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Thirst (2009) October 25, 2010

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

Director: Park Chan-wook  Starring: Song Kang-ho; Kim Ok-bin; Shin Ha-kyun  Territory: South Korea

ThristCatholic priest Sang-kyun (Song Kang-ho) volunteers in an experiment to create an antidote to a deadly virus, but instead becomes gravely ill.  Upon dying, Sang-kyun lies still…and then begins breathing again.  He unwittingly becomes labelled as a miracle worker, but soon finds that he needs to drink human blood to stop the virus returning.

Park Chan-wook is undoubtedly a very gifted director, and Thirst is a highly polished and accomplished piece of work.  The subject of vampirism is, however, an unfortunate one as the market is currently saturated with bloodsuckers.  But Thirst is more of a tale of love spiralling darkly to destruction, and there isn’t a gothic cathedral or tightly clutched crucifix in sight.

Sang-kyun gets attached to childhood friend Tae-ju (Kim Ok-bin) who is apparently abused by her idiotic boorish husband Kang-woo (Shin Ha-kyun).  Without giving too much away, Sang-kyun and Tae-ju begin an affair, and start on the road to ruin, with the previously pious Sang-kyun quickly getting addicted to the sins of the flesh.  The sex scenes are pretty strong (or at least unusual, with foot fetishism and passionate armpit licking more in evidence than actual nudity) and came as a bit of a surprise to tell you the truth.

Thirst is also not for the squeamish.  I don’t know why, but I was quite unsettled by the violence and gore.  I guess special effects look more realistic these days (and I was watching this in HD), or I’m getting too old for this sort of thing.  Whatever the reason, I found myself looking away from the screen an awful lot.

For all its merits, I never truly warmed to Thirst.  Park’s idea of taking bits of the vampire myth and leaving others seemed initially a masterstroke – our victim is dependent on blood, is burned by sunlight and is apparently immortal, but appears in mirrors and is indifferent to holy icons – but then started to feel half-baked.  Why, for instance, when the condition is caused by a virus, can the afflicted man suddenly start flying?  More off-putting, for me, was a shift in tone involving the moronic Kang-woo.  The inclusion of a darkly surreal comic vein to the film seemed out of place to me.

My reaction may be more muted than most, but there is no argument that Thirst was a very successful and crtically acclaimed film.  It deals maturely and thoughtfully with guilt and lust, and the tale of doomed love is one that most can at least identify with. 

R-Point (2004) May 21, 2010

Posted by Cal in : Horror, War, Supernatural, 2000s films , add a comment

Director: Kong Su-chang  Starring: Gam Wu-seong; Son Byung-ho; Oh Tae-kyung  Territory: South Korea

In 1972, a group of South Korean soldiers go missing during a mission in the Vietnam War.  Presumed dead, Headquarters are stunned to receive a transmission from the lost battalion.  When the transmission continues sporadically, they dispatch a new squad to investigate and pick up any survivors.  The location known as R-Point where the lost soldiers were last seen is deserted when the search party investigates, but when they discover that the site is on Vietnamese holy ground, they realise they are not quite alone after all…

Watching this after Kong Su-chang’s 2008 film GP506 was initially disappointing – the premise and setting seemed too similar for my tastes.  But when it gets going, R-Point is a different and altogether more satisfying film.

R-Point 

Although there are a few precursors to the direction R-Point is going to go (the sign etched into some spooky rocks saying “those who have blood on their hands shall not return” being one of the more obvious), the film plays its cards close enough to its chest to make you forget you’re watching a horror movie, so that when the shocks start to come, they are genuinely effective. 

The main gripe I have about this film is the characters – there are nine (or is it ten?) soldiers, and it’s hard to really pick anyone out of the bunch.  Such is the lack of characterisation that even at the end of the film, I only noticed about two separate entities among them.  There is also a scene where US marines meet the search party, and the acting by the English speakers is predictably weak.

But I found R-Point a much better paced film than I was expecting, and while it is definitely not an innovative film in the oeuvre, it is certainly well worth checking out.  The UK release is from Tartan, and it’s clear that they were not the company they once were when the back cover blurb is full of elementary grammatical errors, typos and there are references likening it to three completely unconnected and dissimilar films.  It’s best to ignore the box and just jump straight in.  

GP506 (AKA Guard Post) (2008) October 13, 2009

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

Director: Kong Su-chang  Main cast: Jeon Ho-jin; Lee Young-hoon; Lee Jeong-heon; Cho Hyun-jai  Territory: South Korea

gp506.jpgSomething or someone has killed the soldiers stationed at Guard Post 506, an outpost situated near the border between South Korea and its hostile northern neighbour.  Sergeant Noh (Jeon Ho-jin) and his team go to the site to piece together what went wrong, and uncover a bizarre tale of infection and insanity. 

GP506 (retitled Guard Post in the west) has similar themes as certain films in the body horror sub genre, and occasionally reminded me of the much derided Shyamalan film The Happening.  It’s surprisingly not an all-out horror movie though; for most part it plays like a detective thriller, albeit with gory mutilations and unnatural food cravings.

The story is told in a series of flashbacks, and this can sometimes be a problem as it’s not always clear if you’re watching past events or the present.  When a survivor is found from the original team and helps to start putting the pieces together, we get a series of glimpses into the mystery.  Noh also finds and reads diary entries to shed light on the affair.  Other clues suggest Corporal Kang (Lee Young-hoon) may have been unstable and killed the rest of his team. 

Things are never quite what they seem, and the story twists and turns with new elements being introduced that challenge the viewers’ assumptions.  As with most films of this nature, it works better with as little prior knowledge as possible. 

While GP506 is a competently made film (the production values are high throughout), there was something about it that didn’t quite grab me.  Although the film moves quite slowly, I think the main problem is I never really cared about any of the characters and their plight.  The structure and feel of the film is also similar to a lot of modern shockers and doesn’t really stand out from the crowd.

However, the setting is good and occasionally recalls classic films set in remote locations such as John Carpenter’s The Thing.  There’s also a very real possibility the whole film is an allegorical comment on the cold war and the paranoia between the divided Korea. 

But while the film is quite watchable, I have to admit a feeling quite underwhelmed by the whole thing.  Perhaps if the characters were a bit more engaging and the plotting a little tighter, this could have been a lot better.  As it stands, though, GP506 is only mildly diverting.

Mr Vampire III (1987) February 2, 2009

Posted by Cal in : Horror, Comedy, Supernatural, 1980s films , add a comment

Director: Ricky Lau  Main cast: Lam Ching-Ying; Richard Ng; Billy Lau  Territory: Hong Kong

A charlatan Taoist priest (Richard Ng) uses a couple of “stooge” ghosts to con the locals with his ghostbusting ability.  Encountering a town where the population are living in fear of a gang of supernatural bandits, he encounters the real deal in Uncle Nine (Lam Ching-Ying – as if there could be another!) and gets embroiled in their struggle against the black magic foes.

Firstly, and this needs to be mentioned above everything else, there are precisely zero vampires in Mr Vampire III.  Not one.  If I’d known this at the start, I wouldn’t have been wondering when the hopping undead were going to show up.  Mr Vampire III is instead a ghost story/black magic comedy as separate from the second instalment as the disappointing Mr Vampire II was from the original.  Realising that the modern day setting of the first sequel didn’t really work, this film is in more familiar territory in the vague and unspecific period setting of the first film. 

I was struck by an uneasy sense of deja vu at the start of the movie that eventually clicked – the idea of a conman using friendly ghosts to hustle the general population is similar to the premise of Peter Jackson’s film The Frighteners.  It would be nice to think that Jackson took inspiration from this movie for his 1996 horror/comedy, but I strongly suspect all similarities are purely coincidental. 

Mr Vampire 3

The pace of Mr Vampire III can only be described as frantic to the point of chaos.  The film goes from action setpiece to farcical setpiece and back again without a pause for breath, and this works against the film quite a lot.  I’m not entirely sure the reason for the bandits’ presence or origin is ever even mentioned, let alone explained.  But why have exposition scenes when you can have lightly fried ghosts with dripping eyeballs and Richard Ng cavorting comically in the nude (again)?

Not that it doesn’t have some merit.  Some of the comedy takes you unawares sometimes and you can’t help but laugh, and some of the supernatural effects add some atmosphere.  The comedy is pretty lowbrow as expected (let’s face it, any film with Billy Lau in it is bound to be lowbrow) and includes a fair bit of invisible-entities-manipulating-the-real-world shenanigans a la Where’s Officer Tuba? and The Dead and the Deadly et al, but Richard Ng is generally pretty watchable.  Like other entries in the series, events have a predictable knack of going wrong, and the formula looks pretty tired by now.  You can pretty much foresee the exact moment a Taoist spell is going to fall off a spirit with disastrous consequences or that someone’s bright idea is going to end up in mayhem.

As with most films about Chinese myth and legend, some knowledge of the relevant folklore helps unfurrow the brow a little.  It’s pretty much fair to say that if you don’t know what makes Chinese ghosts visible or imprisoned or how to send real-world items into the land of the dead, you’re going to find it pretty tough going.  Mr Vampire III works on a purely popcorn level but is not comparable to the classic first film, and can’t really be called horror despite some frequent and surprisingly gory effects.  The only horror for me was the dawning realisation that I know Richard Ng’s arse better than I know my own.  Now that’s scary.

Mr Vampire II (1986) January 18, 2009

Posted by Cal in : Horror, Comedy, Supernatural, 1980s films , add a comment

Director: Ricky Lau  Main cast: Lam Ching-Ying; Yuen Biao; Chung Faat; Billy Lau  Territory: Hong Kong

A team of explorers lead by Professor Kwok (Chung Faat) discover a cave containing the perfectly preserved antique corpses of a family – father, mother and child.  The corpses all have Taoist spells attached to their foreheads, and upon removal the hapless adventurers discover that the corpses are hopping undead creatures intent on causing mayhem upon the living.  Medicine man Lam Ching-Ying (Lam Ching-Ying, in a masterstroke of casting) may hold the key to eradicating the menace before it spreads further with each infected bite.

Have you ever had the movie experience where, before you see a film, everybody says it’s such a complete piece of crap that when you finally get around to watching it you’re left thinking it wasn’t so bad after all?  That was the kind of reaction I had when I first saw Mr Vampire II about ten years ago when it was shown on Channel 4 over here.  However, watching it now for a second time, I can kind of see what everyone was talking about.

The problem mainly lies in the inescapable fact that nearly every scene goes on too long, and yet the whole film is well under 90 minutes in length.  In particular a scene where Yuen Biao fights the parent vampires while under the effect of a sedative seems to go on forever.  Similarly, the section where the child vampire is befriended by a regular family is overlong and the children end up being more annoying than cute, even though the inclusion of a pair of overweight children who aren’t simply there for comedy value is a bit of an innovation.

Mr Vampire 2

It is also a bit of a head-scratcher why Yuen Biao and Lam Ching-Ying aren’t introduced earlier, as they are undoubtedly the main attraction for the film.  They both appear at about the 35 minute mark, which is way too long to wait when the rest of the material isn’t too strong.  Actually, no one really ends up with a lot of screen time on this one for some reason, and it’s possible for completely forget that some people are in it at all (I’m thinking Moon Lee here, who is particularly underused).  The shifting of the setting to modern day Hong Kong in this instalment isn’t as disastrous to the film as you might think, but it has to be said that the ties to the undisputed classic that is Mr Vampire are quite tenuous. 

It is perhaps to be applauded that producer Sammo Hung didn’t simply trot out a carbon copy of the original and instead tried to experiment with the formula.  There are positives: there are a few great gags (and call me sick, but I really enjoyed seeing Moon Lee get hit in the face with a hammer), a couple of decent setpieces and a little bit of atmosphere.  But is any of it scary?  I’d say a bit fat no on this.  Mind you, I didn’t find any of the first one scary, but when it was as entertaining as it was you can overlook things like that.  I also didn’t like the obvious “gross out” moments at the start of the film such as the gutting of a real snake – I thought they were really cheap shocks with no entertainment value.

One aspect of the film which I found quite surprising is that the movie ends up being quite critical of human society.  We are eventually left empathising with the monsters and the shift from human as protagonist to antagonist is handled with a subtlety wasted on such a project as this, but it’s nice to know someone was at least thinking outside the box a little.

Mr Vampire II has a bad reputation, and that reputation is sadly quite justified, even taking into account that the original was such a tough act to follow.  Nevertheless, it is not a complete waste of time and there are a couple of entertaining moments.  My recommendation: see it once and then stick a yellow strip of paper on it with a Taoist spell written on the front to stop it from hopping into your DVD player again.

Machine Girl (2008) October 28, 2008

Posted by Cal in : Uncategorized, Horror, Comedy, Action, Exploitation, Bad Films, 2000s films , add a comment

Director: Noboru Iguchi  Main cast: Minase Yashiro; Asami; Kentaro Shimazu; Nobuhiro Nishihara  Territory: Japan

After schoolgirl Ami’s (Minase Yashiro) younger brother gets killed by a gang of bullies, she stumbles on a list of his tormentors and goes on a rampage of vengeance.  Even after losing an arm, Ami hardly misses a beat – especially after a huband and wife team of mechanics fix her up with a replacement in the form of a high-calibur machine gun.  But the final revenge will not be easy – the head bully’s father is a Yakuza chief, expert in the use of a katana.  But even he is no match for his psychotic wife…

Machine Girl is the latest film from Noboru Iguchi, the man responsible for the ultra-mad Sukeban Boy.  As you would expect, it’s another blend of gore, bad acting and unconvincing fight scenes, but this time it looks like he had a budget for the film.  There are even a few bargain-basement CGI effects thrown in for good measure, and it’s got more of a cinematic feel to it. 

L-R: Asami Miyajima, Minase Yashiro 

With lines like: “Wash your hair in your son’s blood!”, random ninja attacks and a soundtrack that sounds like your typical 80’s straight-to-video action film, you know you’re talking major-league exploitation revenge-flick trash, and this is probably as good as it gets.  In fact, I’m really surprised not to see Tarantino’s name anywhere on the Region 1 release, and I imagine it’s already up there as one of his favourite films. 

It seems pointless to talk about characterisations, but there has been an effort to give mechanic Miki (Sukeban Boy’s Asami) some character developement from her initial hostillity towards Ami (she believed Ami’s parents were murderers) to being a strong friend when her son is killed alongside Ami’s brother.  Even bully Sho’s father is a more interesting character than at first appears due to his villainy being trumped at every turn by his demented wife. 

Athough the acting is generally poor, this guy really nailed the part. 

Which brings us back to the gore.  This really is a showcase for old-school effects, and like Sukeban Boy, it reminded me of the video nasties from the late 70’s or early 80’s.  Whether you think the gore effects are stupid or not probably depends on your fondness for those films, I suppose, but I thought they were a lot of fun.  I wasn’t quite sure whether the whole film is actually a satire on these kinds of films, and whether it was in fact a lot more intelligent than it appears at first glance.  It’s definitely possible.  But the important thing is that it’s a fun, mad little film that rips along at a breakneck speed ideal for those times when you want to see something completely over the top.

Oh, and that drill bra…!

The Twins Effect (2003) October 4, 2008

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Director: Dante Lam; Donnie Yen  Main cast: Gillian Chung; Charlene Choi; Ekin Cheng; Edison Chen; Anthony Wong  Territory: Hong Kong

Duke Dekotes and his band of European vampires come to Hong Kong in search of the unholy grail: a tome called “Day for Night”, which will make him all but invincible to his human prey.  Reeve (Ekin Cheng), a vampire hunter, and his new assistant Gypsy (Gillian Chung) set out to stop them.  Meanwhile, Reeve’s sister Helen (Charlene Choi) befriends a small cult of “new age” vampires, including their leader Kazaf (Edison Cheng), a move not looked upon favourably by her sibling…

Vampires are the most overused horror monster, and it’s hard to come up with something using them that’s going to be genuinely scary these days (take the recent 30 Days of Night) and Twins Effect adds nothing new to the genre at all.  Viewers of Buffy the Vampire Slayer will recognise many of the themes and devices of the film, and this often feels like a Hong Kong version of the popular US show but without the unique wit and infectious flippancy.  But Buffy’s appeal lay more in the characters and the humour rather than the rather uninventive monsters she and her friends fought on a weekly basis for nine years, and Twins Effect diverts itself from the horror element so often you sometimes forget quite what everyone’s doing. 

The film doesn’t quite pan out like you’d imagine it to – for one thing, the Twins don’t actually team up until very late in the movie – and this works in the film’s favour, I feel.  The main plotline of the evil vampire Dekotes (Mickey Hardt – not to be confused with the Grateful Dead drummer!) killing princes and becoming all-powerful disappears for so long you really could have done with a refresher by the end of the film.  In between the action packed opening where Reeve attacks a battalion of the undead (including Bey Logan – so that’s where he went) and the special effects heavy climax, we get a collection of comedy skits, action set pieces, tense drama and romantic scenes.  Some scenes work better than others, but surprisingly none of them are awful.

Where's that Edison?  I'll teach him to take compromising pictures of Me!! 

I once tried to listen to a Twins song, but discovered 15 seconds into it that I hated their music.   They sounded pouty even in an upbeat saccharin pop song.  Their appearance in an updated TV version of Journey to the West (the title of which escapes me) made me want to throw things at the screen – mainly because they were being pouty.  Charlene, the most talented, acting-wise, of the pair is quite pouty in places but otherwise this is an annoyance-free appearance for the Twins.  I wouldn’t go as far as to say that they gave stellar performances that brought a tear to my eye, but the fact that I didn’t want them to become vampire fodder is quite a progression.  I don’t think anyone will strongly object to me calling Edison Chen vile (gee, I hope he doesn’t get gangsta on my ass for saying so), but he reins in his immense foulness to give quite a passable performance of a “nice” vampire. 

These “new age” vampires (headed by Chen and Anthony Wong) are somewhat similar to those in George RR Martin’s novel Fevre Dream in that they have stopped sucking blood from human victims in favour of drinking a bottled variety, but this is not expanded upon in any great detail, which is a pity. 

Instead we get a couple of cameos.  Jackie Chan appears in two scenes, and seems out of place in both.  In the first he’s getting married to Karen Mok, in what the opening titles refer to as a “special friendly appearance” (?), who is a raging alcoholic.  In the second, he has a small action scene and a bit of stuntwork (although he’s clearly wired when he climbs a pole, a la Project A).  Although a fan of Chan, I feel his appearances kind of detract from the feel of the film as, let’s face it, his presence does tent to overshadow things.

Twins Effect is quite like a visit to the dentist where discover you don’t need any work doing and all of the assistants are pretty.  I ended up quite enjoying it, actually.

Dark Water (2002) April 8, 2008

Posted by Cal in : Horror, Supernatural, 2000s films , 4 comments

Director: Hideo Nakata  Cast: Hitomi Kuroki; Rio Kanno; Shigemitsu Ogi  Territory: Japan  Production Company: Honogurai mizu no soko kara

A bitter custody battle is being fought by Yoshimi (Hitomi Kuroki) against her husband for their six year old daughter Ikuko (Rio Kanno).  Her ex-husband is playing dirty, using tales of Yoshimi’s previous psychological problems to discredit her.  Rattled, Yoshimi rents a new apartment for herself and Ikuko and tries to get her life back on track with a new job.  But the apartment is old and the ceiling leaks – not to mention noisy, as a child’s footsteps can often be heard from the room above.  Yoshimi starts to feel uneasy when a girl’s red bag is found and can’t seem to be thrown away, and then she starts seeing a small child upstairs matching the description of a missing girl…

From the director of Ring, which was probably most casual viewers’ first exposure to Asian horror films, Dark Water continues in a similar spooky style which seems to be everywhere nowadays.

Don't feel bad, love, we all have accidents... 

Shunning special effects and gore, the film instead relies on making the mundane seem menacing through implication, music and reaction shots.  Which, let’s face it, could easily fall flat on its arse.   Dark Water doesn’t quite fall on its arse, but after seeing it I’m not entirely sure why.  The imagery seems a little over-used – creepy silent kids and things seen out of the corner of the eye being the order of the day.  The red bag that continually turns up to alarm Yoshimi could seem laughable if not handled properly, as can the mounting menace of a water stain on the ceiling.  But, to give the film its due, it never does, and a decent sense of quiet menace continues nicely throughout the film.

Right, that's it!  Straight to bed without supper!

It’s just that the whole mystery of the film is rather easy to figure out, and by about the halfway mark, you’re well ahead of the game.  This is the film’s most disappointing quality, as it is a very watchable experience.  The film is very ably acted, and particular mention must go to the performance of Rio Kanno as the six year old Ikuko who spent the majority of the film soaking wet, which couldn’t have been too pleasant.

Although Dark Water is a pleasantly creepy way to pass the time, I really don’t think it has the legs to stand up to repeated viewings.  But if you’ve never seen it, it’s well worth the price of the rental.

Ebola Syndrome (1996) March 24, 2008

Posted by Cal in : Horror, Exploitation , 5 comments

Director: Herman Yau  Cast: Anthony Wong; Angel Wong; Lo Meng; Vincent Wan  Territory: Hong Kong  Production Company: Jing’s Production Ltd

There’s a good chance that the Ebola virus will wipe out humanity at some point.  It’s highly contagious, incurable and has a ridiculously high mortality rate.  Which makes for potentially shocking and inevitably sensationalistic movie material.  If the virus does break out on a large scale, though, it’s unlikely we will see the events of Herman Yau’s cult exploitation movie Ebola Syndrome played out for real.  At least, I hope not…

Anthony Wong plays Kai, a psychotic rapist and murderer from Hong Kong, who flees the police to make a new life for himself in South Africa working in a Chinese restaurant.  His boss (former Venom Lo Meng) has trouble finding merchants to sell him meat, so he does a deal with a local tribe suffering from an outbreak of the Ebola virus to seel him cheap pork.  Kai comes into contact with the virus when he casually rapes an infected tribeswoman and becomes a carrier for the disease, which he starts to spread – at first unwittingly, and then deliberately.

Ebola Syndrome is sleazy as hell and pretty much unforgivable on any level.  There’s always something nasty being done to someone or something either living or dead (there’s a shot of a dead mouse getting run over which is particularly gratuitous and pointless, and do we really need to see Wong slice up three frogs in one prolonged shot?).  All of the characters are inherently unlikeable – even Kai’s boss (the most “normal” of the bunch) only hires him because he’ll work for low wages as he’s a wanted criminal.  Oh, and let’s not forget Lily (Angel Wong), who very nearly became one of Kai’s victims in Hong Kong and who accidentally stumbles on him again in South Africa.  She can’t be near him without vomiting as she claims she can “really recognise his scent of smell”.  Yeah, all right…

No one is safe from Ah Kim 

With such a crew of amoral and unsympathetic characters, there is little drama.  There is, however, what appears like an attempt at gross-out humour throughout the film (Wong Jing is the producer, after all) which, if you like that sort of thing, might raise a few laughs.  And fans of Yau and Wong’s previous collaboration The Untold Story are treated to another “human flesh served to restaurant patrons” subplot. 

It has to be said that the depiction of the symptoms of the virus are fanciful at best and don’t seem to bear much resemblance to the real thing.  The sufferers have a tendency to be right as rain one minute then suddenly fall to the ground in spasms, making for some unintentional hilarity.  Later on in the movie things are taken in a more serious direction with the introduction of Sergeant Yeung (Vincent Wan) and his team as they try to track down Kim and evade the virus, and the focus shifts away from Kim for a while.

I can see why Ebola Syndrome has such a cult following, with its gross comedy, gore and so forth, but there is just too much nastiness in there that just put me off – and animal violence in movies is a complete taboo for me (live chickens are killed on screen).  I understand that the current Hong Kong version is as uncut as it’s likely to be, but it is clear that some scenes have been trimmed for violent content and the part where Kim slices off a woman’s tongue is quite obviously cut.  If a fully uncut version becomes available, I think I’ll pass…

Heaven and Hell (1978) February 2, 2008

Posted by Cal in : Horror, 1970s films, Kung Fu, Wacko, Supernatural , 3 comments

Director: Chang Cheh  Cast: Lee I-Min, Sun Chien, Phillip Kwok, Chiang Sheng, Lo Meng, Fu Sheng  Territory: Hong Kong  Production Company: Shaw Brothers

A man and woman are kicked out of the Court of Heaven on trumped up charges of bringing shame onto the Kingdom.  Reincarnated as a taxi driver, Xin Ling (Lee I-Min) courageously takes on and kills a gangster harassing Chen Ding (Fu Sheng) and his sweetheart (Jenny Tseng), but is himself mortally wounded in the conflict.  Now sent to hell, Xin Ling applies for leniency when the annual heavenly Buddha happens to appear pretty much as soon as he gets there.  In another stroke of luck, the Venoms themselves are in hell and keen to get out, and the heavenly Buddha allows them all to fight their way out.

The more perceptive of my readership have probably noticed a leaning towards the “spooky” in my Hong Kong film viewings of late, and I’ve always had a bit of an interest in this film as it looked like a wacky bit of fun.  The reality, though, is a film just a bit too out there for my tastes.

You can’t fault the film for being different.  We start off in heaven in this three act film, a section which of course has a strong fantasy feel to it, and reminded me a little of the film Na Cha the Great.  It soon becomes apparent that the first two sections of the film are just setting the scene for the “Hell” part as the “Heaven” section barely lasts ten minutes before switching to modern day Earth.  The Mortal World is the most striking part of the film visually, which, for reasons unfathomable to me, is portrayed in a kind of theatrical way as a stage play complete with stylised sets and props (and a couple of musical numbers from Jenny Tseng which are surprisingly not too bad).  Fu Sheng takes on a gang of dancers pretending to be thugs in a fight scene without sound effects of any kind and with visible lack of contact.  It’s a very brave style choice, and definitely something I’ve not seen before.  Unfortunately, I don’t think it really pays off.  The film then confusingly switches to a more realistic, external setting for the encounter between Fu Sheng, Lee I-Min and the gang boss played by Kong Do.

Check out the minimalistic set! 

The lion’s share of the screen time goes to the Hell sequence, but this is interspersed with flashbacks to various periods in the world’s history when the Venoms’ backstories are told.  Hell itself is primarily made up of cheesy sets, cheesy costumes (Hell’s workers are kind of like human pigs) and ultra cheesy lighting.  There are a few torture scenes and a little moralising along the way, but basically, the Hell sequence is just a prelude to the introduction of the Venoms and the film becomes a Kung Fu-fest from there on in.  While the Venom stories are good, the whole film just descends into a fragmented mess and I couldn’t wait for the whole thing to finish.

This might sting a little. 

You could walk in on Heaven and Hell at various points and think you’re watching a fantasy film, an avant-garde 70’s pop art piece, a comedy, a horror, a period Kung Fu flick, a modern day actioner and a musical variety show.  With so many elements involved, it was sure to turn out badly, and Heaven and Hell was a real struggle for me to sit through.  You’ll never see another film like it, but that’s meant more of a warning than a recommendation.

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