either late with last week’s installment, or early with
this weeks, but either way it’s here… hope you find something
Got an interesting
film suggestion? Know of something good in the works? Just
want to tell me I’m rubbish? Drop me a line at email@example.com, and
I’ll respond to any letters in future columns.
QUITE SKY HIGH
director Ryuhei Kitamura made
a big, red splash with his hyperactive homage collection
Versus, a supernatural action flick with loads
of swordplay and zombies. This was followed with the smaller
character-focused films Alive and Aragami, and the teen-samurai epic Azumi.
Before he set about bringing the grand kaiju on a world tour with Godzilla: Final
Wars, he co-directed another supernatural action
flick, Sky High.
the prequel to a late night TV series (which I’ve never
seen) that’s based on a manga
(which I’ve never read), Sky High begins with
cop Kanazaki (Shoshuke Tanihara of Fudoh)
as he’s about to marry Mina (Yukimo
Shaku of Princess Blade).
Unfortunately the ceremony doesn’t go quite as planned,
as his bride-to-be gets her heart yanked from her chest
moments before the vows (which can make any wedding reception
a downer). Because she was murdered, in the afterlife she
is greeted by the guardian at the “Gate of Rage”, and given
three choices and a few days to decide whether to just accept
her fate, haunt the world for eternity, or avenge her death
and go to Hell.
the next few days she wanders the world as a spirit, hovering
around her despondent fiancé and trying to solve her own
death. She discovers that a hunky geneticist (Takao Osawa of Aragami)
and his gorgeous and lethal assistant are using their mystical
abilities to collect the hearts of reincarnated Gate guardians
in order to perform an arcane ritual and free the spirit
of his comatose wife. Or something.
sort of the problem with Sky High, its tenuous
grasp of what kind of movie it is, whether a murder mystery,
a supernatural horror story (it even references The
Sixth Sense), an action flick, a theological exploration,
or some combination thereof. Purportedly the main character,
Mina doesn’t have much to do except loiter in the background
until the last few minutes of the movie, when she suddenly
assumes the mantle of the Gate guardian and shows off some
impressive sword tactics. The disastrous narrative and
plot conveniences are interspersed with the sort of wildly
overstylized sword-clashing action
sequences that have become Kitamura’s trademark. And although
Mina doesn’t strut her stuff until
the Big Rock Finish, a variety of other beautiful women
perform admirably in her staid, but the whole thing is likely
to seem both jarring and underwhelming to anyone not familiar
with the TV series.
Sky High, Kitamura again displays a proclivity
towards forest battles, techno music and making his movies
too long, but as usual he makes up for the story’s shortcomings
with style… lots and lots of style.
it comes to major influences, you’ll see the name of French
filmmaker Jean-Pierre Melville pretty high on the lists
of craftsmen such as John Woo, Quentin Tarantino and Martin
Scorsese, and with a near-perfect film like Le Samourai
to his credit, it’s no surprise as to why.
of Melville’s handful of crime noir tales, the classic Le
Samourai is notable for supposedly setting the foundation
for Woo’s The Killer as well as leaving a
blatant impression on everything from Ghost Dog
to Luc Besson’s Leon. The story (which opens
with a faux Bushido quote: "There is no greater solitude
than that of samurai, unless perhaps it be that of the tiger
in the jungle") offers a glimpse into the secluded life
of Jef Costello (the striking Alain Delon), an enigmatic
hitman renowned for his proficiency.
his methodical approach to population control typically
yields results without complication, one night he’s witnessed
after removing a Paris nightclub owner from the playing
field, causing a citywide manhunt for anyone matching his
description. Unfortunately for the police superintendent
(Francois Périer), no one is able to positively identify
the murderer and Costello is released, but the frustrated
superintendent is convinced he’s the culprit. What follows
is a brilliant cat-and-mouse game between the tenacious
cop and the sly killer, who must contend with crumbling
alibis, a beautiful and calculating pianist, police traps
and double-crossing employers.
is not a term to be thrown around lightly, but it’s applicable
in this instance. Melville wrings excruciating levels of
tension from what on the surface seems a simple premise,
and proceeds to paint a riveting, almost impossibly stylish
noir tale. The film is nearly as efficient as its protagonist,
with nary a line of dialogue spoken unnecessarily, and Delon
(who would re-team with Melville on the heist films
Le Cercle Rouge and Un Flic) offers
a mesmerizing and placid performance that commands the screen.
It might take some heroic persistence to find (the French
DVD sadly seems to be available only intermittently), but
I can’t recommend Le Samourai enough to anyone
with an appreciation for film and filmmakers.
Hollywood shamelessly poaches concepts and aesthetics from
around the world, who’s to say other countries can’t do
the same? Take for example the effective German thriller
Tattoo, which nods to Seven
and Silence of the Lambs so much it gets a
Tattoo, apathetic police cadet Schrader (August
Diehl, whose pallor and bristled hair evoke a young Christopher
Walken) is more interested in dropping E, hitting raves
and hanging with his deejay girlfriend than advancing his
law enforcement career. That is, until his nocturnal activities
are noted by grizzled veteran homicide detective Minks (Christian
Redl), who transfers the reluctant lad to his department.
Together the pair begins investigating a bizarre murder
that leads them to a disturbing subculture of tattoo enthusiasts.
They learn from the convenient arrival of the victim’s gorgeous
ex-roommate Maya (Nadeshda Brennicke) about a legendary
Japanese tattoo artist whose dozen works are highly sought
on the skin market. Yes, people are willing to pay handsomely
for the inked flesh… unaccompanied by the attached humans.
this is not an average police investigation. Writer/director
Robert Schwentke, a commercial helmer making his feature
debut, stitches together his film influences like a Ted
Levine flesh-suit, but still manages to weave an intriguing
and occasionally horrific little noir tale with some unexpected
swerves and solid characterization. The bleak rain-drenched
atmosphere and (often improbable) plot devices may seem
reminiscent of many films, but Tattoo offers
a uniquely macabre view of obsessive collectors.
was a big fan of Rob Schrab’s wonderfully surreal and violent
comic series Scud, the Disposable Assassin (as well
as the later Drywall and La Cosa Nostroid)
and bemoaned the fact that he seems to have given up sequential
art. But thanks to deliriously goofy stuff like Robot
Bastard, I’ll forgive him.
Bastard is a short film Schrab made a few years
ago that I thought I’d revisit as it seems to jive with
the purpose of this column. It follows the purposely-cheesy
adventure of a robot agent on a mission to rescue the President’s
kidnapped daughter from the evil Blood Mamba. To do that
he must first wade through a space station full of Black
Mummies, a feat our boxy hero accomplishes with maximum
firepower and mindless mayhem. All that, plus the luscious
Robia La Morte (formerly of Buffy the Vampire Slayer)
in a schoolgirl outfit. What more could you want?
on a shoestring budget with props made from junk, Robot
Bastard should be a kick for anyone who appreciates
funky colors, wacky designs and the glory of schlock —
i.e., rubber-suit monsters, the finer cheese moments of
the original Star Trek series, exploding heads, green
goop, etc. It’s almost as weird as anything Schrab ever
did in the comic world (as he puts it, the film takes place
"in an eighth-grade-boy universe of robots, rocket ships
and cute girls"), and it would certainly be interesting
to see what he’d be able to do with a grander budget. You
can check out Robot Bastard RIGHT
those who don’t know, Schrab is also the co-creator of what
is probably the most bootlegged unaired TV pilot in history,
Heat Vision and Jack. This prospective series
(directed by Ben Stiller) starred Jack Black as an astronaut
who drives a sentient motorcycle (voiced by Owen Wilson)
and uses his solar-powered superintelligence to fight an
alien menace. Somehow this loopy premise failed to impress
the suits at Fox (hey, remember back when they were cool?).
is currently working on a pilot for the FX network based
on the website experiment Channel 101, which
he describes as "a competitive Project Greenlight
for TV, only done by maniacs instead of film students who
can’t tell a joke." You can check out the current online
HERE, which includes Schrab’s zany "Twigger’s
Holiday", about a floppy-eared punk kid with a hot warrior-babe
mom and a giant abusive principal who dresses like Santa.
interesting miscellany from the CHUD message boards and
Breaking News, the latest film from Hong Kong helmer
Johnnie To (whose Running on Karma I discussed
in the last column) has apparently been grabbed by Warner
Bros. for a domestic remake. The movie revolves around a
police department who, after being embarassed by a televised
screw-up, have their entire force looking to find a group
of bank robbers. When the suspects are located, an inspector
decides to use the media presence to the police advantage
by airing the takedown live, not realizing that another
violent gang occupies the same building.
The bone-crushing fight flick Ong Bak: Thai
Warrior is finally (officially) making its way to
the US later this year courtesy of Magnolia Pictures. The
film stars acrobatic Thai martial arts sensation Tony Jaa
(aka Phanom Yeerum) as a villager who travels to the big
city to recover a sacred artifact. Along the way, he uses
Muay Thai to knock the shit out of pretty much everyone.
movie was previously acquired and re-cut by Luc Besson’s
EuropaCorp and became a hit in France. A sequel is already
in the works.
Undeniably insane Japanese filmmaker Takashi Miike (Ichi the Killer,
Audition) is apparently working on a movie titled
Izo: The Crotch is an Incomprehensible Demon-Man.
We begin in 1865, when the Shogunate
is on its last legs, but still capable of punishing its
enemies. One is Izo (Kazuya Nakayama), an assassin in the
service of Hanpeida (Ryosuke Miki), a Tosa lord and Imperial
supporter. After killing dozens of the Shogun’s men, Izo
is captured and crucified.
Instead of being extinguished, his
rage propels him through the space-time continum to present-day
Tokyo, where his finds himself one with the city’s homeless.
Here Izo transforms himself into a new, improved killing
machine, his entire soul still enraged by his treatment
in his past life. His response to the powers-that-be, whose
predecessors put him to death, is the sword.
His ability to leap through time,
slashing as he goes, attracts the attention of the lords
of the universe, who are like a pre-war House of Peers,
in office for eternity. Izo, however, is not about to bow
to anyone, even the lords of creation (he even rapes Mother
In the final conflict, the prime
minister (Beat Takeshi), calls in allies from all eras,
from samurai swordsmen to the yakuza. It should be the most
bloody and violent sword fight sequence ever staged.
to all for your letters of non-hatred. Send
me more comments, suggestions, and coupons for Russian brides
to firstname.lastname@example.org, and
I’ll reply to any letters in future columns. Thanks for
reading and writing!
column! I have either seen, own, or will someday see just
about every movie covered so far, and I gotta say, your
taste is in movies is very good (Chungking Express
is my favorite WKW movie too).
don’t know about you, but I’ve been happily buying all of
these recent Fortune Star/Fox DVD releases over the past
six months and I’ve been very impressed. For the most part
the movies seem to be uncut, with their original titles
and music, something Dimension could learn from with their
horrible Jet Li releases. The picture quality has also been
question is this: A while ago I head that Fortune Star was
putting out a 2 disc UK re-release of John Woo’s awesome
Bullet In The Head. I’m not sure if this
is part of the same series or a stand alone thing, but I
was wondering if you would know the status of this or any
other HK movie that might get a proper US release in the
future. My Tai Seng version of BITH is of very poor picture
quality and I’d love a cleaned up, 5.1 surround copy for
for your time and keep the great columns coming!
SAYS: Bullet in the Head is my favorite
Hong Kong John Woo movie (with the ludicrous A Better
Tomorrow II close behind), but like you I’ve only
got that lousy Mega Star DVD. A stateside release seems
to have disappeared from any release schedules, but the
UK’s Hong Kong Legends is releasing what looks to be the
definitive DVD in July, a remastered 2-disc set with cast
interviews, a Woo retrospective and deleted scenes. Yet
another perfect reason to own a code-free PAL-converting
DVD player. All hail Hong Kong Legends.
about Dimension/Miramax’s treatment of Asian films, I hear
ya barkin’. Fortunately companies like Sony Pictures Classics
and Lions Gate "get it" when it comes to foreign films.
Thanks for writing!
simple and sweet,
What are your thoughts on Infernal Affair
movies? And do you plan to do anything bout them on your
SAYS: I liked the first one quite a bit. I reviewed it for
the Hellboy issue of Movie Insider and gave it an 8 out
of 10. Here’s my review, for you cheap bastards who haven’t
realized the glory of Movie Insider yet:
detective Yan (Tony Leung Chiu-Wai) has been entrenched
deep in the Hong Kong triad for so many years, he’s begun
to question both his intentions and his sanity. A decade
prior he was dispatched by Superintendent Wong (Anthony
Wong Chau-Sang) to infiltrate the crime network of boss
Sam (Eric Tsang), where Yan has since risen to second-in-command.
However, unbeknownst to the clandestine lawman, Sam had
secretly enrolled his young lieutenant Ming (Andy Lau) in
the Hong Kong Police Academy… and now ten years later, his
spy has become a sergeant in the Organized Crime and Triad
Bureau where he covertly tracks and undermines Wong’s efforts.
During a drug deal, both sides suddenly become aware of
an informer in their respective organizations. With more
moles in the mix than a Robert DeNiro lookalike contest,
the pressure gauge nears the breaking point as Yan and Ming
each attempt to identify the other before their cover is
of the most successful films in Hong Kong history, this
knotty all-star cop thriller is now slowly making its way
around the globe. And while the premise may seem familiar
and the ballistic bloodshed is held to a minimum, the nail-nibbling
situations, complex character motivations, striking visuals
and praise-worthy acting make Infernal Affairs a particularly
palatable concoction. This comes as a something of a curveball
from director and co-writer Andrew Lau, previously responsible
for such gaudy and meatless action extravaganzas as A
Man Called Hero and The Avenging Fist, but here
he extracts some of the most potent career performances
from all involved and confidently navigates the camera through
the tense labyrinth of risky circumstances. Still, the obligatory
females (Kelly Chen, Sammi Cheng) get bankrupted by the
Boy’s Club, their characters about as essential as a Michael
Bay screenplay. And anyone seeking Woo-style pyrotechnics
should seek a simpler, more violent alternative import,
as there’s nary a two-gun slo-mo slide or flapping dove
to be found here.
for the sequels, I’ve seen Infernal Affairs II,
and couldn’t shake the sense that it was a case of a sequel
(or prequel, in this case) motivated purely by profit. I
didn’t dislike it, but I did feel it was rather unnecessary
backstory. Infernal Affairs III is still in
my towering stack of unwatched acquisitions.
been looking around online and have had trouble finding
the Region 0 Italian DVD release of Andy Warhol’s Chelsea
Girls. The only place I’ve found it is on Ebay for
$75, so I was wondering if you knew of someplace where it’d
be possible to find an apparently rare Italian DVD.
SAYS: I’ve seen the import pop up at both Diabolik
DVD and Xploited
Cinema, both resellers that I use often. I’m pretty
sure it’s a 2-disc PAL DVD (which means you’d have to watch
it on your PC’s DVD ROM drive or have a player with PAL
conversion) and it ain’t cheap, usually around $50 bucks.
like the UNDERGROUND to also be an environment for smaller
filmmakers (in budget, scope and height – I don’t discriminate,
wee folk) to publicize their wares, particularly genre material.
Everyone deserves a chance, yeah? After all, even Oscar
winner Peter Jackson started with an independent sci-fi
horror flick that featured spilled brains and vomit tasting.
So if you’ve got an independent film and you want to expose
yourself, drop me a line at email@example.com.
Put some pants on first.
for digging into this edition of DAVE’S UNDERGROUND, be
back soon with more treats from beneath eye level. Feel
free to send any suggestions or comments to firstname.lastname@example.org!