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Triple Cross (1992) August 30, 2010

Posted by Cal in : Action, Thriller, 1990s films , add a comment

Director: Kinji Fukasaku  Starring: Kenichi Hagiwara; Kazuya Kimura; Keiko Oginome; Sonny Chiba  Territory: Japan

Not to be confused with the Cynthia Rothrock movie of the same name (incidentally one of the worst films I’ve ever had the misfortune to watch), this tale of a heist gone wrong comes from Kinji Fukasaku (who would go on to direct Battle Royale). 

After robbing the takings from a top hotel, a trio of older crooks and their young upstart protégé are disappointed that their take is quite a lot less than they expected.  While Kanzaki (Kenichi Hagiwara), Imura (Renji Ishibashi) and Shiba (Sonny Chiba) take the loss philosophically, Kadomachi (Kazuya Kimura) is furious and attempts to steal the money for himself.  Thus begins a lethal chase between Kanzaki and the young metal-obsessed hothead.

Triple Cross
Triple Cross plays slightly like a Japanese version of a Ringo Lam movie.  The movie’s anti-heroes are equally treated with no clear-cut protagonist, and the generation gap between the criminals is played up by using different musical styles in the soundtrack.  The cast is solid, with Chiba excellent as aging playboy Shiba with his much younger lover.  The fame-hungry Mai (Keiko Oginome) two-times Shiba with Kadomachi and adds a valuable wildcard to the mix.

For all its competency (and a brilliantly lethal looking car chase), Triple Cross is never more than adequate.  It has all the action, twists and gunplay you could care for in films of this type, and the decision to eschew the normal central or sympathetic character is a noble one.  But there are better examples of its kind around, particularly in the films of the aforementioned Ringo Lam.  But if you’re hankering for an action thriller with plenty of twists and turns, you can do far worse.

Yakuza Deka 2: The Assassin (1970) August 23, 2010

Posted by Cal in : Comedy, Action, 1970s films, Wacko , add a comment

Director: Yukio Noda  Starring: Sonny Chiba; Ryohei Uchida; Fumio Watanabe; Toshiaki Minami  Territory: Japan

There’s a real sense of a production line with successful Japanese action sequels of the 70s.  This sequel to the incredibly good fun Yakuza Deka was produced in the same year as the original, a practice certainly not uncommon at the time.

Chiba is Hayata again in another plot to infiltrate Yakuza gangs.  In fact, the plot is so similar to the original film that it sometimes feels like a remake.  In this one, though, the focus is on the deadliest threat to the nation’s youth: marijuana.  Hayata goes undercover and almost gasps aloud when opening the door to a marijuana party.  Cue lots of young female topless stoners, psychedelic music and imagery…and Chiba tripping on pot.  This scene, along with Chiba’s outlandish wardrobe, is worth the price of the DVD alone.

THe Assassin

Although slightly less comedic in tone than the original, Yakuza Deka II nevertheless shows Chiba had a flair for physical comedy.  And of course, he handles the action scenes with his customary flair.  Although not as good as the original, the film still boasts a thrilling climax and a star at his athletic best.  But the best line goes to a young moll forced to sleep with Chiba – afterwards, she says philosophically “it’s been more pleasurable than I thought”.  How I long for a woman to say that to me

Yakuza Deka (1974) August 21, 2010

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Director: Yukio Noda  Starring: Sonny Chiba; Ryoji Hayama; Rinichi Yamamoto  Territory: Japan

Yakuza Deka’s plot is largely perfunctory and can be summed up in a few words: undercover cop infiltrates two Yakuza gangs, spreading mayhem and pitting them against each other.  While this might sound like an updated Yojimbo, in reality any similarity is entirely coincidental and more than likely unintentional.

More of an action film than a full-on gangster flick, Yakuza Deka is one of the few pre-Street Fighter Sonny Chiba films to be widely available in the west.  The reason is obvious – Chiba gets to scrap with just about everyone on both sides of the law, and throws in some great stunts for good measure.  Chiba is Hayata, a lone wolf cop with more in common with the Yakuza than his employers and remarks with great feeling that “I’m a stray dog that wags its tail for anyone who feeds me”.

Yakuza DekaChiba meets his blind date…

Not that intense character studies are the order of the day here.  Yakuza Deka is a no-brainer action thriller with more than a few cheap laughs to lighten the mood included at no extra cost.  Mind you, the action scenes are more sophisticated than you might think given the age of the film, and Chiba’s stuntwork is occasionally pretty astonishing.  Plus, for all fans of this sort of thing, there’s plenty of the head-spinning “trendy” cinematography that locks these sort of movies in their age.

I’ve come to appreciate Yakuza Deka more over the last couple of years.  Like so many Japanese actioners from the heady 70s, it can never be accused of any great depth or subtlety, but for fans of the genre it provides more than adequate bang for the buck.

The Executioner II: Karate Inferno (1974) August 18, 2010

Posted by Cal in : Comedy, Action, 1970s films, Wacko, Bad Films , add a comment

Director: Teruo Ishii  Starring: Sonny Chiba; Makoto Satô; Eiji Go; Yutaka Nakajima; Etsuko Shiomi  Territory: Japan

These Sonny Chiba films from the 70s (and especially their sequels) are a lot like cinematic fast food – cheap, dirty, low quality fodder that can also satisfy completely when you’re in the mood.  This sequel to The Executioner is completely divorced from its parent, relying more on toilet humour than cheap gore and action.

In fact, the subtitle Karate Inferno seems conspicuously misplaced – the film boast but two action scenes.  The film’s plot, if you want to call it that, is about a jewel heist in which our trio of unlikely heroes con a paraplegic out of a priceless necklace.  If that sounds weird, well, you ain’t seen nothing yet.  The acting is particularly poor from the westerners (as usual) and said paraplegic (another westerner) is awful, although that doesn’t stop Chiba looking up her skirt when she’s asleep (yes, it’s that kind of film).  While I think about it, the opening credits are a wonder in themselves – promising stunts, fights and boobs galore.  I don’t remember seeing that many bare breasts in the actual film, but perhaps I miscounted. 

Sonny Chiba - The Executioner 2

There’s no escaping the fact that The Executioner II is primarily a comedy though.  And the comedy is extremely low-brow, and mostly unfunny to today’s sophisticated audience.  Having said that, like anything of this nature, when one joke out of a hundred hits the spot it really makes you laugh, and a running gag involving a glued hand to a table had me chuckling along.  There are only so many fart gags I can stand though, and the humour can wear very thin.

But the thing is, those two action scenes I mentioned earlier are actually pretty excellent.  In particular, the climax is outstanding.  And no matter how hard I try, I can’t bring myself to despise the movie.  It’s charmingly naff, vulgar and unnecessary, and I occasionally like that in a film.

Golgo 13 (1978) August 11, 2010

Posted by Cal in : Action, 1970s films, Wacko , add a comment

Director: Yukio Noda  Starring: Sonny Chiba; Ga Lun; Etsuko Shihomi  Territory: Japan/Hong Kong

Golgo 13 is a twisting tale of a professional hitman (the ultra-cool Sonny Chiba) hired to take out Hong Kong’s drug kingpin.  Opposing him is Agent Smithy (Ga Lun), a tough Kowloon cop.  Based on a long-running Japanese Manga, the action is spread over the urban sprawls of Hong Kong, Kyoto and Tokyo, showing the locations at their gritty 70s best. 

One of the best things about the film is the cinematography and funky style.  There are some great shots of Hong Kong in here, and Sonny Chiba is shot at his tough-as-nails best.  It all looks very cool, with the 70s fashions being flaunted about - flared trousers and ultra-wide shirt lapels are the order of the day.  I just find films from this era so fun to watch, and I’d love to be able to pull off Chiba’s white suit!  Added to this is a really funky (or tacky, depending on your point of view) jazz score to the movie.   

Golgo 13
So we’ve established that Golgo 13 looks and sounds great.  But is the film itself great?  Sadly, I doubt if anyone could call it a great piece of cinema.  It never quite manages to be as good as you think it’s going to be.  For example, Etsuko Shihomi is great but is woefully underused, and the plot can meander needlessly.  And there’s a truly mad scene where a factory is being attacked by the cops. One injured man stumbles around a switch marked with a big sign saying “DON’T TOUCH”.  He accidentally stumbles over it, flips the switch and KABOOM!  The whole place is blown to smithereens.  Seriously, did no one do a Health and Safety Risk Assessment on this place?  Presumably not, as it’s only a lair for henchmen – but why keep a switch around the place whose sole intention is to blow the factory up?  It’s asking for trouble!  At least cover the bloody thing up or something.  Sheesh!  Oh, and this is one of those films where everyone, including Englishmen and people from the fictional Poranian Republic speak fluent Japanese, even to each other. 

But against everything that can be held against it, Golgo 13’s faults can be overlooked by its merits.  And the main one is the star’s obvious charisma and the film’s great action scenes, including one fantastic stunt where Chiba climbs down to the ground from the top of a moving double decker bus – eight years beofre Jackie Chan started playing with buses for his Police Story saga.

So, for all its faults, Golgo 13 is nevertheless quite fun to watch.  If you like Yakuza films, goofy 70s thrillers or martial arts movies, you should probably find quite a lot to like about Golgo 13, as it sprinkles a mixture of genres together to make a decent, if occasionally bonkers, movie.

Competition time! Win Jackie Chan and the Kung Fu Kid August 5, 2010

Posted by Cal in : Uncategorized , add a comment

Jackie Chan and the Kung Fu KidTo celebrate the August 9th release of martial arts action drama; Jackie Chan and the Kung Fu Kid we have two copies to give away.

Following on from the success of martial arts flick The Karate Kid comes the “The real Karate Kid,” Jackie Chan and the Kung Fu Kid. Featuring Jackie Chan, the family-friendly film is the story of a 15-year-old Chinese boy who dreams of meeting the martial arts superstar.  Unable to concentrate in school the boy heads to his grandparents’ in the city and devotes himself to tracking down the Kung Fu legend.  The biggest test awaits, however, when he is kidnapped by a torn apart family that has suffered a tragic loss.  Can the dreamer become a Kung Fu hero himself?  And can Jackie Chan rescue him from his nightmares?

For your chance to win just answer this question:

What is the comedy Jackie Chan starred in with Chris Tucker?

A.   Rush Hour

B.   Rat Race

C.   The Tuxedo

This competition has now ended, but to order your copy, just click here

 

The Accidental Spy (2001) August 4, 2010

Posted by Cal in : Comedy, Action, 2000s films , add a comment

Director: Teddy Chen  Starring: Jackie Chan; Vivian Hsu; Eric Tsang  Territory: Hong Kong 

Opportunist and sports-goods worker Buck (Jackie Chan) foils a bank raid and unwittingly gets involved with a chemical weapon ring.

The plot of Accidental Spy is all over the place.  I mean, Jackie Chan’s stories have never been the main selling point of his movies, but something weird happened to his Hong Kong films after Rumble in the Bronx, with confusing, meandering, muddled plots all over the place.  After seeing this about five times, I can more or less follow what’s happening now, but understanding does not necessarily lead to a more enjoyable experience as the underlying plot is serviceable at best.  

The film suffers from a couple of problems.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – when Hong Kong film makers shoot in English, it really doesn’t work.  And there’s a fair amount of English dialogue in Accidental Spy.  The Turkish bank manager who repeatedly asks Buck “are you fine?” after spilling tea on him gets me cringing every time.  Elsewhere, Chan’s delivery of English lines seem stilted and staged.  Surely someone could have hired an English language coach?  
 

Also the supporting cast is instantly forgettable.  Take Vivian Hsu - she’s nice to look at, but her character is dull, dull, dull. And Eric Tsang is, well, Eric Tsang.  Actually, he provides a laugh or two as the seedy private eye, so I can’t complain too much.  Those that loved Brad Allen’s contribution to Gorgeous (and I’m one of them) will be disappointed to learn that he’s pretty much invisible through most of this. However, watching this with the prior knowledge of everything that would come after, Accidental Spy does have some neat touches and a couple of great action scenes.  In fact, I’d go as far as to say that it’s the last of the “traditional” Jackie Chan action comedies, even if by now the star had already lost a step or two and dropped the more obviously dangerous stunts.  The Turkish bath scene in particular is brilliant, and sporadic flashes of genius (such as a skyscraper demolition scene) showed that there was still a lot of life left in the old dog.  

Jackie Chan in Accidental Spy
No review of Accidental Spy is complete without mention of the Speed-style climax.  Often seen as a cop-out, it is undoubtedly a weak ending and definitely not one that fans were hoping for.  But I’m not terribly bothered about it any more.  Sure, I would have liked something (anything) else, but I don’t think it wrecks the film. 

For so long, this film has been only available (in its original format anyway) in extremely poor quality home video editions.  I had this on VCD originally, and I have to assume it was a pirate edition as the screen turns monochrome for the finale.  The Universe DVD was little better, as it had a rubbish blurred transfer.  However, the new(ish) DVD from Kam & Ronson provides a crisp, anamorphic, digitally remastered transfer which is simply head and shoulders above any other version of the film I’ve seen before.  Accidental Spy is certainly flawed, but at least now it looks a lot better than it ever did.

Kaiji: The Ultimate Gambler (2009) August 1, 2010

Posted by Cal in : Drama, Thriller, 2000s films , add a comment

Director: Tôya Satô  Starring: Tatsuya Fujiwara; Teruyuki Kagawa; Yuki Amami  Territory: Japan

KaijiDown-at-heel Kaiji (Tatsuya Fujiwara), a directionless young man, is conned into honouring the massive debt of a passing acquaintance.  Attempting to rid himself of debt, he enters an underworld gambling operation, and soon finds himself a slave to the corrupt and corpulent Teiai Kingdom.

The first live-action adaptation of a popular Manga, Kaiji: The Ultimate Gambler is, unsurprisingly, a film with a fair bit of gambling in it.  Films with intense gambling scenes can be confusing if you don’t understand the game being played.  However, if you can understand Rock, Paper, Scissors, you will have no trouble following the movie – nothing in the film is more complicated than this playground favourite.

There is an unexpected amount of drama and tension to the games Kaiji plays, as the stakes rise and the sides form between the rich and poor, humble and arrogant.  The characters are usually pretty black and white: the unfortunate comrades of Kaiji are generally salt-of-the-Earth people (with one or two exceptions) and the Teiai employees and their supporters are vile.  The best of the latter is the Asian-Agent-Smith-a-like Tonegawa (Teruyuki Kagawa), who sneers and snarls from his position of power.  Mixing it up is Endo (Yuki Amami), the loan shark who initially sets Kaiji up, but shows occasional disloyalty to the Kingdom.

The pace is set early on with the frantic mass game between debt-riddled desperate men aboard a cruise ship.  Although it takes one or two unexpected left turns, the film rarely loses focus and retains its tension throughout the 130-minute running time.

With characters you can really get behind, a compelling story and some intense gambling scenes, Kaiji: The Ultimate Gambler is a solid slice of entertainment.

To order your copy of Kaiji: The Ultimate Gambler, click here.

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