Film Blitz


An Eye for an Eye (Sing Pui) • When a triad boss departs the scene, leaving things to his daughter, she finds herself the victim of an exercise in subjugation by her supposed assistant that starts with her rape, which he videotapes (art imitates life—certain actresses who’ve refused triad advances are rumoured to have suffered similarly. Try Blockbusters for the tapes) and goes downhill. Will she break the mind-control and tell her boy-friend (a cop in the anti-triad squad, naturally), or take matters into her own hands? One problem with Hong Kong films is a tendency for villains to be stamped from the same mould. Not so here, the bad guy possesses perverse imagination, and the film as a whole is everything you’d expect and a bit more too. Was that extra sleaze with your heroic bloodshed, sir? B

Black Cat 2 (Stephen Shin) • The original ‘Black Cat’ was basically a shot-for-shot unofficial ‘Nikita’ remake, and that was its major problem: it added nothing (tho’ it was still better than ‘The Assassin’!). The sequel does better, with Black Cat (Jade Leung) after a terrorist intent on killing Russian President Yeltsin. This time, Leung is very icy—barely three words in the first hour—and leaves the emoting to her sidekick. This leaves plenty of room for slick set-pieces, and this is where the film is at it’s best. only a dull middle section set in Moscow really fails to deliver. Otherwise, fast, furious, and fun. B-

Gambling Ghost (Clifton Ko) • Double roles are not uncommon in Hong Kong films, most notably in ‘God of Gamblers’ with Chow Yun Fat. Here, Samo Hung goes one better and plays three generations of the same family, a layabout son with an eye for a scam, his hard-working father, and the dead grandfather. Son has a brush with a triad and has to come up with a million dollars fast. Cue the arrival of the grandfather’s ghost and the predictable, if generally amusing chaos. Starts off well, as a parody of the aforementioned `GoG’, but runs out of steam a bit until the grandstand finale, which showcases Samo at his best. Hope for all who’ve ever had an extra cream bun! C-

Heroes Shed No Tears (John Woo) • Christmas night viewing in the McLennan household, for me at least, was this rather confusing cross between ‘Apocalypse Now’, ‘Cannibal Ferox’ and ‘The Wild Geese’. With basically zero introduction, we start with a kidnap of a Golden Triangle drug baron by a gang of . . . well, I’m not quite sure what they are, but they soon find a lot of heat on their tail as they plough their way through the jungle. Basically a string of set pieces slotted together, it’s undeniably powerful, adrenalin driven stuff; you’ll probably find yourself going ‘Wow!’ and ‘What?’ in roughly equal proportions. B-

Last Blood (Wong Ching) • It may be coincidence, but Wong Ching has directed many of my favourite HK films: God of Gamblers, City Hunter and also this one, which could be said to redefine “heroic bloodshed”. The Japanese Red Army try to assassinate a Tibetan Lama; they only wound him, but he desperately needs a transfusion, so they concentrate on killing all the blood donors of the appropriate type! Against them we have two cops and a Triad boss whose girlfriend also needs the blood. It’s hospital setting foreshadows ‘Hard Boiled’, but hurls kung-fu, gun-play, car chases and double agents into the mix to provide a fine, vacuous 90 minutes of fun, with Andy Lau and Alan Tam operating appropriately tongue in cheek. B

Lucky Seven 1 & 2 (Chao Chen Kuo) • Which bit of ‘The Toxic Avenger’ did you enjoy most? If you answered “the scene where the kid gets run over”, a) you’re obviously a sick puppy after my own heart, b) you’ve not got the British cut-to-shreds version and c) I’d heartily recommend these two martial arts films to you, as they feature a wonderful variety of child abuse. The plots are perfunctory—the first has a gang of children taking on jewel robbers, in the second they face kidnappers—but the staggering kid-fu will warm the heart of anyone who has ever wanted to throttle a brat. How part one got a release here I don’t know—if Esther ‘Teenage Suicide – Don’t Do It’ Rantzen saw it, she’d choke on her halo—and while the sequel is not as nicely brutal, relying slightly more on childish (though funny) humour, it does have Yukari Oshima being bad. B and B-

Once a Thief (John Woo) • Woo’s major problem is handling emotion. No-one is ever mildly anything in a John Woo film, the characters suffer mood swings that should have them on drugs as schizos. The first half of this film especially is full of badly handled sentimental stuff which feels like so much padding, unnecessary in a film lasting 108 minutes. At times, it’s more like a travelogue for the French Riviera, where the heroes, three art thieves, are operating. They pull a “last heist” only for one of them to get crippled. Of course, it’s not their last heist either. It’s predictable stuff for the most part, and pretty short of the high-octane action that Woo is best at. E+

Sea Wolves (Cheng Siu Keung) • Allegedly also ‘In the Line of Duty 7’, this is a nicely worked-out if slightly subdued entry in the series, starring Simon Yam and the beloved Cynthia Khan. A gang of pirates preying on boat people hit trouble when their “catch” includes the brother of a crew member. The pair jump ship, and find the police after them for murder, and the rest of the crew out to ensure the police don’t get them! Add in that the brother has lost his memory and it’s all a notch more complex than the usual. It’s a decent time-passer without ever hitting the heights, until the last 15 minutes. Then it goes into industrial-fu as Khan and Yam attack the pirate ship, with the sound of metal on bone. Solid stuff. C

Sword of Zen (Yu Man Sen) • While no Cynthia Khan movie can be said to be irredeemably bad, this certainly isn’t good. Mistaking complicated for complex, it hurls warring historical factions at you, mostly in a forest at night, giving you minimal chance to work out what the hell is going on. Lots of flying through the air, Maggie Cheung, exploding trees and razor-cut editing are not acceptable substitutes for a decent plot. Watching this you can get an idea of why some people don’t like HK films. E


The Assassin (John Badham) • This must be the most pointless movie I’ve seen in a long time. As I’m sure you know, it’s a remake of Luc Besson’s “Nikita”, but while all the incidents are there, almost shot-for-shot, somewhere along the line, the tension, style and energy were removed wholesale. There is simply no edge left. Gabriel Byrne as “Uncle Bob” does his best, but Bridget Fonda lacks the necessary psychoses and Badham fumbles a lot of sequences badly, especially the non-action ones. Very definitely third out of three as versions of ‘Nikita’ go, it merely makes you realise how good the original was. E+

Carnosaur (Adam Simon) • I recall reading ‘Camosaur. and thinking it’d be a wild film. `Camosaue isn’t great. Probably not even good. However, it’s just what you expect from Roger Corman; exploitation (“This’d make a great theme park”, says one character). It’s an anti-JP; a couple of wobbly dinos rather than herds of impressive ones, more blood, and a happy abscence of whining brats. Similarly dumb plot, tho’: Dianne Ladd wants to turn chickens into dinosaurs and wipe out mankind. Adam Simon did the other “Brain Dead”; this isn’t as strange but no matter how cheap and stupid it got (“very” to both), I can’t truly hate a film which shreds eco-freaks. D-

The Church (Michele Soavi) • Finally out after four years and benefiting as, these days, even mildly decent horror films are rare. Originally to be ‘Demon 3’, it’s set in a church built on a mass grave; after an hour of atmosphere, doors lock and people start dying in interesting ways. Soavi mostly controls the usual Italian flaw of “never mind the plot, have some visuals”, and Thomas Arana is nicely possessed. On the sleeve, Argento gets 7 mentions, Soavi one; hehehe, they can’t have seen ‘Trauma.’ C+

Cthulhu Mansion (J.P. Simon) • The same man did the delightfully stupid ‘Slugs’ but this, however, could be the worst Lovecraft adaption ever, except he never wrote about a magician wreaking havoc on a bunch of thugs who take him hostage; Lovecraft links just about stop at the title. The only interest is wondering if William Shatner’s daughter is going to take her clothes off. She doesn’t. There, I’ve spoiled it. F

Dust Devil (Richard Stanley) • It’s been a long time coming, thanks to the death of Palace, and it’s finally surfaced in the director’s version. And, like most director’s versions, it’s somewhat self-indulgent and, on commercial grounds at least, could do with some trimming—it’s too artistic for the gore bores, and too icky for the film bores. But there’s a lot to respect and savour, too. Set in Namibia, and telling the story of a ritual serial killer, it’s perhaps the best example of ethnic horror yet done. Whispers of `The Hitcher’ and ‘Wild at Heart’ fuse into something that dispenses atmosphere galore. However, it’s narrative is weak in comparison, and overall, while it may be a better film than ‘Hardware’, I know which one I’ll be more likely to watch. C-

Falling Down (Joel Schumacher) • This is an incredibly clever piece of movie-making that stands a lot of liberal conventions on their head, with a refreshing lack of political correctness. At least one of the incidents in the film, where D-FENS (Michael Douglas) fights for the rights of the little guy, is guaranteed to strike a chord, yet the movie never panders to the lowest common denominator, treating the audience with respect and letting them work things out for themself. It is also a very funny film, which most critics seem to avoid mentioning, it’s far more a black comedy than I expected; the “thriller” sections seemed slightly tacked on, as if to provide an excuse for the humour. But Robert Duvall’s cop does provide an interesting contrast to D-FENS, though you’re left thinking either one could have “fallen down”. Or indeed, any of us could… A-

Innocent Blood (John Landis) • “American Werewolf” it ain’t, but this still provides a very nice 100 mins of fun. Landis plays with the vampire mythology in a similar way, bringing it into a modem setting, specifically Pittsburgh. Disturbed while on a meal, a French vamp turns a leading mobster undead. and has to off him and his crew before the plague spreads, with the disbelieving help of an undercover cop. Lots of nice touches—the mobsters all listen to Sinatra, there are some pointedly pointless cameos. and pretty kinky sex for a ’15’ movie—and Anne Parillaud is very good as the vampire. faking bimboness to get her meals. Interestingly. I don’t think the V-word was mentioned in the movie at all—you’d think someone might suss it. as every TV screen seems to be playing a flick with Lugosi or Lee! Some plot holes are evident, and while not a very cinematic film, it’s worth a video rent. B-

Patricia (Hubert Frank) • What is this, Anne Parillaud Day? After one film starring her, and two inspired by ‘Nikita’, here’s another AP movie. The director sounds like he’s a Jess Franco pseudonym, but I’m sure this isn’t the case as the film is mildly amusing and technically competent. It’s about the daughter of an industrial tycoon who runs away to see the world, in search of excitement, adventure and . . . opportunities to get her kit off. Yep. we finally get to the point. though the interest value is diminished slightly by ‘Innocent Blood’ already providing a good dose of le goodies. But the young Miss P was undeniably cute. and the film itself is light and fluffy with some funny moments, such as when she takes refuge in a seminary. And if you understand German. you might get some of the verbal jokes too. . . . Winner of this issue’s award for Best Film in a totally Foreign Language. C+

Silence of the Lums

Urusei Yatsura 4 – Lum the Forever (Yamazaki Kazuo)

This film is a salutary lesson for anyone who still thinks anime is for kids, and I don’t mean in an icky, tenticular way. ‘Lum the Forever’ is not only the most bizarre animated movie I’ve seen, it probably outweirds all but the strangest live action films. If David Lynch was ever to direct anime, the result could well be something like this.

It’s surprising, as the original comics mix SF, slapstick and sex comedy. Very successfully, too; over 200 TV episodes, most of which are highly amusing, but about as subtle as a brick. However, the movies have always pushed animation story telling into new areas. UY’s creator, Rumiko Takahashi, occupies much the same, near-divine position in the manga world that Hayao Miyazaki does in the anime one, with strips like ‘Ranma 1/2’, ‘Maison Ikkoku’ and her ‘Rumic World’ series all proving immensely popular.

Some background first. The heroine is Lum, a frighteningly cute alien (sweet little horns, striped bikini) who came to Earth as part of a powerful invasion force. Due to circumstances too lengthy to explain here (involving Lum’s bikini and a sucker gun – as I said, subtle as a brick!) the alien fleet left, but Lum stayed behind with her ‘Darling’ Ataru Moroboshi, high-school student and full-time lech. His wandering eye gives him much grief, as Lum’s touch can deliver an impressive number of Volts when she gets miffed. Also drifting in and out are the strangest collection of oddballs, both alien and earthling, this side of Westminster.

UY’s appeal is partly because it’s often easy to understand, even in Japanese. However, ‘Lum the Forever’ is almost unique in that it’s harder to handle in a subtitled version. You’re forced to cope with things that could be mentally ignored in the Japanese release: it’s one thing for a film to make no sense when it’s in a foreign language, quite another if you can understand the dialogue. Though the film is perfectly coherent, each plot point clear as crystal, it’s like a shattered mirror: every fragment gives a reflection, but the pieced-together whole shows only distortion.

While I’m normally opposed to the plot-synopsis-as-review mentality, in this case I’ll make an exception, as the story is the movie. It starts off simply: Lum, Ataru and their friends are making a movie, re-enacting a local legend. As part of this, they chop down an ancient, dying cherry tree – and that’s when things start to get weird. The weather becomes unseasonable; the town is plagued with dragonflies; and most worrying of all, Lum begins to fade away. The first thing to go is her “Ultra-Mega-Fantastic-Shock”, which now only tickles; her flying ability dwindles, and vanishes; her horns also go; and she begins to evaporate from photographs…

The rest of the inhabitants aren’t immune and have vivid dreams – or are they? It’s never made clear, and the film blurs to zero distinctions between reality, dreams, the film-within-the-film and hallucinations. This area was also covered in ‘Beautiful Dreamer’, the second UY movie – the whole town is sucked into Lum’s dreams – but that possessed structure and coherence. While I felt this worked against the subject matter, it’s still excellent, and is certainly more accessible.

Mendo, producer of the film-within-the-film, theorises that Tomobiki, their town, has developed a consciousness and is exerting it’s will to shape external reality. If Tomobiki is a living entity, with inhabitants as it’s cells, Lum, being an alien, would be regarded as a foreign invader – a disease – and the strange phenomena are symptoms caused by the town’s “immune system” fighting back. It should now be evident that we are not in Saturday morning TV-land here.

BAD Lum…

Opinion differs on how to break the ‘fever’: Mendo engages in acts of mass destruction, “because it’s something to do”; Ataru runs away; Lum goes in search of the town’s consciousness. But it is Ataru’s deep affection for Lum that finally convinces the town to accept her, and return to normality – whatever that may be.

This film knows, and makes full use of, the things which animation is best at, creating an alternate reality that is both plausibly familiar and totally strange. In ‘Lum the Forever’, the normal and the strange, the trivial and the important, are all treated with equal intensity, and the viewer is left to work out which is which. It’s like doing a jigsaw puzzle where some pieces are missing, and others are from a different picture altogether.

It’s a hard slog but ultimately worthwhile, as technically, the film is excellent. A grace and style evoke films like ‘Kwaidan’, with a dedicated attention to detail. It’s highly cinematic, using all the armoury of the modern film – compare thiis to Western animation, which has hardly evolved since the early days of Disney. Witness the unanimous adulation heaped on the ballroom sequence in “Beauty and the Beast”, by those who hadn’t seen a zoom in a cartoon before. And it took HAL-like computing power for Disney to achieve things no more impressive, just more blatantly trumpeted, than Kitty Studio managed without any Oscar nominations.

It could never be made as a live-action movie. Well, it might be possible – with a budget the size of Roseanne Barr’s lunchbill, and if you were prepared to hang around for FX technology to catch up a decade or two – but even so, the end result would not be as compelling, plausible or impressive. Deeply strange, and a million miles from the banalities of dancing candlesticks.

[Various bits of ‘Urusei Yatsura’ are being released with subtitles by Anime Projects over the course of ’94. ‘Lum the Forever’ should, all being well, hit the shops in October, though you are strongly recommended to start with something easier like a few TV episodes! Contact Anime Projects, 64 Stanley Mead, Bradley Stoke, Bristol, BS12 0EG. Tel (0454) 619170]

Rumic World: Fire Tripper

Here’s the spot to review Manga’s latest arrival (must resist the temptation to call them Island World now!), the first UK release based on Rumiko Takahashi manga. As mentioned earlier, ‘Rumic World’ covers one-off stories, presumably written when she doesn’t fancy a 36-volume series, but like virtually everything else she’s done (shades of Stephen King?), they’ve become OAVs. [It’s also a good place to grovel: “Mermaid’s Forest” isn’t strictly part of the Rumic World…] The heroine here is a girl, caught in an explosion with a neighbour’s son and hurled back to violent medieval times. There she meets the young, guardian of a village, who decides he’s going to marry her – whether she wants it or not! She gradually falls in love, but then discovers a disturbing possibility about her origin.

This goes against the grain of most previous Manga releases, which have been mainly “brain-off” entertainment. As with ‘Lum the Forever’, you have to concentrate; here, to follow the time-line and keep track of which character is which (and indeed when!). But expend the effort, and you’ll be rewarded by something that’s distinctly different and is a challenging and imaginative story, though the translation is, er, interesting (“You’re all talking through your bums”) and the cover picture a tad misleading. It’s very close to the manga, unsurprisingly so, as Takahashi is known to oversee the transferal process, with power to fire and hire at will. The animation is notably different from the more realistic approach of, for example, ‘Doomed Megalopolis’, and may initially take a little getting used to. But you’d better do it, as with the rest of ‘Rumic World’ and ‘Urusei Yatsura’ to come, 1994 could well be her year. B+

Teach Yourself Customs-speak

What they say

What they mean

HM Customs & Excise –
enforcing your return to Victorian morals.

“Bad Luck! This package just met the Dover Customs Casuals! Previously, we could do what we liked to it without giving a damn. Now. thanks to the Citizen’s Charter. things are different. We still do what we like, but now have to pretend we care, hence this patronising little note. Insincerities aside, we chose to spend our time, and therefore your money, shredding this parcel, hoping for something juicy to watch on our next get-together. Unfortunately, the contents were entirely innocent. We sat through the whole damn film, praying for something that would let us send a lynch mob to ransack your home without a warrant, but found nothing to offend even our squeaky clean sensibilities. This time. you’re lucky. But order anything warmer than a Disney movie, and we’ll be up your ass like a polecat on heat. We’ll be watching…”