Friday, September 22, 2006

Eastern film fix(ation)

Back in the day I used to love Hong Kong action movies. I first got into them in, oh, I don't know, 1994? The first ones I saw (other than Bruce Lee films, obviously) were in a midnight double bill at the Prince Charles cinema in London's Chinatown, just off Leicester Square. They were the martial-arts classic The Barefoot Kid and the heroic-bloodshed masterpiece A Better Tomorrow 2. Both still have a special place in my heart, although I've not seen TBK since. ABT2, though, for me, is one of those rare sequels that outshines the original. Love it, love it, love it.

Over the years I have bought and watched more HK flicks than I can remember, but still not enough of them. I continue to pick up the ones that interest me, ready to watch when Wife is tired and goes to bed early, cos she just don't be diggin' on them there fillums. Chow Yun-fat was -- and will surely always be, despite such dross as The Replacement Killers and Bulletproof Monk -- the king of HK moviedom.

So it was normal for me to jump on the Japanese horror-movie bandwagon when it came along a handul of years ago. Well, y'know, I'd seen The Seven Samurai back when I were a lad, and I loved that. How bad could the Japanese film industry have become in the ensuing 35 years or so. Well, the answer seems to be "pretty bad", actually.

Despite all the critical acclaim and the countless American remakes, personally I feel a bit misled by the likes of Mark Kermode and Jonathan Ross, two critics whose opinions I usually trust in matters of cinema. Anyway, here's some of the films I've seen over the last four or five years. I just feel that Japanese horror movies don't go anywhere quickly enough, and then when they finally get to where they are dawdling, the denouement is usually so silly as to be laughable.

To be honest, I've even forgotten half of the J-horror movies I've seen because they were, quite simply, forgettable. And because I don't like to tar everything with the same brush, I'm going to throw all Japanese movies into the same wok and write down some that I've liked and not liked of late.

Some that I liked:
Battle Royale; Zatoichi; The Happiness of the Katakuris.

Some that I felt were disappointing or downright rubbish:
Audition; Ring; The Grudge.

Beyond that, looking for my Eastern fix, I have also ventured into Korean and Thai cinema. A few years ago the critics were already saying that Korea was the "new Hong Kong" as far as cinema was concerned. Films being touted were things such as Volcano High, which I still haven't seen but really should. My views on Oldboy (pictured) and Sympathy for Mr Vengeance are posted elsewhere on this blog. And A Tale of Two Sisters was great -- far better than similar ghost-themed Japanese stuff.

My luck with Thai films has not been so great; indeed, I can report that the only two I have enjoyed to any extent are Bangkok Dangerous, which is currently (surprise surprise) being remade with Nicolas Cage, and The Eye. Bangkok Haunted was unwatchable.

Edit: I tell a lie here. The best Thai film was actually the Thai/Jap joint venture The Last Life in the Universe, which was so different to most any film I've ever seen that it not only defies categorization, it almost defies nationality. At least that's my reason for forgetting to include it, and I'm sticking to it!

I haven't really bothered going back to HK cinema for a while. I bought Infernal Affairs on import from Hong Kong when it came out there on DVD largely because it was being named as a return to form for that territory's film-making. I was a touch disappointed, but it certainly had a lot of style to it. And, I suspect, far more than the Martin Scorsese-helmed remake soon to be hitting our screens. My blogmate Soupdragon has something to say about that...

Well, that's all I want to say on Eastern cinema for now. Except to say happy birthday to John Woo, who's 58 today. Please John, go back to Hong Kong and make good movies again, instead of that shit you've been churning out in Hollywood...

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Blogger Red said...

I am scarier than Japanese horror when I first catch sight of myself in the mirror in the morning after a heavy Pernod & Coke night, so let's not even go there. And you forgot to mention the very excellent Last Life in the Universe, which is really the best Thai film we've ever seen.

Li-Mu Bai is gross, always chewing on a toothpick and generally behaving in a rather repelling fashion. Was it you who told me that he's the Cary Grant of Eastern cinema? Not bloody likely...

22 September, 2006 16:25  
Blogger * (asterisk) said...

I'll edit my post, because Last Life is definitely worth including, seeing as it was better than both them other two Thai 'uns.

22 September, 2006 16:28  
Blogger Camie Vog said...

Fluffy Stuffin' made me go to the premier of The Replacement Killers in Chicago. He thought Mira Sorvino was going to be there, eh, no such luck. Just Chow Yun Fat, dressed in a really nice Japanese outfit, speaking really really bad English. Oh, the movie sucked too.

22 September, 2006 19:58  
Blogger The_'Real'_Batman said...

I love eastern films. My favourite are Kamegusha, Ran, Yojimbo, Tokyo Story and Hero. And hardboiled. Chow-yun fat... the hospital scene. Utterly, utterly brilliant

22 September, 2006 22:08  
Blogger _z. said...

I too grew up watching karate movies... and ninjas. My father used to take me to his friend's video store and I used to rent 5 or 6 VHS cassettes at once. All Karate... then came horror of course.
I saw old boy in the theatres when it came out. I loved it! it is a very intense movie to say the least.

great post *(asterisk)

23 September, 2006 05:25  
Blogger Shep said...

I went through a 'violent eastern films' phase around college time. Girls swooned at the Hard-Boiled poster I kept on the wall. Beat Takashi rules.

Nowadays, I'm much more into 'sentimental but cool Hong Kong movies'.

Oh and I fancy the pants off Maggie Cheung

23 September, 2006 06:49  
Anonymous the cappuccino kid. said...

after years of reading about battle royale, i finally got to see it a few years back.! the american film industry could never make a film like this. well they could, but would ruin it. and i believe it's on film four this week.
and the sequel is due on soon too!

23 September, 2006 09:47  
Blogger Shep said...

I have the sequel on disc - haven't watched it yet. I saw the first film at the Curzon SoHo with the boy Plester. Also in the audience for some reason was the entire cast of BBC2 hit web-design drama Attachments. Film was fine, in a Japanese schoolgirl rampage kindof way...

23 September, 2006 11:17  
Blogger * (asterisk) said...

Camie: I'm not even sure that I managed to finish The Replacement Killers. Mira and Yun-fat is a great-looking team, but man...

Shamash: Hard-Boiled is a fantastic movie. One of those rare films that really goes a lot quicker than its running time might suggest.

_z.: Oldboy was great, wasn't it? Intense is right!

Shep: Beat Takeshi is cool, for sure. I've not really go into the Wong Kar-wai stuff yet, if that's what you mean by "sentimental but cool". I did see an exhibition of photographs by cinematographer Christopher Doyle in London a while back, though, and that really made me want to see those films.

Cappy: No, there's no way Hollywood could make Battle Royale. Kids on an island killing their classmates?! Do me a favour!

Shep: I'm not sure about the sequel. I know the Fukasaku started directing it, and then his son took over when he died, so maybe it'll be okay... Let me know what you think when you watch it.

25 September, 2006 12:36  

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