READ
PREVIOUS COLUMNS HERE!

So
what took so friggin’ long to get a new column out, Dave?
Hmmmm?

Well,
I hit the San Diego Comic Con for random frolicking, debauchery
and a bit of actual coverage of the con, and since then
I’ve been covering for the vacationing honcho, working my
way through the incredibly atmospheric levels and decade-stale
gameplay of Doom 3, and planning my ultimate takeover
of the local Dairy Queen franchise due to a chronic Blizzard
addiction.

I
did still find time to spin a few discs, though. And thus,
I share.

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 dave@chud.com, and
I’ll respond to any letters in future columns.

MISSION
ACCEPTED

I
love the whole "guys on a mission" subgenre, whether it’s
swordsmen (Seven Samurai), Old West specialists
(The Professionals) or common crooks (Reservoir
Dogs
). Where Eagles Dare and The
Dirty Dozen
are two of my favorite war movies, while
Johnnie To’s recent Hong Kong thriller The Mission
is a near-perfect contemporary look at, well, guys on a
mission.

Filmmaker
Kang Woo-Suk left an impression with his riveting cop drama
Public Enemy, about a corrupt inspector who
becomes obsessed with catching an elusive murderer. For
his follow-up Silmido, he turns his haggard
Public Enemy policeman Sol Kyung-gu into
one of those guys on a mission. The story, beginning in
1968, follows a group of criminals and outcasts who have
been granted conditional reprieves. Gathered together by
the South Korean military, this dysfunctional band of thirty
social misfits (the Dirty Thirty?) are trained at a secret
base for one purpose: to infiltrate the palace of the North
Korean president and collect his head.


These men of Special Unit 684 suffer through endless months
of grueling physical and psychological training at the hands
of the camp commander (Ahn Sung-kee of Musa the Warrior
and Nowhere to Hide) and his stern first officer
(Heo Jun-ho of Volcano High). They’re prodded
with hot pokers, forced to run until collapsing from exhaustion,
shot at with live ammo, and generally punished senseless.
But over the course of their excruciating preparation, these
murderers, gangsters, rapists and convicts actually develop
a sense of camaraderie, as well as an intense yearning to
finally receive the official authorization to carry out
their mission.

As
it’s based on a true incident, there is a certain amount
of cultural significance that will be lost on non-Korean
viewers (it was a box office smash in its home country),
but I found myself enjoying the film on its own merits.
Though the characters are largely stereotypes, the performances
are all top-notch, with Jeong Jae-yeong (Guns & Talks,
No Blood No Tears
) standing out as a dissident prisoner
who ends up becoming a team leader. Over the course of the
film, the military men ultimately become more interesting
than their charges, particularly when faced with the possibility
that their government may order the literal termination
of the project and the men they’ve come to actually respect.
The whole thing culminates in a somewhat unsatisfying fashion,
but it’s the tight focus on the men’s burgeoning brotherhood
that makes Silmido work. Especially if you
like "guys on a mission" movies.

Special
thanks to AFT Regular ‘khitcher’ for providing this one!


A
CASE (OR TWO) OF THE CREEPS

The
recent Chinese/Thai pants-soiler The Eye,
about a blind woman who receives an eye transplant and gets
the unwelcome ability to see the horrific (and occasionally
pissed off) spirits of the dead, was a particularly worthwhile
supernatural spooker. And it was successful enough that
the filmmakers, the Pang Brothers, went back to the well
of souls for another helping of creepy visions.

Aside
from the title and the occasional uninvited phantoms, The
Eye 2
shares little in common with the first film.
This time, pouty-lipped Hong Kong superstar Qi Shu (of
So Close
, one of my favorite action flicks of the
last decade, and The Transporter, one of the
gayest) is Joey, the new victim of unwanted optical apparitions.
Despondent over a failed relationship with a rather bland
(and married) beau, Joey returns to her hotel after a shopping
spree and leaves a wakeup call, retires to her room, and
attempts suicide.

When
she’s resuscitated, she learns two things: she’s pregnant,
and she now sees the lingering spirits of the deceased (makes
you wonder just what pills she overdosed on). Alas, even
though she’s been given a new lease on life, not only does
the father of the child want nothing to do with her, but
these ominous ethereal ghouls appearing from nowhere apparently
want to harm her unborn. She learns from a local mystic
(Philip Kwok, aka "Mad Dog" of John Woo’s Hard Boiled,
now a bit more mellow with age judging by his not killing
anyone) that these ghosts may be hanging around waiting
to be reincarnated by breeders, but that information isn’t
comforting enough to prevent her from being terrified every
time they emerge in some startling manner.


And
that’s really where the Pang Brothers excel: seemingly telegraphing
a potential scare only to instead unleash it when you’re
least suspecting (although they do revisit one of their
favorite ghost habitats, the elevator). Surprisingly, Qi
Shu gives a phenomenal performance as the haunted mom-to-be,
even though her character never seems able to adapt to seeing
specters after several months (yeah, I know pregnant women
are extra emotional). But while the cinematography is slick
and the chills are plentiful, the film spends too much time
focusing on expectant moms and ultimately lacks the atmosphere
and impact of the original, relying instead on cheap jump-scares.

A
mildly more effective fright-filled sequel (mostly in name
only, once again) is Ju-on 2. Of course, I
made the imprudent decision to watch this around 12:30am
one night, and I was still quite alert by the time the sun
rose. And I’m pretty sure I managed to shower without closing
my eyes. So, I’m a sissy.

Wisely,
series creator Takashi Shimizu (who is helming the Americanized
pseudo-remake with Sarah Michelle Gellar) sticks with what
works: there’s a haunted house whose curse affects anyone
who enters as well as those they associate with, spreading
like a spirit virus. These ghosts manifest in the form of
a silent pale boy who randomly appears in unexpected places
(this kid knows about shock value), and his straggly-haired
mother who jerkily skitters forth from shadow accompanied
by the most unsettling creaky moan ever to emanate from
a vindictive apparition.

The
film is told in nonlinear segments that focus on the various
victims of this "grudge". This time around, a female reporter
is doing a piece on the haunted home, and she’s drafted
a disenchanted horror movie actress to pretend she’s sensing
the spirits in the house. Needless to say the charade proves
unnecessary, as everyone involved (including the TV crew,
the makeup girl and the people on the actress’ new film)
are in turn visited by the deadly ghosts, who are not confined
to the walls of their home.

With
the clever way the shots are lensed, you never know what
scene might deliver a chill, so you find yourself on edge
throughout. The "movie within a movie" has been done countless
times before, but doesn’t seem trite here because it’s relatively
nonessential. The movie does occasionally veer into silly
territory (giving new meaning to the term "fright wig")
and there’s some odd time displacement stuff that I’m not
sure makes any sense, but Shimizu’s balanced fear formula
and fantastic use of sound and brief spooky glimpses make
Ju-on 2 another fine example of the Asian
"less is more" method of generating terror. But if you’re
easily scared, make sure to watch it around noon…


OF
GODS AND GOO

The
Japanese haven’t completely cornered the market on the giant
monster genre (Godzilla, Gamera,
etc.), and although there’s little doubt they’re still the
best at it, other countries are still trying. Thailand,
for example.

The
premise of Garuda will seem fairly standard
to anyone who’s seen a monster movie in the past century.
Subway workers have discovered something strange deep beneath
the streets of Bangkok, and beautiful female archaeologist
Leena and her annoying comic-relief sidekick are called
in to check it out. Joined by a military unit who specialize
in destroying legendary monsters (as evidenced by a flashback
showing their defeat of a snake-god that apparently escaped
from an episode of Hercules: the Legendary Journeys),
they discover a mythical man-bird-dragon that awakens from
hibernation. Naturally, it escapes from the underground
and goes on a destructive rampage on the city streets, and
Leena holds the key to its end.

The
movie was a massive success in Thailand, and there’s a fair
amount of cultural specifics that probably won’t translate
well (Thai people don’t seem to like Americans or, for that
matter, anyone who isn’t 100% Thai). Garuda’s somewhat dorky
appearance notwithstanding (hey, monsters with beaks just
aren’t that menacing), the CGI creature itself looks reasonably
realistic, especially considering the FX budget was probably
less than the cost of digitally erasing Angelina Jolie’s
tattoos for two Tomb Raider movies. Despite
some occasionally amateurish direction (e.g., whirling the
camera around actors to make dialogue scenes "exciting",
characters’ Slow Turn of Impending Death, gratuitous bullet-time,
etc.), and the requisite shaky acting, plot holes and clichés
for this kind of movie, Garuda still manages
to be moderately enjoyable monster cheese.

For
a better take on the resurrected god-monster, let’s wind
back the clock to the 80s, when Larry Cohen’s Q –
The Winged Serpent
terrorized the skies of New York
City.

A
giant flying lizard has been plucking tasty human treats
from sundecks and rooftops around the city, raining blood
and severed heads onto the streets below. Cop David Carradine
(along with bad muthashutchomouth Richard Roundtree) is
investigating a series of bizarre murders, and he slowly
becomes convinced that the killings are ritual sacrifices
resulting in the materialization of a hungry Aztec god called
Quetzalcoatl. Meanwhile, small-time criminal Michael Moriarty
inadvertently discovers the beast’s nest while fleeing from
some thugs, but in true lowlife fashion he decides to blackmail
the city for the information.


Even with a limited budget (the NYPD seems staffed by random
passerby, mullets and pornstar facial hair accepted), Q
is an entertaining blend of murder mystery, horror, 50s-flavored
sci-fi and classic monster movie homage (such as the reverse-King
Kong climax). It even raises some interesting questions
about the nature of gods (and how to kill them), and throws
in plenty of carnage and a nifty stop-motion creature, but
it’s Moriarty’s wonderfully sleazy deadbeat that makes the
movie so much fun to watch.

Moriarty
would reunite with inventive B-movie master Cohen (before
they teamed again on It’s Alive III: Island of the
Alive
) to play another quirky miscreant in the even
cheesier "deadly dairy" flick The Stuff, a
certifiable artifact of the 80s.


When some miners unearth a mysterious and incredibly delicious
liquid, they decide to market it to the masses and the addictive
sweet substance quickly becomes a nationwide phenomenon.
Moriarty plays Mo Rutherford, a peculiar FBI-agent-turned-industrial-spy
who gets hired by the competitor to learn the secret of
The Stuff. He gets more than he bargained for.

The
secret is, of course, that this sentient substance actually
takes over the brains of whoever eats it, eventually leaving
the body a mere husk of skin filled with goop. Chased by
these dessert-obsessed zombies, Rutherford teams up with
a kid who suspects the true nature of the lethal delicacy,
a female marketing executive who’s been shilling the toxic
muck ("Can’t get enough… of The Stuff!" goes the irksome
jingle), dethroned snack-food king Chocolate Chip Charlie
(SNL alum Garrett Morris), and a whacko militant leader
(Paul Sorvino) to make the population aware and put an end
to the threat.

Afflicted
with similar budget constraints (Sorvino’s army of machinegun-toting
followers travel by taxi), The Stuff succeeds
largely thanks to another fascinating performance by career
mumbler Moriarty — people who know him only from his time
on TV’s Law & Order probably wouldn’t recognize him
in his 80s prime. A subversive variant on The Blob,
Cohen’s flick makes a loopy premise (a sly metaphor for
greed, consumerism and/or narcotics, I assume) go a long
way. Unless you’re lactose-intolerant, it’s great Stuff.

KILLING
WITH STYLE

You’ll
often hear about directors exiting or being jettisoned from
film projects over the alleged "creative differences", but
back in the 60s, Japanese filmmaker Seijun Suzuki was fired
after he turned in his hitman opus Branded
to Kill
. The studio, it seems, was unable to recognize
a masterpiece.

The
film follows chipmunk-cheeked Hanada (Jo Shishido), a yakuza
killer currently ranked at Number 3. When he’s not filling
targets with hot metal projectiles, he’s either firing sticky
shots into his chatty girlfriend or sniffing the vapors
of boiling rice, which arouses him something fierce. But
like any ambitious assassin, he strives to be number 1,
a title held by an enigmatic expert known as Phantom. Hanada
accepts an assignment from a captivating mystery woman with
an entomology fetish, but accidentally kills an innocent
bystander instead (thanks to the most ironic butterfly this
side of Ray Bradbury) and thereby destroys his standing.
Betrayed by his girlfriend, marked for death and running
from hordes of hired killers, Hanada eventually meets the
ingenious Phantom in a spellbinding duel to the death.

At
the time, Suzuki may have been pressured by the studio to
make something more commercial than his previous work, but
Branded to Kill
takes a really big mallet to things
like character and narrative, shattering them into unconventional
shards. Brazenly weaving them together into a series of
visually striking scenes with an ostensibly impromptu verve,
he comes up with a truly eclectic mélange of styles set
to a jazzy lounge score. Shishido is fantastic as the composed
gunman who slowly unravels in the aftermath of his error,
while Annu Mari is mesmerizing as the exotic femme fatale
and Koji Nanbara is the epitome of cool as the emotionless
brass-voiced king of killers.


A delirious, challenging work of bizarre genius (I have
no idea how that killer ranking system is calculated), the
film incorporates lots of posturing, pop-art sensibilities,
crafty lighting, stunning gunplay sequences and memorable
characters that would influence plenty of future filmmakers
(besides Jim Jarmusch’s Ghost Dog, Suzuki’s
work seems to have been sampled by David Lynch, John Woo,
Takeshi Kitano, Luc Besson, Quentin Tarantino and many others).

Suzuki
would revisit his misunderstood masterpiece some 25 years
later with the equally disjointed and even more experimental
remake/sequel Pistol Opera. Suzuki drenches
the screen in rich colors and virtually dispenses with narrative
altogether for his tale of Stray Cat, the female Number
3 killer working her way through fellow assassins like a
big bearded knife specialist and a tracksuit-wearing guy
in a wheelchair. Shot more like a play than a motion picture
(much of Pistol Opera literally takes place
on stage), the film has far less interest in establishing
a cogent story than it does providing a psychedelic stylistic
experience, and is comparatively unfulfilling for it. You’d
be better much served by tracking down Suzuki’s older works
such as the marvelous gangster movies Tokyo Drifter,
Kanto Wanderer
and Underworld Beauty.

DRIBLETS

Some
interesting miscellany from the CHUD message boards and
beyond:


A company called Unearthed Films (I like ‘em already!)
will release a zazzy 2-disc DVD set of the underseen 80s
animated gem Rock & Rule. The flick will
have a new transfer and remastered audio, plus a making-of
featurette and all sorts of other goodies that I’m amazed
they found. Though the company is best known for unleashing
the evil that is the Guinea Pig series, they
also did the domestic release of the rather fun low-budget
Japanese zombie flick Junk. You can check
out their site HERE.

Thanks
to Mike for the info!

I
like zombies and I love sexy gals, so I figured I should
share this: the official site for the upcoming flick Boy
Eats Girl
. The movie stars pop hottie Samantha Mumba
as a gal whose boyfriend dies on the night he plans to profess
his love. The boy’s mom brings him back with a little voodoo,
but his desire for human flesh and penchant for spreading
his zombie infection throughout town lead to trouble. The
movie just started production so there’s not much at the
official site yet, but that logo is irresistible, innit?
Check out the site HERE.

The
upcoming NecroComicon (awesome name) is looking for a few
good fan films. The convention, at Spooky House (
a
fully operational haunted theme park
)
in LA November 5th – 7th, is currently
fielding fan-made films as well as suggestions for screenings.
So get out your camera and whip up some fake blood. For
more info, hit the official site right HERE.

The
people behind the savage Thai martial arts flick Ong-Bak:
Muay Thai Warrior
have a new movie on the way called
Born to Fight. Ong-Bak‘s whiz-kicker
Tony Jaa (aka Phanom Yeerum) won’t be in it, but I suppose
we should still expect plenty of sick stunts and head-crushing
fight scenes (and, um, lots of fruit being kicked) if the
trailer is any indication. The movie seems to be about a
group of freedom fighters who smack the hell out of their
oppressors. Check out the site and trailer HERE.

STEAM

Thanks
to all for your letters of non-hatred.
Send
me more comments, suggestions, and coupons for Russian brides
to dave@chud.com, and
I’ll reply to any letters in future columns. Thanks for
reading and writing!

Hey
Dave,


Just wanted to spurt out real quick that I really appreciate
the column. Always had a soft spot for the underappreciated.
But I do have one small question if you don’t mind helping.

Foreign
cinema has a strange habit of cranking out quality, unique
material, and although Asia’s been providing a little bit
of everything, I’ve hit a snag. After scouring high and
low, I can’t find a single ballsy Italian flick. Everything
has to do with some disenfranchised family or couple, and
the tragedy spawns from real life dilemmas, not stray bullets
or misanthropic alien species.

I’m
having a serious problem and was wondering if you’d be able
to muster up a non-spaghetti western title or two off the
top of your head. Thanks a lot.

-
Mark

DAVE
SAYS
: You’re absolutely right. There is a serious lack
of anything recently to come out of Italy that was "up my
alley", so to speak. I don’t know what’s wrong with them.
However, if you’re looking for something a little older,
I’d point you in the direction of things like The
Violent Professionals, Almost Human, The Climber
,
and what I consider a work of bizarro genius, Mario Bava’s
Danger Diabolik. Classics. Actually, Bava’s
entire catalog is worth checking out, and for Italian horror/suspense
movies, Dario Argento and Lucio Fulci can’t be beat.

Hope
that helps. Thanks for reading!


Seeing that you seem to not quite fully appreciate many
classic authors (Tolkien, Koontz), I’m wondering, are there
any books/authors you do like?

-Ml4607

DAVE
SAYS
: I blow through at least a book a week, sometimes
two. I read a lot of different stuff: biographies, research
material for whatever side project I’m working on, anything
historical or scientific that catches my attention at the
moment.

As
for fiction, I stick with a lot of crime-flavored stuff:
Elmore Leonard, Lee Child, Stephen Hunter, John Ridley,
F. Paul Wilson’s Repairman Jack books, a few others. I get
into quirky stuff like Tom Robbins, Christopher Moore, Carl
Hiaasen, Jonathan Lethem, Carlton Mellick
,
Kurt Vonnegut
.
Hugh Laurie’s "The Gun Seller". Older stuff like
Raymond Chandler.

I dug Richard K. Morgan’s

first two books "Altered Carbon" and "Broken
Angels". I don’t slavishly follow any particular author,
but I don’t have much patience for masters of overwriting
like Stephen King, Tom Clancy and, unfortunately, Neal Stephenson.

But
in what alternate universe is Dean Koontz a "classic"
author? If you want classic, go get some Ray Bradbury, Jules
Verne or Mark Twain. Koontz is about as classic as my ’97
Wrangler.

Hey
Dave just a little some the next (and eagerly awaited) Dave’s
Underground article.

I
ordered the work of Chan-wook Park from HKFlix a couple
weeks ago. Sadly they were out of stock. The new month came
and so did the DVDs. Bad thing is so did rent, and the usual
problems that arise with that. So I emailed HKFlix pronto
to see about postponing the order for a week or so. And
not anymore than 3 hours later, I got a reply. Medium- length
story short, things have been taken care of, and I am more
than happy to shop there again and recommend to anyone that
will listen.


Anywho just want to sing the praises of an unusual animal
in the retail world, one that cares about it’s customers.

-
Alex

DAVE
SAYS
: I’ve used HK Flix (their site’s HERE)

a bunch of times, mostly because their selection and prices
are decent. However, on at least a couple of occasions,
items I ordered were on backorder, but I didn’t discover
this until my order arrived light a couple of DVDs. I find
this annoying — that they don’t have more strict "live"
inventory control — but I did eventually receive them (one
took over a month). Hopefully they’re a little better with
it now (I mostly use DDDHouse,
DVDAsian,
Diabolik
DVD
and Xploited
Cinema
), but at least their customer service is
good, it seems.

Oh,
and I almost always refer people looking for a code-free
DVD player to HK Flix, as their selection seems like the
best anywhere.

DOWN
BELOW

I’d
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 dave@chud.com
Put some pants on first.

Thanks
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 dave@chud.com!