatable in a couple – I took three sessions over nine days. Based on a Stephen King story, it’s about a janitor at a research establishment who gets blasted by radiation and starts to grow younger, provoking interest, unsurprisingly, from “agencies”. He’s forced to go on the run with his wife, helped by a renegade agent. The first two hours are nearly redundant (Steve missed them but still sussed the plot) and it could, and should, have been cut down to feature length. Apart from that, it actually has decent performances from Felicity Huffman, R.D.Call and Frances Sternhagen plus some humour, weirdness and things-mankind-was-not-meant-to-know, though the ending is bizarre. C-
J’Embrasse Pas (André Téchiné) – Not many French actresses get two films to open in London in one week, but Emmanuelle Beart had “La Belle Noiseuse” (four hours long, bearable only to serious film theorists – or those who like Ms. Beart with her kit off) and this one which, like ‘Noce Blanche’, had a totally misleading advertising campaign. The title does not apply to her but the rent boy she befriends – in the first 80 minutes of the film, EB is on screen for about two of them. More truthfully, it’s about a bloke who comes to the city; gets a job; sleeps with his landlady; loses both and is forced into prostitution to survive; then finds the life not that awful. His attempt at a relationship with EB doesn’t go too well – her pimp beats him up and rapes him. There’s a moral in there somewhere (“Emmanuelle really screws you up”?), but I’m not sure I like it. Not badly-made, and utterly cheerless, I’m docking it marks for being a con! D-
The Last Boy Scout (Tony Scott) – While ‘Die Hard 2’ plunged virtually straight into mayhem, this film starts off by trying to set up characters and a complicated scenario involving corruption, gambling and politics. The point of this is not clear. It’s a Bruce Willis film f’heavens sake, we know precisely what’s going to happen – Bruce will end up in his vest, bloody but unbowed, smiling his famous “shit-eating” grin. Nothing should get in the way – not family problems, or brushes with the law. Catch some z’s, as until the Bad Guys (redneck boss, effeminate hitman) turn up this could almost be “Kramer vs. Kramer” (except that didn’t have gratuitous exotic dancing). The sound of nose entering brain will alert you to phase B: which piles mayhem upon mayhem and wins the award for Best Offensive Use of a Stuffed Toy before fading to the obligatory moral, which seems to be “The family that slays together, stays together”, judging from the chortles accompanying the final death. Probably reprehensible, but did you expect anything else? C+
The People Under the Stairs (Wes Craven) – In most Craven movies, the bad guys are more colourful than the good ones. Here, the hero is a kid burglar, who gets a lot more than he expected when he breaks into a house, best described as an unofficial orphanage, run by a man and woman who seem to be inspired equally by ‘Parents’ and the Brothers Grimm. Our hero, who only went into crime to stop his poor, sick mother from being evicted (ha! tell that to the people of LA…), has to rescue the poor, abused daughter. Ignore the clumsy social comment and it holds together, generating a fine head of steam despite the good-guys-by-numbers approach, though the titular creatures are frankly a disappointment. B
Showdown in Little Tokyo (Mark Lester) – “The proportion of Americans who do not consider Japan a dependable partner rose to 42 pct over the past year, a survey commissioned by Japan’s foreign ministry shows. Major reasons given were fierce economic competition, Japan’s attack in 1941 on Pearl Harbour, and the selfishness of Japanese people”. This news item goes some way to explaining why the villains in ‘Showdown’ are Japanese, but xenophobia aside, it’s not a bad film, adding a few twists to the ‘mismatched cop’ cliche – Dolph Lundgren is the pure American hero, obsessed with Japanese culture; Brandon Lee is his half-Eastern partner who couldn’t give a damn about it. They take on the “slopeheads”, rescue a damsel in distress (mostly as an excuse for a very bad pun), learn to respect each other, and make comment’s about Dolph’s penis. At the risk of repeating myself, “Probably reprehensible, but did you expect anything else?” C+
3×3 Eyes OAV 1 & 2 – Only in Japan – for the moment… Yuzo Takada’s manga series, translated and released in English by Studio Proteus, has also made it to the video screen, with the production in Japan of a series of OAVs (Original Animation Videos). Pai, the last member of the Triclops. a race of immortals, has journeyed from Tibet to Tokyo to find Yakumo, whose father had promised he’d help her become human. Unfortunately, Yakumo is killed, only to be resurrected by Pai, who “inhales” his soul, turning him immortal, albeit with a mark on his forehead that spells “zombie”. This links his fate to Pai’s – she dies, he dies; she becomes human, so does he – and this vested interest provokes him into aiding her search for the Statue of Humanity, which will fulfill her wish.
In the first OAV, they travel to Hong Kong and meet Ling Ling, a sceptical psychic investigator, who soon learns to be slightly less dogmatic! At 25 minutes long, it works well, putting the supernatural elements in an effective modern setting, which increases the plausibility, while the animation is very sharp. But I had to wonder whether the story held any long term interest, as it seemed easy to predict the plot for the rest of the series.
Fortunately, part 2 confounded the predictions, though it returns to a favourite anime cliche, the Demon High School – Japanese monsters must be the most learned in the world, judging by the time they spend plaguing educational establishments! So with a nod to ‘Urutsoji Doji’, and perhaps one to ‘Mr Vampire’ too, the OAV splatters it’s way towards an impressive climax. There’s now two more in the series, and hopefully the imagination shown in them will be on the same level. B-
Fist of the North Star – Island World, 12.99. Island World deserve credit for spotting anime’s potential. Spurred on by the success of ‘Akira’, they’re promoting the genre in a big way, and have planned a whole series of releases, of which. ‘Fist’ is the first – unfortunately, it’s not brilliant, with animation no better than competent Saturday morning TV, and a plot reminiscent of bad kung fu fodder. I can see why they chose it to follow up ‘Akira’: “Fist”, with it’s post-holocaust, urban decay setting and gleeful violence, might have sounded like Katsuhiro Otomo’s masterwork. But anyone expecting ‘Akira 2’ will be disappointed.
Ken, the hero, has his girlfriend kidnapped, and sets off to rescue her. Luckily, he’s the Fist of the North Star – ten seconds or so after he hits someone, they explode – so before you can say “..and you must pay!”, he’s spraying around the internal fluids of anyone who gets in his way. Which is the major appeal; ‘Fist’ is undoubtedly the bloodiest animation ever to get a UK release, even with the (imposed?) digital blurring. If only they’d put more effort into the animation or story, and less into finding a striking range of ways to kill Ken’s foes!
So I can’t really recommend ‘Fist’. It (just) succeeds on a one-off viewing but anyone interested in Japanese animation should hold fire, as there’s better anime coming. AnimEigo are planning to release the excellent ‘Bubblegum Crisis’, and Island World have lined up ‘Dominion’ for July and ‘Project A-ko’ next, with ‘3×3 Eyes’ and ‘Legend of the Overfiend’ (BBFC permitting!) planned for later in ’92. ‘Fist’ seems to have sold quite well, but how much was follow through sales from ‘Akira’? However, hopefully interest in anime has been established – either that, or it’s back to scouring the children’s section for mutilated anime, a frightening prospect for films like ‘Nausicaa’, which lost 26 minutes in becoming ‘Warriors of the Wind’. That’s more than the BBFC cut from ‘Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2’… D-
Project A-ko (US Manga Corp, $39.95). America, spurred on by a fandom numbering in the tens of thousands, is now a sufficiently large market to allow the release of a wide range of anime. And for sheer entertainment, ‘Project A-ko’ is among the best. The title is a homage to Jackie Chan, and they have a similar spirit humour, mayhem and sailor suits, though ‘Project A-ko’ has these on schoolgirls, rather than coastguards! The story is centred around two girls, A-ko and B-ko. They were at kindergarten together, where B-ko challenged A-ko to a battle, but it never took place as A-ko had to move away. Now, the pair have met up at high school and are squaring off for the long-postponed duel, once again over the friendship of a third girl, C-ko.
Now this may sound terribly twee, like a story in ‘Bunty’, but things aren’t quite what they seem. C‑ko’s a princess, abandoned when she was a baby; her family is now on the way to reclaim her and they’re more than willing to total Tokyo or anyone who interferes, including A-ko & B-ko. Fortunately A-ko & B-ko are no average citizens either – A-ko is capable of leaping through tall buildings with a single bound (right at the end, we glimpse her parents, and heredity may be blamed!) while B-ko can design and build a robot from scratch in an evening, and wields an interesting range of weaponry. When these two clash, the results would keep several construction companies in work for months, so when they realise C-ko’s family want to take her away, it’s major urban renewal time!
The animation is smooth and fluid, the humour comes across well, it’s got a neat soundtrack and the story develops beautifully from near-normality towards wild SF. The pace occasionally slackens too far in the first half and some scenes might provoke sniggers from a Western viewpoint, but leave your brain at the door, and you should have a thoroughly enjoyable 80 minutes. US Manga Corp have done an excellent job of presenting the tape. It’s letterboxed, and subtitled, using the black space below the picture, which makes the text highly legible. $40 may seem expensive (it should be less when Island World release it here in August, albeit dubbed), but as it’s just about an all-round winner, it’s hard to complain. A-.