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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

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

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.

Tokyo Zombie (2005) March 22, 2010

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

Director: Sakichi Sato  Starring: Tadanobu Asano; Shô Aikawa; Erika Okuda  Territory: Japan

A pair of jujitsu-obsessed slackers accidentally kill their boss and bury him in the city’s huge junkyard.  Called Black Fuji, the waste ground resembles a mountain and is home to a large number of Tokyo’s murder victims – which is bad news when the toxic waste brings the dead back to life to feast on the living.

Tokyo Zombie is an adaptation of a Japanese manga and is another title in an increasing list of zombie comedies.  These can be a very hit-or-miss affair, and I’m afraid this one falls mainly into the latter category.

While the initial premise holds a fair bit of promise – and the film’s obvious lack of budget just adds to the style – things unravel rather quickly when it becomes blindingly obvious that the film’s sense of humour is just too crude and juvenile (even for me).

tokyo-zombie.jpg Comedy hairstyles are the order of the day in Tokyo Zombie

The two central characters, Fujio and Micchan (Tadanobu Asano and Shô Aikawa, respectively) are likeable enough.  They have a fair bit of chemistry together, and the few comedy setpieces they are in together as they escape the rising dead range from the mildly amusing to one instance of being laugh-out-loud funny.  However, the inclusion of another character, Yoko (Erika Okuda), upsets the balance too much.  She is a bitchy loudmouth whiner with absolutely no redeeming features at all, and her inclusion is a major irritation.

The hardest thing to stomach, though, is the film’s total change of direction about halfway through.  We suddenly skip from a typical zombie survival theme to an animated sequence showing how, five years later, the rich have built a haven against the undead, and use the poor as slaves.  They are used to generate electricity using exercise handgrips and are pitted against the undead in Gladiatorial contests.  When the live action resumes, Fujio is a prizefighter trying to win money for him and Yoko to flee the walled city and escape to Russia.  Any sense of pacing seems completely stifled by this turn of events, and the film plods along in quite a samey way until its laboured conclusion.

Although there are undoubtedly funny bits in Tokyo Zombie, the humour is far too coarse to be truly comfortable sometimes.  I have no doubt that if I’d seen it twenty years ago, I probably would have loved it, but these days the thought of an old man looking up the skirt of a “dead” schoolgirl creeps me out a bit.  And that’s saying nothing about the man-on-boy spanking, child murder and genital consumption by the undead. 

Those with a taste for gross out comedy (and human flesh) may like it, but the rest will probably be wishing they’d stuck with Shaun of the Dead.

Ichi the Killer (2001) May 16, 2009

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

Director: Takashi Miike  Main cast: Tadanobu Asano; Nao Omori; Alien Sun; Shinya Tsukamoto  Territory: Japan

The head of the Anjo gang has disappeared, along with a substantial wad of cash.  Masochistic gang member Kakihara is charged with finding him and the money and to use any means necessary to recover what has been lost.  When it transpires that the boss is dead and that a sadistic hitman named Ichi carried out the killing, Kakihara has his own reasons for tracking the assassin down.

Ichi the Killer’s notoriety tends to overshadow the film itself, and it’s quite easy to dismiss the film as a sick exploitation flick with no merit at all.  It’s doubly easy seeing as how less than two minutes into the movie we see some truly nasty misogyny when a female character gets the living crap beaten out of her and raped while another character (Ichi himself, we later learn) gets his rocks off to the sight.

But is it a punishment if he WANTS to do it? 

All is not as it seems, however, and while Ichi the Killer is sickeningly brutal in its uncut form (which is the version reviewed here), there is social commentary here, albeit buried deeply under the gore. 

The characters are a bunch of lowlife junkies.  The king of them is Kakihara (Tadanobu Asano), who enjoys pain and whose scarred, “modified” face will probably linger in your mind forever.  He’s actually quite a likable character, when he’s not torturing people for information.  He even has a philosophy on masochism, and imparts it while receiving a drubbing from trainee Dominatrix Karen: “when you’re hurting someone, don’t think of the pain that he feels.  Only concentrate on the pleasure of causing him pain.  That’s the only way to show true compassion for your partner”.

Ichi himself (Nao Omori) is a tragic character.  He’s had his sexual wiring so completely confused by his boss Jiji that he thinks he once wanted to participate in a gang rape.  In fact, no such event ever took place, but thanks to hypnotic suggestion Ichi has been wracked with guilt ever since and acts as a kind of screwed-up superhero, exacting revenge on bullies.  His conditioning leaves us quite sympathetic to him – a rare thing for such a character.

With the polylingual, conniving Karen (Alien Sun), this has the most gruesome cast of characters I’ve seen outside a Rob Zombie movie.  But Ichi the Killer also has moments of great black comedy (the scene where Kakihara is expelled from the gang via a video cam is truly hilarious), and a depth that is seldom acknowledged. 

I actually found this easier to watch than some films that showed infinitely less gore and violence.  And I have to admit I quite liked it, which came as a bit of a surprise.   Even the blatant misogyny didn’t seem so terribly offensive – although the nipple-slicing scene was the one moment I had to look away.  Let’s face it, no one in this film gets an easy ride.

I suspect that the somewhat convoluted plot will become clearer on repeated viewing (I did struggle to keep up at times) and yield further enjoyment.  Although not showing the better side of humanity, there was still a lot to enjoy in the film, and didn’t find it to be the rancid cesspit that some have claimed it to be.

The Happiness of the Katakuris (2001) April 5, 2009

Posted by Cal in : Comedy, Musical, Wacko, 2000s films , 8 comments

Director: Takashi Miike  Main cast: Kenji Sawada; Keiko Matsuzaka; Shinji Takeda; Naomi Nishida; Tamaki Miyazaki; Tetsuro Tanba; Kiyoshiro Imawano  Territory: Japan

The Katakuri family open the White Lovers’ Guesthouse in the middle of nowhere, knowing that a major road will one day be built alongside it to provide a steady stream of custom.  In the meantime, though, the Guesthouse attracts few guests.  And the ones that do check in end up checking out prematurely and permanently, and to avoid a scandal the family resort to burying the bodies on the grounds.

Happiness of the Katakuris starts with a young woman eating soup in a restaurant.  She discovers a winged imp in the soup that steals her uvula.  The imp is eaten by a crow, which in turn is eaten by a stuffed toy (after stealing an eye from the imp, naturally) and one of the crow’s eggs is eaten by a snake, which is then eaten by more crows.  Finally, an egg falls from the crows’ nest and hatches into another winged imp, which is picked up by another crow and carried through the air until it is whacked from the sky by great-grandpa Katakuri while the youngest member of the family solemnly buries her goldfish.  This surreal sequence showing the cycle of life and minor personal tragedy is a startling start to this Japanese remake of the South Korean film The Quiet Family.

Mixing claymation sequences, song and dance routines, black comedy, zombies and messages on the importance of the family unit, Happiness of the Katakuris sounds like a crazy mixed bag of genres that would make a messy, incoherent film.  However, it ends up gelling a lot better than you’d think, and the result is one of the most striking films I’ve ever seen. 

The Happiness of the Katakuris 

The Katakuris are a likeable bunch from the top down, including Masayuki (Shinji Takeda) who has a light-fingered past and Shizue (Naomi Nishida) who tends to fall in love with any man on sight.  The latter falls for Richard Sawada (a scene-stealing Kiyoshiro Imawano), an unconvincing conman pretending to be a British secret agent and member of the Royal family.  All of the scenes with Sawada are pretty hilarious, as he ineptly tries to con the gullible Shizue out of some cash. 

The songs (and there are plenty of them) are scattered through the film and none of them are awful.  One in particular, where Richard woos Shizue, is actually pretty catchy, and the karaoke sequence (complete with on-screen lyrics and chintzy soft-focus performers) is eerily realistic.  The decision to animate key sequences of the film (sometimes when live action would have been impossible) adds to the film’s character as well, and in the end you are left with something noboby but the most brave, adventurous director could have accomplished. 

I’ve seldom seen anything to rival the originality and boldness of Happiness of the Katakuris, but I have to admit that I haven’t seen the Korean film it’s a remake of.  I think I’m going to keep it that way, as I think watching The Quiet Family may lessen the enjoyment of this film, great though I’m sure it is. 

Fortunately, I saw this a year or so before I saw Audition, which has kind of put me off experimenting with Takashi Miike’s films (it disturbed me greatly), but there’s no denying he has a serious talent for making films no one else would even dream of making.  If you haven’t seen it already and want a strangely touching family movie with a few laughs, a few songs, and a few gruesome deaths, there can be no substitute.

Sheer genius.

Magnificent Bodyguards (1977) October 19, 2008

Posted by Cal in : 1970s films, Kung Fu, Wacko , 6 comments

Director: Lo Wei  Main cast: Jackie Chan; James Tien; Bruce Leung  Territory: Taiwan  Production Company: Lo Wei Motion Picture Co.

A mysterious woman hires kung fu master Ting Chung (Jackie Chan) to escort her gravely ill brother through the notoriously dangerous, bandit-infested Stormy Mountains.  The unseen brother is carried in a sedan chair by Ting Chung and fellow pugilists Tsang (a face-flaying, arm-severing James Tien) and Chang (a deaf super-kicking Bruce Leung).  On the way, they encounter increasingly unusual foes and hazards, culminating in a meeting with the ruler of the Stormy Mountains himself, Chu.  But is he really who he says he is?

Magnificent Bodyguards is another bonkers tale from Jackie’s early days with legendary director and horseracing fan Lo Wei.  It was shot in 3-D, a fact that is impossible to ignore even if you try really hard, what with things coming out of the screen every few minutes.  It’s a bit disappointing, then, that the film is still being released on home formats in the usual two dimensions.

The film itself has a nice premise, and is like a kung fu road movie of sorts.  The characters are distinctly barmy except for Jackie’s character, oddly enough.  He plays it straight, of course, and it has to be said that his character is probably the least memorable of pretty much everyone present.  James Tien’s character threatens to skin everyone alive at the faintest provocation, and believe it or not, he’s one of the good guys.  I kept expecting him to turn traitor, even though I know he doesn’t, but I’m sure that one of these days when I watch it he will.  Sometime Bruce Lee impersonator (even though he looks nothing like him) Bruce Leung plays a deaf leather repairman (?) and is actually a fine kicker and a great addition to the cast.  I can’t say I’m that familiar with his work, but he’s great in this. 

Jackie Chan co-choreographed the fights and it’s immediately clear which moves are his.  There’s a scene where the gang end up in a chamber being attacked by a bunch of fake monks (don’t ask me why, almost nothing makes sense in this film) and the fight that follows is pretty damn exciting, and bares all the hallmarks of Jackie’s style.  While all of the other sequences in the film are rather hit-or-miss (and the penultimate battle where Lord Chu fights his impostor is downright dull) the film is worth seeing for this one scene alone.

 Magnificent Bodyguards

The production values are typical of Lo Wei – which is to say everything looks pretty cheap and fragile and the considerable wirework is letdown by constantly visible wires.  However, the film does have its own rousing theme tune, which struck me as a classy touch.  But while we’re on the subject of music, I couldn’t help but give an involuntary giggle when part of the Star Wars score suddenly blasts out.  Maybe Lo Wei didn’t think this new-fangled space opera would catch on, but the inclusion of one of the most well-known film scores in a cheap kung fu flick is pretty funny.

I recently criticised Dragon Fist for its Scooby Do-style ending, but if I had remembered the ending to this one, I would have saved the comment for this film.  All that is missing is the “I would have gotten away with it as well if it wasn’t for those meddling kids!” line and this really would have felt like a job for Scooby and the gang.  Although it does taper off a little, Magnificent Bodyguards is still an interesting little nugget of wackiness, with its Chinese Native Americans, bizarre restaurateurs, sci-fi-stealing theme tunes and face-flaying heroes.  I’m quite surprised it wasn’t more of a hit, as I believe this was the first kung fu film in 3-D and the novelty value alone should have put bums on seats.  It genuinely tries to be suspenseful, and I’ve seen a lot worse from the period.

Fantasy Mission Force (1983) June 25, 2008

Posted by Cal in : Wacko , 6 comments

Director: Chu Yen-Ping  Main Cast: Brigitte Lin; Jimmy Wang Yu; Suen Yuet; Jackie Chan  Territory: Taiwan/Hong Kong  Production Company: Cheng Ming Film Company

When an international gaggle of generals (sorry, I don’t know the collective noun for generals) is captured by the Japanese during World War II, Captain Duan Hun (Jimmy Wang Yu) heads up a special task force to go and get them back.  The task force is comprised of a woman with a rocket launcher, her Casanova of a lover, two Chinese Scots guards who seem to be in love with each other (one of whom swings a morning star throughout the movie), a vagabond thief with a Mexican moustache and a guy who doesn’t do anything except look cool in sunglasses. 

Fantasy Mission Force plays like a weird experiment: imagine a film where a bunch of scriptwriters, some of them with mental health issues, work on a script in isolation of each other with no knowledge of what the other was writing except for a list of character names and a vague outline of who they are and what they’re doing.  That’s what this film feels like.  Either that or a film scripted by aliens who had seen a bunch of Earth movies (including Raiders of the Lost Ark) but had never actually met any humans.

This is one task force that can blend in ANYWHERE. 

Either way, it’s completely mad.  It seems to be defeating the object a little to point out exactly why it’s one of the craziest films I’ve ever seen.  Yes, it’s set in World War II but features cars made in the late 70s.  Yes, there is a tribe of Amazon women in a film set in Asia.  Yes, Brigitte Lin blows up her own home in a fit of anger for no apparent reason.  But that doesn’t quite sum up how decidedly odd it is.  Watching it now, I’m not sure if it’s just too clever and we just don’t get it.

When the government is presenting a slide-show of possible leaders of the task force to rescue the hostages we see some familiar faces flash up on screen and the reason they can’t be used for the mission: James Bond (“on assignment in South Africa”), Snake Plissken (“King of Snake is dead”), Baldy from the Aces Go Places series (“he is deflective”) and my personal favourite, Rambo – where they use a promotional shot of Sylvester Stallone dressed as Rocky Balboa.

The flowers are for Brigitte Lin.  No, I don't believe it either. 

This is one of those films where you can get bogged down in “this happens” then “that happens” kind of descriptions to try to illustrate what’s going on, but you could be here for weeks.  We have a broad (and yes, I do mean broad) spectrum of styles on offer in this film from comedy to horror to action.  Films that mix genres rarely work, and this is true to a certain extent of this film, but when you take each piece on its own merit, it’s surprising how much is actually pulled off.  For instance, there’s a scene in a haunted house that is both played for laughs and for frights and this scene in particular is pretty damn good.  The humour is funny and there’s also a weird sense of menace to it.  Similarly, the introduction of Suen Yuet’s character with a bonkers but catchy song (with “Ha Ha Ha!  Lai Lai Lai!” refrain) complete with smiling but baffled gwailos is a highlight that no one forgets.  Ever.  Thankfully, it’s been immortalised on YouTube and can be seen here in full.  My only major criticism is the tone seems to shift the moment one of the Amazon women gets killed and her blood flies across someone’s face.  It seems out of place and brutal in a film that up to that point was quite light in tone.  There are also bloody moments later on, but that moment always sticks out in my mind.

Fantasy Mission Force is a film that would almost definitely have been long forgotten by now were it not for one fact: Jackie Chan appears in it.  He weaves in and out of the story in a way meant to disguise the fact that he wasn’t present for most of the shoot.  Everyone probably knows the story by now, but Jackie “owed” Wang Yu a couple of films for a favour Wang did in “negotiating” a release for Jackie from the Lo Wei studio.  It has to be said that Jackie seems to take it all in good fun, and his highlight is his show of one-upmanship before a wrestling bout with a fearsomely big man. 

Jackie demonstrates the best way to enjoy this film. 

But if you’ve come solely to see Jackie, it’s very likely you’ll be disappointed – he’s just not in it nearly enough and he clearly wasn’t able to spend as much time as normal getting the most out of his action scenes (the exact same problem that occurred on his other Wang Yu film Island Of Fire).  If you’re a fan of truly out there films, though, it’s quite likely you’ll find nirvana here – nowhere else will you see Nazis, Amazons, singing vagabonds, Chinese Scotsmen who have a very close relationship, ghosts cheating at Mah-Jong and apparent time travel all in one movie.  And that, my friends, is guaranteed.

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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