We’ve just finished Halloween, gained an extra hour on the proverbial space time continuum and El Nino is going to hit Southern California with inclemency worse than Sharknado 4. What more could possibly make So-Cal the place to be? As nature warns Pacific Coast residents to buy flood insurance, San Diego announces the arrival anon of the 16th Annual San Diego Asian Film Festival (SDAFF), which will flood the city with 130+ films from 20 Asiatic countries over a 10-day period, November 5-14. Of note, SDAFF is now considered to be the largest showcase of Asian cinema on the West Coast and this year’s festival is featuring some far out fantastical films.
Though Korean American Lee Ann Kim, the Pacific Arts Movement and SDAFF’s founder and executive director, has parlayed more of the SDAFF’s film programming into the hands of artistic director Brian Hu, in this time of more correct eating habits, she’s become somewhat of a cinematic vegetarian. Kim tranquilly analogizes, “My involvement in the festival is that there are so many ingredients in the salad and I’m basically the dressing…once it’s tossed, it tastes fantastic. I connect the dots and make sure that people have the right resources and right direction.”
One of this year’s directions is the heralded return of SDAFF’s love affair with fant-Asia films, the only festival this year that will deliver movies wrapped in a glorious array of genres that is sure to rock your soul, craze your brain and increase your blood pressure to 150/freaked out. To me, the ultimate in fant-Asia is cutting edge period piece, martial arts extravaganzas, and what better film is there to begin the fant-Asia aspect than with a movie in the running for an Academy Award for best foreign language picture, Hou Hsiao-Hsien’s The Assassin (2015). Other times this has happened for kung fu films is with King Hu’s Come Drink With Me (1966), Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000), Zhang Yimou’s Hero (2002) and House of Flying Daggers (2004), and Wong Kar-wai’s The Grandmaster (2013). The difference being for Taiwanese auteur director Hou, is that he received the Best Director award at Cannes this year for Assassin, as accolade-giving critics worldwide have averred that it’s not your typical wu xia epic.
With Taiwanese roots and in his fifth year with SDAFF, Chinese American Hu gleefully elaborates, “In the past we’ve tried to show martial arts films that promote different kinds of artistry, like special effects, wire work, use of 3-D and of course fight choreography. So we can see how these filmmakers are thinking when it comes to this genre and how they can do something innovative with it.
“Audiences will watch this film because it has such a bad-ass title. Yet it’s a film that’s daring as it almost has no action, almost no dialogue, almost no story, but it has an incredible amount of visual beauty and powerful ways of developing characters through peeking at them. As you watch it, you get a feeling that this is probably what it looked like during the Tang Dynasty and what it was like to spend 10 minutes with someone from that era. Martial arts films are typically wall-to-wall action, but Assassin reminds us that action happens in the context of loneliness, sadness and social pressures that lead you into a dark corner. Hou says that assassins get in there really close, kill, then get out of there and that’s it. No posing. This is what makes this a beautiful film.”
Sounds to me like the fights are what we used to see in old Akira Kurosawa samurai films and in the Shaw Brothers auteur director Chu Yuan’s kung fu classics of the 1970s. If you’ve seen Toshiro Mifune in Kurosawa’s Sanjuro (1962), the big finale duel is one simple sword-slashing strike to his opponent’s heart.
Yakuza vs. Zombies pretty much samuraizes what to expect with the Xtreme Japanese film Deadman Inferno or as it is called in Japanese, Z Island. Z stands for Zeni, a place where opposing families of yakuzas, promiscuous karate teen girls, a dorky doctor, a reggae-rocking angler and a castaway cop all attempt to Gilligan Island around running zombies…and in a nutshell, zat is zee problem.
Hu shares that it’s been a while since SDAFF has screened this kind of film mainly because the genre is clichéd, extremely misogynistic and they just kept piling up to the point that their novelty wore off. “However,” he joyfully reveals, “Deadman is hilarious and touching, because it’s about a family coming together because of zombies and they’re all forced to stand up for each other. In regard to this genre of films, there’s a lot of funny and random humor in Deadman and it’s also the film you’ve been waiting for. It’s not as ultra violent like past productions but it gives you all the kicks you need.”
According to Hu, Asian cinema isn’t always known for sci-fi fantasy film, so what happens is that fantasy now seeps into other genres. The Japanese film Whispering Star is about a delivery-robot who goes all UPS (Unidentified Person in Space) and browns from planet to planet dropping off packages for human clients. Roosting behind her intergalactic console like a delivery pigeon waiting to send messages via tweets, delivery fem-bot fantasizes about the world of humans, so close in parallel dementia, yet so far apart in space and far away in each others memories.
Then there’s the Korean romantic fantasy Beauty Inside that poses the scenario; imagine waking up every morning with a different face and then imagine falling in love with somebody, only to know that their first impression will be the last. It’s Groundhog Day (1993) meets 50 First Dates (2004). The Korean comedic fantasy Wonderful Nightmare spices with Heaven Can Wait (1978) gimchi when a city’s top attorney dies in an accident, but is given a second chance at life if she can trade places with an ordinary mother for one month.
Hu posits, “Whispering Star is really an art film that uses sci-fi to express it’s own idea of humanity. Beauty Inside is a Korean romantic comedy, which these days are a dime a dozen, but they use a fantasy scenario to liven up the genre. It’s a high concept, geek gimmicky set up and asks the question, if you’re a different face everyday, how can you go on a second date? Yet it’s such an achievement in direction because the director had to orchestrate so many performances as one character and make them seem like one character by so many different actors…man, woman, old and young…and then make us feel that we are watching the same person. It’s an incredible way of having us empathize with a certain perspective of love and how we as the audience spend time with a character that must ask herself, ‘Can I fall in love with someone that has a different face every day.’ To have us empathize with this kind of romantic possibility is so brilliant.”
Korea strikes again with a body switching Heaven can Wait (1978) thematic device in Wonderful Nightmare, with a Seoul twist where Gangnam Style is perhaps more popular that Chubby Checker’s The Twist. And speaking of music let’s not forget Japan’s Love and Peace. Hu chimes in, “This film converges on the rock operas of the 1970’s and ’80s…there’s something very sci-fi-ish with David Bowie, and this film evokes all of that with it’s Japanese sensibility of fraudness. Yes, it has talking turtles, cats and all kinds of other things that can talk too. It’s a lot of fun, it’s bonkers, and has great music. Director Sion Sono wrote the songs himself and it’s something he’s wanted to do for decades.”
Finally, three and a half fant-Asia films on the fringe. Directed by Vietnamese American Viet Nguyen, the comedy horror thriller Crush the Skull is about a couple in love that needs some fast cash and thus they break into a house that has no exit, no cell phone reception and no explanation for the torture pit they discover. Hu smilingly shares, “It’s seriously scary, wickedly off-kilter, and the funniest Asian American film in years.”
Don’t look now, but Iran explodes into the festival with director Ali Ahmadzade’s surreal loose comedy where fantasy and sci-fi seep into the film in a highly unusual way…it’s a blast but not a bomb. Atomic Heart is about two drunk party girls trying to drive home after a big night on the town who fail miserably as laced with Farsi trash talking, they have a zany run-in with a Saddam Hussein look-a-like but a saving run-out with a George Clooney doppleganger. It’s a culture that’s out of our minds and world, but a film that gets into our hearts and soul.
Beware the oleo…wait that’s butter…I mean the olio of the experimental, hybrid documentary of Daniel Hui’s Snakeskin that spreads contemporary and future Singapore like margarine on toast. With a queer eye from a 2066 cult member surviving guy that melds with a Malay cinema actress, the Shaw Brothers studios, and enforcers, and exiles/ghosts, and activists…oh my, who are all ineptly but affably infantile, Snakeskin may rattle your thoughts and constrict your mind so much that I recommend you take an anti-hissss-tamine to the theater.
And finally the Filipino film Swap, which is not so much a fant-Asia film as it is a suspense thriller that is a must see for filmmakers looking for something uniquely edgy with cinematic savvy not often seen in film history. Hu explains, “This is a weird story. As it turns out, in one night I was watching two Filipino films both of which were single take movies. One wasn’t successful but with Swap, something new was happening here. There’s been single take films but this one is full of flashbacks and dream sequences. You can only imagine how the actors are rapidly changing clothes off screen and getting sets ready on the run. The filmmakers will be at the festival and we all want to know how many takes did it take to get it right. The crazy thing is, Swap is based upon the director’s own history of being a kidnapped baby back in the ’80s.”
Fearless festival leader Kim adds, “How does this experience of being kidnapped as a child manifest it’s way into such a film? You have to say to yourself that these artists, don’t just do it for fun but do it because they have to do it…they have to do it.”
For information regarding films, dates and times, and how to get to their respective venues please visit http://festival.sdaff.org/2015/. One neat thing that SDAFF has, and it’s something that no other film festival in the world does, is that there will be an interactive booth from Saturday, November 7 through Monday, November 9, where filmgoers can get a free Chi Reading for their health and well being.
Kim’s final words, “Over the years, I’ve noticed that our audiences, like life-changing, inspiring and uplifting stories. Who doesn’t? They do well at the festival and that tells me that we have the right audience because our organization is not only here to entertain and inspire, but to also build a more passionate society, and part of that is to give inspiration, and to expose audiences and open their minds to more new experiences. I’ve been through multiple generations of people here at Pac-arts and I’m grateful for this work, and I believe I’m in the right place at the right time right now. The people that we have here are so special to me and this festival is our love letter to the community.”
We’ve just finished Halloween, gained an extra hour on the proverbial space time continuum and El Nino is going to hit Southern California with inclemency worse than Sharknado 4. What more could possibly make So-Cal the place to be? As nature warns Pacific Coast residents to buy flood insurance, San Diego announces the arrival anon of the 16th Annual San Diego Asian Film Festival (SDAFF), which will flood the city with 130+ films from 20 Asiatic countries over a 10-day period, November 5-14. Of note, SDAFF is now considered to be the largest showcase of Asian cinema on the West Coast and this year’s festival is featuring some far out fantastical films.
It’s taken 13 years, but now “real” Fant-Asia films are being featured at this year’s San Diego Asian Film Festival (SDAFF). “Real,” you say? Certainly in the past, outrageous Asian horror films, Japanese Xtreme gore fests and some over the top-ish martial arts films have graced the festival’s screens, but at the end of the day these films were labeled Fant-Asia as a result of the genre evolving to include films that went beyond the original scope of it’s foundation.
Not unlike martial arts movies that have now been delineated as Old School (a term usually referring to period piece Chinese kung fu movies made between 1966-1986), Fant-Asia has fallen into a similar dichotomy. It is therefore, with great glee that this year’s festival, which runs from Thursday, November 1 – Friday November 9, and features over 150 films from 25 countries, headlines two Old School Fant-Asia films.
First up, the film that has broken all box office records in China , Painted Skin: The Resurrection (2012).
The first cinematic version of this macabre tale was shot as a pure horror film in 1966 under the title Painted Skin with a cheaper adaptation made in Taiwan in 1980 under the same title. Legendary martial arts film director King Hu’s account of the franchise cast the ultimate female ghost character actress in Hong Kong film, Joey Wong from A Chinese Ghost Story (1987), alongside Sammo Hung, which now introduced some martial arts action. Martial arts action director Stephen Tung Wai, the kid that say’s, “Let me think” to Bruce Lee in Enter The Dragon (1973) as Lee is teaching him to kick, added even more fights in director Gordon Chan’s 2008 version of the film.
In Resurrection, an ancient malevolent fox spirit Xiaowei (Xun Zhou) breaks out of her icy prison and undertakes a seeded quest to become human by seducing men and eating their hearts. If a man willingly gives her his heart she will become mortal, be able to walk amongst the living and finally be free from hell. In the meantime, an ominous cloud looms over Princess Jing’s (Wei Zhao) kingdom. She flees the kingdom wearing a gold mask that hides her deep facial scares. Her quest is to find her former love who pines over his failure to protect the princess years ago. When fate brings Jing and Xiaowei together all hell breaks loose as the battle for the princess’ heart ensues.
Stephen Tung Wei returns to Resurrection to make this sensually-charged action/adventure saga even more wild and wooly, with ram tough rambunctious fights certain to butt heads with sensual in-ewe-endos as first generation Korean American Lee Ann Kim, fearless leader and executive director of the Pac-Arts Movement, which she founded as the San Diego Film Foundation in 2000 with the Asian American Journalists Association of San Diego laughingly blurts, “I haven’t seen it yet, but I’ve heard that there is demon sex in it. We want to see how well the film translates here at the festival and it just makes sense for us to have a film like this at the festival.”
In case you came in late, when Western trained, new-wave filmmaker Tsui Hark directed Zu: Warriors from Magic Mountain in 1983, the movie rang in the Fant-Asia film era, an interesting unique genre that quickly evolved into a seductive wild mix of horror, sex, sorcery, fantasy, science fiction and swordplay films all uniquely egg-rolled into something that Western filmgoers could understandably digest entertainment wise. To the Chinese audience, Hong Kong’s advances in filmmaking techniques, optical effects and in some cases CGI could bring to the screen the magical and mythical qualities that the authors of kung-fu novels had intended to convey to their readers. These old school Fant-Asia films were basically revamped and stylized wuxia films injected with what most people associate with Hong Kong cinema of from 1983-1994: frenetic paced over-the-top action mixed with far-out sight gags and gravity defying wire-fu.
So the stars have aligned and what better way is there than to screen a “neo-old school” Fant-Asia flick made by the father of Fant-Asia himself….Tsui Hark. Released in late December in 2011, Flying Swords, won the Best Action Choreography award at the 2011 Hong Kong Film Awards. The movie reunites Jet Li with Tsui, where Tsui’s love for the mystical, martial arts underworld of Jiang Hu returns to Dragon Gate Inn, a place where heroic swordsmen, vagabonds, eunuchs, treasure hunters and lovers collide. Really, what more is there to say?
Kim blurts, “It’s in 3-D! We’ve never done 3-D. This movie came out in a limited release in some theaters in major cities for less than a week with limited advertising. This was the same for last year’s festival hit, Jackie Chan in Shaolin. But the film was packed, which speaks to the power of the SDAFF, where people want to have a collective experience and share an embrace something like a film festival. So we’re okay with showing some films that may be a little bit old….I mean come on…let’s face it…Jet Li?”
And of course the SDAFF has put together a big show of horror/gore/ghost/spurt/zombie/artery/robot/time travel and blood letting with an insanely sane creepazoid collection of eight, full length light to intense movies that will have you on the edge and under your seat. No joke, please don’t eat too much before watching some of these films.
Before you get indigestion a few words about some important changes at this year’s festival as bought to you by the scrumptious Kim. She shares that about a month ago the San Diego Asian Film Foundation (also SDAFF) changed it’s name to Pacific Arts Movement. Now being a young lad growing up during the 60’s and 70’s, I’m thinking, “Wait that sounds sort of political. What gives?”
Kim explains, “The idea of changing the name started years ago. The Film Foundation and Film Festival both have the same acronym of SDAFF and that has been confusing. But also, changing the name is a about a process of our growth. Plus by having San Diego Asian Film Foundation, it’s so specific and gives us very little flexibility. Technology allows us to share films and our work outside the barriers of San Diego. The film festival is our flagship program and film is always going to be our platform. But film has evolved, it’s really media arts, and that encompasses music video, food (yes, food) and other forms of story telling.
“Thus ‘Pacific,’ takes out the word ‘Asian,’ but also reflects that we’re on the Pacific Rim and serve audiences with stories from the Pacific Rim; ‘arts,’ makes it more broad and allows us to be more flexible; and ‘movement,’ this being important, because it’s not all just about film but being a catalyst for social change. Our mission is that our work creates a transformation and a positive cultural shift in the community. It’s also our spirit…we are a movement. It’s really just about moving forward. And just to show our commitment to film, we’ve added the tag line: moving pictures, moving minds.
So the Pac-Arts Movement is evolving, changing, a catalyst for social change, transformation and food…sounds like some of the thematic devices behind the previously mentioned octet of wild and wacky films.
Back to the menu. The next time your out at a Japanese restaurant, think twice about ordering sushi. No not because some select fish have more parasites than others but sometimes sushi may not be as dead as you think. In fact they’re probably more fresh than you think. In Dead Sushi (2012), directed by the man behind the psychotic Machine Girl (2008), RoboGeisha (2009) and Mutant Girls Squad (2010), Noboru Iguchi, just ask the ignored sushi apprentice Keiko (Rina Takeda) who must prepare for battle against the attack of the killer sushi who want human sushi.
Fried squid. But that’s not all behind Thai hip-hop artist Joey Boy (playing himself) in Dead Bite (2012) as he prepares his next video shoot with some totally awesome, bikini-clad babes on a desolate island. No, not a desolate island. Yep, and we can imagine what happens to the women as the film transforms into a zombexcellent, mermaid burger musical with screams that put Led Zeppelin’s Robert Plant wail to shame.
And speaking of transformation, look no further than Henge (2012) an homage to the notion of Stand By Your Man. Not the pining love song by Tammy Wynette, but the lunatic love story about Keiko (Another one? Japanese parents beware, don’t name your daughter Keiko) who must pine, pin and spin her mind around the inevitable…my husband is changing into a human eating inhuman and inhumane monster.
If you think the above “is not” funny, then Tebana Sankichi: Snot Rockets (2012) will certainly be a jolly, grolly, dry heaving, throat clearing hawker in spit, I mean in spite of it’s title.
Doomsday Book (2012) is a trilogy of shorts that is not short on messages. From “Brave New World,” a film that would undoubtedly be loved by PETA where we learn that an apple a day doesn’t keep the zombie away, to “A Heavenly Creature” that argues if a Buddhist robot with a sentient Dalai Lama-esque awareness then it must be a danger to society, one doesn’t need a telegram to get the film’s point. In “Happy Birthday” we are witness to the true destructive nature of a pool ball and the power of internet purchasing power.
Rounding off the rest of the octet are the literally spirited tandem of I am a Ghost (2012) and The Great Cinema Party (2012), with a touch of time machine magic in Young Gun in the Time (2012) and a series of short film collections entitled Monstrous Women and Land Before Time.
But wait, there’s one more. Kim gingerly giggles, “Oh my gosh, this is one of my favorites in the festival…Remington and the Curse of the Zombadings (2012). Who’d have ever thought some one could have come up with a gay zombie film and make it accessible and fun. And we have it. The title itself is the best title of the festival. It’s totally zany and is actually a commentary on how people feel about the gay community in the Philippines.”
For information in regard to all of the above films and more, dates, time, cool stuff about the SDAFF and how to get to the Ultrastar Cinemas Mission Valley Hazard Center, please visit www.sdaff.org. Also, if you’re up for an insanely amazing experience in health, once again, Vivalachi Alternative Health and Wellness Services will have an interactive Qi Healing booth that will be offering free Qi Reading that will reveal any physical or emotional issue you have now or are hidden, and Pull Out the Pain demonstrations.
Apart from giving terrific thanks to the Pac-Art Movement staff responsible for their cinematic choices in the SDAFF line up, an Old School Fant-Asia film nod goes out to artistic director Brian Hu for his Fant-Astic efforts in getting Resurrection and Flying Swords. A second nod goes out to managing director Phil Lorenzo for being the instigation behind much of the beautifully repugnant horror octet. Plus they’re both avid martial arts film fans. If I keep on nodding to everyone, I’ll transform into a bobble headed doll, get a bad headache and a sore neck. Two things that aren’t conducive to watching a ton of films over the next nine days.
P.S. Happy Halloween.
It’s that time of the year again, and if you’re a fan of Asian films like I am, then that eclectic far out martial skill called the 10,000 bee technique should not be bugging you but alarming you to the magnetic, electric and eccentric buzz of Fant-Asia movies that will haze, pseudo-faze and amaze you at this years 12th Annual San Diego Asian Film Festival (SDAFF), which eeks and freaks within a whopping 9-days from October 20-28, 2011 in San Diego, California.
Many of you may have recently seen Japanese director Takashi Miike’s chambara tour de force 13 ASSASSINS, so what better way to get the old Fant-Asia rice ball rolling than featuring Miike’s magical marvel that steps deeper into the realm of the deadly, blood, squirt and gore of samurai sickness that shall put his 13 ASSASSINS and HARA-KIRI: DEATH OF A SAMURAI films to shame with NINJA KIDS!!!
Well maybe not to shame.
Based on the anime series NINTAMA RANTARO (which was adapted from the long-running manga title Ranudai Ninja Rantaro), NINJA KIDS!!! is more of a Harry Potter attending Ninjaworts, where the wand is replaced with swords, shurikens and other secret assassinette things one can’t begin to imagine as ninja schools get insanely warped into a feud that will make your mouth drop lower than anything you’ve seen in a TOM & JERRY cartoon.
Lee Ann Kim, a first generation Korean American, executive director, and the fearless leaders of the San Diego Film Foundation, which she founded in 2000 with the Asian American Journalists Association of San Diego, laughingly shares with cinefantastiqueonline.com, “It’s not so much full on martial arts as it is a caricature of martial arts. There’s creepy characters and lots of good fun. It’s supposed to be for the 12-16 year old audience, but my staff totally loved it.”
Once again, the SDAFF shows that the festival is much more than just a conglomeration of Asian-themed films, it is indeed a social phenomenon geared toward giving non-Asians a more well rounded taste of Asian filmmaking as well as to create a symbol of unity, a way to bring together the many different Asian American ethnicities, who don’t see themselves as a single entity compared to the African American and Hispanic communities, not only in San Diego, but nationwide as a whole.
Kim adds, “The film festival, it is an awesome way to bring people of all different background together, Asian and non-Asian and we do so by bringing in films that are of top-notch quality, different, diverse, and well rounded.
“With this year’s program, it’s one day longer than last year, we have 160 films from 21 countries, 60 features, 100 short films, 9 short film programs, and over all about 80 programs. I feel like our programming this year is more challenging as we’re showing more critically acclaimed films from filmmakers we’ve never shown before and film presentations that bring communities together. One of our Spotlight on Japan program films that really is about bringing the communities (USA and Japan) together is THE POWER OF TWO, which is about cystic fibrosis.”
FREEZE. WHAT? Kim notices my eye pop out like something out of an old style Sonny Chiba film. The words cystic fibrosis had stunned me onto a different plane…and I’m not talking about an F-14. So why was I stunned more than a phaser attack?
Well, when I was 16, my doctor told me that I would be dead in five years due to the deadly effects of cystic fibrosis, the number one genetic killer disease in the world that affects the lung and/or pancreas. When one has the disease in both, life expectancy is even lower. I have it in both. So at the time, I was taking 30 pills/day, undergoing up to two hours of painful therapy a day and in the hospital every three months.
In the late 1970s, and my last ditch effort to avoid death, I moved to the Republic of China (now Taiwan) and by becoming a stuntman in Chinese kung fu films, I met a man that taught me the then little known art of Qigong. Five months after learning Qigong and to this day, I’ve been off all medications and therapies since. To demonstrate my lungs were truly strong, and my digestive tract could take the strain, in 1986, I walked 3000.2 miles (marathon/day for 115 days at a 4.3 mph pace).
Kim’s eyes now pop out responding, “Oh no, wow, I didn’t know. I also didn’t know anything about CF until I watched this film. It’s about twin sisters that are half Japanese and their mission is to build awareness of CF but also to encourage Asians to become organ donors, because culturally Asian people tend not to do. This is a film that I personally championed because it is not a film festival film, but for us it is because it is a rare opportunity, to shed light on this disease, but also from a positive social angle to encourage discourse within a community that would not have learned about this stuff otherwise.
“The movies shows that in Japan there is just such an extraordinary waiting list of people waiting for organs and there is nobody donating, nobody. And so that in itself to me was valuable, just as valuable as the whole film itself.”
Talk about a breath of fresh air.
However, here’s a few movies that will take your breath away, two wild and wacky films that are part of SDAFF’s 3rd Anniversary of their much coveted and coverted Extreme Cinema program that will slide and glide with blood and guts that merely adds to the growing notoriety of the West Coast’s now numero uno Asian Film Festival.
Sci-fi, hi-fi and die-fi blood clot together with some “for real” deadly, blood, squirt and gore with YAKUZA WEAPON where ex-yakuza Shozo Iwaki (Tak Sakaguchi) armed with a machine gun arm and a rocket launcher leg, is on a path of vengeance and a sanguinary rematch with his arch nemesis Kurawaki, who also recruits Shozo’s best friend Tetsuo to join in the battle to kill Shozo. With shades of TOKYO GORE POLICE, to make matters worse Tetsuo’s younger sister has been transformed into a naked weapon armed with the same technology as himself, that brings a whole new meaning to the words necking and drop dead gorgeous.
And speaking of drop dead gorgeous, beware when you’re in Japan and enter a tropical fish store named Amazon Gold and see a beautiful attendant luring you inside. The demure innocence will hide the true decadence of the fish connoisseur as the heat of COLD FISH is not about up carving Osteichthyes bony fish into sashimi but slicing and dicing Mammalia primate humans into compost as the heap of bodies pile up in the film based on a true story. For some reason, it kind of reminds of the Anthony Wong starring UNTOLD STORY (1993), that gruesome Hong Kong category III film about the making and selling of human flesh buns.
On a lighter but warped side of things, time warp that is, there’s A BOY AND HIS SAMURAI, which seems to be influenced by yet another Hong Kong Fant-Asia film, A TERRA-COTTA WARRIOR (1990) about a terracotta warrior from 3000 year ago who wakes up in 1930 China. Based on the popular manga of the same name, BOY AND HIS SAMURAI stars TV heartthrob Ryo Nishikido as samurai warrior Kijima Yasube caught in a time warp who time travels from the Edo Period and arrives 180 years later in present day Japan, meets the divorced Hiroko, her son Tomoya and then begins a wild and wooley journey that has him going from being a housemaid to becoming a popular patissier (pastry maker). To wrap this story tighter than a croissant, it’s a yarn about a lad, time warps, giant cake castles and a whisk-armed samurai chef vs. yakuza.
On the ultra lighter side of things comes the South Korean HELLO GHOST, where after several failed suicide attempts, a young man finds new purpose in life through four hilarious ghosts. Thailand’s contribution to the light emerges from their quiet ghostly jungles as ETERNITY reveals that the purest love transcends death.
And what Asian film festival that features Fant-Asia film would be complete if they didn’t feature at least one anime movie. So this year’s flick that flies into the foyer of the cel and hell is FULLMETAL ALCHEMIST: THE SCARED STAR OF MILOS. It’s the 2nd film from the popular anime series in which the Elric Brothers get involved in the rebellion of he Milos people. Book ending the anime is the more quassi-traditional cartoon program, the highly popular ANIMATION: THE ILLUSION OF LIFE, where the magic of animation comes alive in this collection of short films.
For information in regard to the films, dates, time, cool stuff about the SDAFF and how to get to the Ultrastar Cinemas Mission Valley Hazard Center, please visit www.sdaff.org. Also, if you’re up for an insanely amazing experience in health, there will an interactive Qi Healing booth that will be offering free Qi Reading, Pull Out the Pain demonstrations and a Feng Shui reading that will tell you if you’re afraid to earn lots of money or not.
Kim closes with a few final words. “It seems that the theme for this year’s festival is one of love. But the main cause of this year’s festival is Japan. During our spring showcase we raised $15,000.00 toward recovery efforts. We’re not actively raising money but actively keeping Japan in our minds. It’s so far away and what the people in Japan really need is beyond dollars. It will take decades of hard work to rebuild the community and we want to make sure that people in their own way can give back. Japan has a huge cinema industry, which has been semi-devastated because of what happened over there. With we’re trying to keep the film community alive in Japan and that’s important to us”
One of San Diego’s smallest big secrets is the city’s ANIME CONJI, an annual anime and manga convention. Its inaugural gathering of all things anime was held last year, over a 3-day period at San Diego’s Doubletree Club Hotel. In 2010, the convention attracted 700+ far-out dudes and dudettes dressed in a wild menagerie of cosplay and abie-normal wear that made Anime Conji 2010 a wild and wacky success.
So look out, here she comes again, a year older, a year wilder, and undoubtedly a year more psychotic as ANIME CONJI 2011’s three-day run begins this weekend, Friday March 25 – March 27 at a much manga-mightier coliseum of crash and bash, one of San Diego’s premier resorts, The Town & Country Hotel and Resort (500 Hotel Circle North, San Diego, CA 92108; 619-291-7131; www.towncountry.com).
This year’s special guest is actor, producer, director and stuntman, Reuben Langdon. Reuben was a major player in James Cameron’s blockbuster movie Avatar as the stunt double for the movie’s main character, Jake Sully as well as performing stunts for various CG and live action characters in the film, using motion capture technology.
Reuben’s career began in Japan as a series regular on the Japanese superhero TV series B-Fighter Kabuto (aka Beetleborgs Metallix). Apart from working with Jackie Chan in Jackie Chan: My Stunts, Gen Y-Cops, and The Medallion, Reuben was a regular in The Power Rangers and appeared alongside Sammo Hung in CBS’ hit TV show Martial Law.
He’s the founder of Just Cause Productions, an international multimedia production house pioneering stereoscopic 3D techniques, which allows him to terrifically tap into his performance-capture experience working on video games like Resident Evil 5, The Bourne Conspiracy, Tao Fang, Star Wars Jedi Knight II, Castlevania: Curse of Darkness, and Dead Rising. Reuben was also the motion capture actor and the English voice actor of Dante in the Devil May Cry series as well as the voice of Ken from Street Fighter IV.
Anime Conji is run by a group of local San Diego fans that have volunteered their time and effort toward putting together a cool and cracking convention. They’ve an interest in providing entertainment for like-minded individuals. Who better to bring the fun than the fans themselves? Their goal is to promote fandom culture as a whole and to foster the subculture of anime fandom in San Diego and beyond.
Beside having the expectations what anime fans want (nay often times live for) at anime conventions such as an AMV contest, panels, anime screenings, art (art show, artist alley, artist events), music/dance/parties, cosplay to the hilt, gaming to the tilt, dealers to the lilt, fashion show and masquerade that are well built and karaoke, there’s a few unexpected programs like the Last Comic Standing, the Pirate Rum Party, Mochi Maid Café and the last year’s overwhelmingly successful Swap Meet.
For more information please visit http://www.animeconji.org
Yet there is one extremely unique event that has never been done at any other anime convention in the world…
…the power/force of Qi energy. No this is not about breaking bricks, or doing the lying on the bed of nails and sledge hammering concrete slabs on the gut or head tricks, or a spear point to throat bending demo that can be repeated by all who know the secrets…but something completely different. Only something that the good folks at Vivalachi Alternative Health & Wellness can do.
You’ve seen the chakra of Naruto, the energy balls of Dragon Ball Z and Avatar: The Last Airbender, and the reiatsu in Bleach. Saturday afternoon, March 26th, 2011, this event will clarify many aspects of these energies, as you will walk away from this presentation realizing just how real these things are. The heads of this event, for example, have been using Qi energy healing for 23 years, and currently work with Olympic medallists and world champion athletes, and teach them how to use their body’s energy to instantly make their bodies 20% stronger and their minds more focused.
Furthermore, this event will also feature several people who practice the 1300 year-old original martial art of the samurai, Bujinkan (San Diego’s Taka-Seigi Dojo headed by William and Laura Stegner), the samurai art that became the forerunner for the ninja of Japan.
May the chi and anime be with you.
When we think of Fant-Asia films, it’s that genre of Hong Kong martial arts film made during the 1980s up to the mid-‘90s, which uniquely combined elements of sex, fantasy, sci-fi and horror with high-flying wire work and over the top martial arts choreography. But of course most folks who have been watching these sort of films for decades now know that the foundation for these movies originates from what the Chinese call the wuxia pian, martial chivalrous-hero film, the first genre of martial arts movies created during the 1920s in Shanghai. This genre really took off in the 1970s and took some interesting twists and turns during that decade, things that are discussed throughout my recently published book The Ultimate Guide to the Martial Arts Movies of the 1970s.
This weekend I have a book signing in the Los Angeles area, of which I would like to invite all cinefantastique fans to attend this event where it would be my pleasure to meet and greet my fellow Fant-Asia/martial arts film buffs and of course sign my book for you.
Saturday, December 11, 2010, 2:00 pm, at Dark Delicacies; 3512 W. Magnolia Blvd., Burbank, CA 91505
To me and other martial arts film fans like auteur Quentin Tarantino, when it comes to martial arts cinema, the 1970s is the most important decade for the genre. Apart from kung fu films becoming an international phenomena and being brought to the masses, the 1970s had major breakthroughs in wuxia movie fight choreography and filmmaking. As it turns out it is also the decade where we saw the rise of the genre’s most influential actors/directors that even most Americans today have heard of such as Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, John Woo and Yuen Woo-ping. Of course to old school martial arts film fans this list would include the likes of the Five Venoms, Sonny Chiba, Chen Kuan-tai, Jimmy Wong, David Chiang, Ti Lung, Wang Lung-wei, the Liu brothers and hundreds more. In fact, over 20 countries cumulatively made >2150 martial arts films during the 1970s. Can you list these 20 countries?
But the main impetus for writing my just published coffee-table book, The Ultimate Guide to the Martial Arts Movies of the 1970s, goes way beyond this, it was literally a matter of life and death.
When I was 16, my doctor told me I’d be dead in five years due to the deadly effects of the lung/digestive disease cystic fibrosis (CF). At that time I was taking 30 pills/day and in the hospital every three months. After watching Bruce Lee’s Fists of Fury I went from being depressed and waiting to die, to wanting to live and learn what Lee was doing.
As I began practicing martial arts, I read about Qigong and how weak dying children in ancient China would learn this skill and become strong heroes of China. So I moved to Taiwan, found a teacher and five months after learning Qi and to this day, I’ve been off all medication and therapies since. To show my health improvement was not superficial, in 1986 I walked 3000.2 miles across America, 26 miles/day, 4.1-4.5 mph pace.
If not for kung fu film, martial arts and Qi, I would be dead.
The Ultimate Guide is also a book born out of 20 years in the film industry that includes being the first American regular stuntman in Chinese kung fu films and TV in Taiwan in the 1970s (token white dude that got my butt kicked in by a different Chinese kung fu star every couple of months), learning fight choreography from Jackie Chan, being Sam Raimi’s fight choreographer, being a fight directing apprentice on Sammo Hung’s Martial Law, and on a unique front I was a dubber of Chinese kung fu films…yes, those badly English-dubbed films that became an integral part of American pop culture in the ’70s and ’80s (always a fun and interactive topic of discussion at film festivals).
During an intense eight-month period I watched over 600 martial arts films and wrote on 500+ movies. Each review, or as I say “martialogy” (biology of a martial arts film), features a concise plot summary, behind-the-scenes reel and real history, fight statistics, insights into martial arts choreography and style, and many surprising factoids. For example, did you know that the real Five Venoms only did three films together?
When I started my video collection back in the 1970s (up to 5,000 films now with 1200 on betamax) it bothered me that I would buy three different titled films starring different actors only to find out that it was the same movie. Thus the second part of this comprehensive book has a definitive index of over 2000 actors/directors/fight choreographers and their aliases, and a complete list by country of every single martial arts film made during the 1970s along with all of their alternative English titles. Furthermore, the Chinese film titles are in Chinese with English translations.
Of great interest to martial arts film fans and book collectors, the book contains 150, never before published color photos from 150 Shaw Brothers kung fu films from the 1970s. Additionally, each martialogy includes fight statistics that tells the reader how many fights each film has and how much time in minutes and seconds is dedicated to actual martial arts fighting and training sequences i.e. Fights for the Buck.
The Ultimate Guide to the Martial Arts Movies of the 1970s is in essence a book on Asian history, martial arts history and martial arts cinema history. The development and secrets of Hong Kong’s wild and wooly fight choreography and wire-fu styles are also succinctly revealed not via research but from my hands-on experience learning these techniques during my tenure as a stuntman/actor/fight choreographer in the Chinese kung fu film and TV industry. From this we see the amazing progenitors of Fant-Asia films come to life, where in 1977 we see the first real martial arts horror film of all time take Asia by storm, a movie that rivals any of the Universal horror films of the 1950s.
I hope to see you all at Dark Delicacies on Saturday, where my wife will be handing out free Qi Twigs, a root she found that helps one’s qi glow, ergo one’s health. You’ve got to try them to believe them.
It’s that time of the year again. Starting Thursday, October 21, 2010, San Diego is not only ready to rock n’sock but the city will also flood the blood with sci-fi and hi-fi all under the eerie canvas of “Whazzat?” and “Are you kidding me?” Asian cinema, where OMG stands for “Oh My Gore.”
It’s the 11th Annual San Diego Asian Film Festival (SDAFF), which runs from October 21–28, and it also happens to be the 2nd anniversary of the festival’s Extreme Cinema Showcase that features two, wild and wacky, over-the-top, Japanese Fant-Asia flicks that for the average mainstream viewer will, in the words of the San Diego Asian Film Foundation’s operations director Phillip Lorenzo, “Can offend.”
With a wry smile, Lorenzo exclusively shares with cinefantastiqueonline, “I introduce these films and tell the audience that if you are going to be offended by whatever it is, sexual situations, samurai swords coming out of the buttocks, scenes that are going to be supper offensive…there’s the door, we’ll give you your money back. But for the audiences that come to see these films, this is what they are there for. You’ll be surprised who comes to these screening. It doesn’t mean these are the people you don’t see every day, their not coming from under the sewers, these are folks who hold 9-5 jobs, no names, celebrities, all who come to our screenings…people just show up. It is this charm these films have, something is in it for everyone if they want (or dare) to take the ride.”
The addition from last year’s festival debut of Extreme Cinema is just another strong indicator of the SDAFF’s growing notoriety. In fact, last year was an explosively important year for the SDAFF because it was a year that revealed it was not only a truly world-class festival but they also showed that it is legitimately one of the most important film festivals (not just Asian) in the United States.
Regardless of last year’s devastating economic climate, where the country’s top Asian (and Non-Asian for that matter) film festivals drastically cut their programs, showcased fewer films and/or ran for fewer days. The New York Asian Film Festival, which has been around for 30 years cut back their normal eight days to two and a half days. Although the San Francisco International Asian Film Festival lasted 11 days, they had major cut backs on its cinema schedules. Even the powerhouse Los Angeles Asian Film Festival only ran for eight days and showcased 183 films. Yet since it was the festival’s 10th year anniversary, and against economic logic, the SDAFF ran for a mind numbing 14 days and featured 200+ films from 20 countries. The national and international media recognized this achievement as proof positive that the passion of the SDAFF’s founder Lee Ann Kim exceeded the safe approaches made by the other festival organizers.
So what’s on tap for the Extreme crowds?
Friday night, October 22, 10:30 pm, ROBOGEISHA, two geishas are abducted to be transformed into cyborg assassins. It’s the “Whazzat?”
Lorenzo gleefully grins, “What makes this film supremely entertaining is the amping up of the stereotype combined with the shattering of stereotypes at the same time. It has no nudity but there is so much sexual perversion that happens in the film, you’re just wondering, my god, how did they get away with making this film. It’s funny, but for American audiences the cursor for offensiveness is how much nudity does a film have. Yet this film has no nudity but if you can find ways to slip in offensive, then you can get away with it, as they do. And so that’s what makes ROBOGEISHA very interesting.”
Saturday night, October 23, at 10:30 pm, ALIEN VS. NINJA, the “Are you kidding me?” film. In this movie, when a seemingly innocent meteorite skids across the sky, it is not a signal of Armageddon destruction, but something worse, the arrival of a slimy, bloodlusting “it” that does the crunch n’munch on the 16th century Iga clan ninjas. When surviving Iga ninja Yamata hooks up with a leather clad woman warrior, the alien’s second coarse in ninja sashimi may become a raw deal as the dishes will turn and try to make mincemeat and shish ka-alien with their swords, cleaver-levers and secret ninja weapons.
Lorenzo finds himself laughing to himself as he shares, “This film is exciting and fun, it’s so free of plot device or cookie cutter thinking. Nothing makes sense but you go along with it because the characters are interesting and captivating. There is an interesting fight scene between a female ninja and an alien. I remember at comic con the lead actress was talking about this fight scene saying, ‘I promise you a very sexy fight.’ I thought, ‘Like a Charlie’s Angels kind of sexy fight?’ Then when I saw the screener, I went, ‘Ooooooh, that kind of sexy fight.’ This film is so crazy that I think the audience is going to flip. These Extreme films start off slow, then go off into insanity.”
Ever since watching his first film at four and a half years old, FRIDAY THE 13th, Lorenzo has always had an affinity for horror films and the kind of ideas they express. Then when he discovered Extreme Cinema, he was compelled to bring the films into the festival. The mission of the film foundation is to connect audiences to the human experience through pan-Asian media arts, and to him Extreme Cinema provides another way for people to connect.
“Whether it’s a gory or a romantic experience, a connection is still established,” Lorenzo purports. “With Extreme Cinema I’m reaching out to an audience that usually is not approached to by the film festival circuit. Fringe audiences go to these underground festivals that are poorly organized. Even though there’s an affinity that these audiences have for these festivals, it’s nice that a world-class festival like SDAFF has a program for that fringe audience. This is important because it allows these people that don’t usually connect with the glamour audience of an opening night film or the gala audience to connect. Extreme cinema is fun, entertaining, has no moral standard and that is hilarious to me.
“And when it comes Extreme Cinema, I have yet to find a film from another part of Asia that compares to what the Japanese are doing. We tried to get something from Thailand, saw it and didn’t like it because it wasn’t extreme enough. We also rejected a film called BIG TIT ZOMBIE. It’s offensive but based on its title it didn’t deliver what the title indicated. If you name your film that, then it should have those in the film, because the audience is going to expect it. It didn’t happen, it’s a flat film, filled with cheap humor and so there’s only so far I’ll go. On the other hand there are films recommended to me that I’m still not yet comfortable sharing with the audience is San Diego. They are Extreme, but we’re not that festival. If we were in LA, NY or SF, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.”
What else awaits Asian film fans if they can get down to San Diego and see these movies on the big screen? From Japan, a collection of over the top Fant-Asia martial arts films GOEMON (based upon the legendary exploits of Goemon Ishikawa) and KAMUI (what NINJA ASSASSIN might have wanted to be). Set in 1582, Japan, after the Robin Hood-like Goemon (Yosuke Eguchi) steals an apparent worthless little box, it draws the ire of warlord Toyotomi Hideyoshi who hires a handful of harrying hitmen, including the famous Hattori Hanzo (Terajima Susumu) to hunt down Goemon. We’ll yell “Go Mon” in support of this thief as we learn the box contains a deadly that secret will determine the fate of a nation.
Then there’s KAMUI, the fugitive ninja title character played by Ken’ichi Matsuyama, a story about all the bad-ass ninjas trying to homogenize, pasteurize and “ninja-rize the film’s sole good ninja (Kamui), where the soul of the movie can best be described by our country’s number one sports network, ESPN…Excitement…Sharks…Pirates…Ninjas. Anime-like live action is cloaked in CGI, katanas, and characters trapped in Dante Inferno-esque angst all culminating in a rousing romp of surreptitious rogues and raucous ruffians.
On the more “mellow” side of Fant-Asia are a series of other features such as AIR DOLL (a blow-up doll develops a soul and falls in love with a video clerk), UNCLE BOONMEE WHO CAN RECALL HIS PAST LIVES (ghosts from life’s past drop in on a dying man) and an extraordinary collection of “shorts” blue-jeaned into a pair of longs called BEYOND HUMAN (supernatural short that focus on robots, supermen, seers and healers).
For information on the films, dates and times, how to get to the Ultrastar Cinemas Mission Valley Hazard Center where the films are being shown, and other cool stuff about the SDAFF please visit www.sdaff.org. One of those cool things is, and it’s something that no other film festival in the world has, that for the second year running, there will be an interactive booth where filmgoers can get a free “Qi Reading” for their health and well being. Yet of major importance, each year the festival raises awareness and supports worthy causes during the films’ screening. This year there are three causes: Trans-racial adoption, which arose over the pop culture interest over the adoptions by Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, and Madonna, the question being why aren’t people of Asian descent adopting their own; the festival is also asking the asking the community to donate new socks, shoelaces and shoes to be distributed to orphanages around the world; and encouraging Asian Americans to vote.
The fearless leader of the SDAFF Lee Ann Kim importantly points out, “It’s one thing to come to a festival to be enlightened and empowered, but we truly aren’t empowered unless we participate in the democratic process. I feel like we as Asian Americans or Americans in general have the responsibility that when you have a platform like a film festival that we can gently remind people that this is important and we need to partake in.”
“Films out of Asia and from the Asian American community know how to push the right buttons for entertainment value,” Lorenzo avers. “They are risk taking, boldly entertaining and it seems when an Asian film is coming out, when I tell people about that film, they show much more enthusiasm that than American films coming out. To an extent, unfortunately it is also about the exoticism. One doesn’t want to subjugate or put into a corner that Asians are exotic, but there’s level of that necessary for it to be successful.”
Let’s see, how do I compare the first movie I ever saw as a five year old to how I see it 50 years later? I’ll begin by sharing that I believe in fate; coincidence is not coincidence. The anime ALAKAZAM THE GREAT (1960) is the first movie and “martial arts” film per se that I ever saw. It’s a Japanese film adapted from a Chinese kung fu novel about the Monkey King, and it was in a theatre in the middle of nowhere England (Tadley), a country still living in the past and distrustful of the Japanese since WW II. Yet there it was.
Coincidentally (or not), I was born in the Year of the Monkey, and when it comes to cinema, Fant-Asia and martial arts films are my shtick, which has just climaxed with the completion of my first book, The Ultimate Guide to Martial Arts Movies of the 1970s. The book includes in-depth martialogies on many sci-fi/horror kung fu films made during the 1970s, some of which I’ll exclusively reveal to Cinefantastique Online before the book’s Nov. 2010 release.
Here are my childhood memories of the film. Alakazam was a wee monkey who fights with a pole and zips around the sky on a cloud. He had three friends: a pig; a cannibal who wielded a pole with a half-moon blade that he used to burrow underground; and a Prince. I vividly recall an impish, child-like villain dressed in shorts with a horn on top of his head, which he used like a telephone to call a raging bull with witch-wife who owned a giant feather. Alakazam eventually got home to save his sick monkey girlfriend, and they lived happily ever after.
Now it’s 2010, I had not seen this film since 1961, and I’m quite well versed in the Legend of the Monkey King. I was so looking forward to re-watching this.
According to the English dubbed film version: Majutsoland, which lies off the coast of Japan, is a kingdom reigned by King Amo and Queen Amas. Their son is Prince Amat. The gods see that the animal world needs a new king. Whoever can leap off the waterfall and retrieve a placard from the underwater enchanted palace shall be king. Alakazam (spoken Peter Fernandez; singing Frankie Avalon) takes the leap, becomes king, then decrees he’s smarter and wiser than all humans. To prove it, he challenges Merlin the Magician, beats him, then sets his sights on King Amo and calls him out by defiantly eating the forbidden fruit.
After Amo defeats him, Alakazam is imprisoned in a cold cave on top of a snowy mountain until he learns the stupidity of conceit and selfishness. As monkey girl friend Dee Dee (Dodie Stevens) brings him food, the cold blizzard snow begins to drain her life. Alakazam begs that he’ll do anything to save her. Queen Amas agrees to help if he accompanies her son Amat on a pilgrimage. The ulterior mission is for Alakazam is to learn humility, mercy and wisdom.
Along their way, they run into a large pig named Sir Quigley Broken Bottom (Jonathan Winters) who is trying to force a beautiful maiden into marrying him, until Alakazam saves the day. Rather than killing Quigley, he befriends and hires him to be an extra bodyguard for Amat. They next meet a cannibal named Lulipopo (Arnold Stang); after he tries to eat them, Alakazam spares his life, too, and they now have a third bodyguard for Amat.
Meanwhile, the bratty impish Fister, who has a horn on top of his head, wears shorts, and has a red scarf around his neck, leaps onto screen. Fister wants to rule Majutsoland. His boss, Gruesome, a large raging bull, agrees to help Fister if Fister can kidnap Amat and bring him to Gruesome’s cave. Gruesome plans to collect ransom from King Amo so Gruesome can pay for his wife’s mink-stole habit. Prior to leaving the cave, Gruesome gives his witch-like wife a big fan (looks like a feather), which she uses to turn things into ice with a single swish.
The next thing you know, Fister almost kills the weakening Alakazam; Quigley and Amat are captured by Gruesome and dangled over a large vat of boiling soup, and there’s no ransom demands. Just as Gruesome is about to drop Quigley and Amat into the soup, Alakazam and Lulipopo arrive, rescue Quigley and Amat, and all hell breaks lose. Volcanoes erupt, lava flows, Gruesome and Alakazam are dueling to the death, Quigley steals the fan, and back home Dee Dee is dying.
Why so many details? By knowing the original Chinese story, we can see how easily things get totally lost in translation.
The Japanese anime version calls Alakazam “Saiyu-ki.” It was the third Japanese cartoon ever made in color and the first anime film to come to America (ASTROBOY was the fourth anime feature to hit stateside in 1964). In Chinese classic literature, he is the Monkey King, Swuin Wu-kung from the novel Xi Yo Ji (“Journey to the West”) written by Wu Cheng-an during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). Swuin is famous for riding around on a golden cloud and fighting with a pole magically made from a strand of his hair. Accompanied by his kung fu brothers Zhu Ba-jie (a rake-wielding pig) and Xia Wu-jing (a creature with a monk’s spade: long pole with a shovel at one end and a half-moon shaped blade at the other), Swuin sets out to protect Tang San-tsang, a Buddhist monk, while he travels to India to get sacred scriptures.
One of the famous chapters tells how Princess Iron Fan and Ox Demon King want to eat Monk Tang so they can live for 1,000 years, but Tang is protected by Swuin, Zhu, and Xia. However, their son, Red Boy (aka Hong Hai-er) has mastered the Three Types of True Fire in Flaming Mountain, and they order him to kill Swuin. Just as all hell breaks loose, Goddess of Mercy Guan Ying descends from heaven to make peace on Earth.
With this in mind, it’s now pretty obvious who each character in ALAKAZAM represents. The not-so-clear ones are Fister (who is Red Boy), King Ama (who is Buddha), Queen Amas (who is Quan Ying, and Merlin the Magician (who is probably Lao Zi or some other Taoist sage). There was never a plan for ransom; Gruesome wanted to eat Amat.
So how does one compare the first movie you ever saw as a five-year-old to how you see it 50 years later as a film critic? Especially when it’s Chinese story turned into Japanese film turned into a Westernized dubbed version? Beyond all that is wrong with ALAKAZAM – dialogue, plot, character names, added-in songs to make it Disney-appealing, some obvious re-editing, and illogic up to the wazoo – to me, it’s still magical.
Historically, ALAKAZAM is the first Chinese-Japanese martial arts film that got theatrical distribution for mainstream audiences in Europe and America. This alone is a worthy reason for anyone into Fant-Asian films to see the movie.
ALAKAZAM THE GREAT (1960). 94 mins. D: Lee Kresel, Daisaku Shirakawa, Osamu Tezuka, Taiji Yabushita. C: Sterling Holloway, Jackie Joseph, Kiyoshi Kawakubo, Arnold Stang, Dodie Stevens, Jonathan Winters, Peter Fernandez, Frankie Avalon.
Oh no, they say she’s got to go, go go gorezilla. On no, there goes Tokyo, go go gorezilla…zilla…zilla…zilla.
Although director Yoshihiro Nishimura’s TOKYO GORE POLICE, essentially a remake of his earlier film ANATOMIA EXSTINCTION (1985), does not have any men running around in rubber monster suits, it does have men and women looming around covered in latex prosthetics that are as nutty as they are creative.
“Blood, squirt, artery, homicide, gore.” These are the words pouring out of the mouth of Michael Palin during his rendition of a sadistic barber in a Monty Python skit. It also happens to be a fair description of TOKYO GORE POLICE (2008), Nishimura’s over-the-top blood lusting freak-out film that gives this Gore-Asia genre a comedic lilt with a horror tilt.
With last year’s successful U.S. Film Festival run of Nishimura’s co-directed Gore-Asia release of VAMPIRE GIRL VS FRANKENSTEIN GIRL (2009), Tokyo Shock’s May 18, 2010 re-release of TOKYO GORE POLICE is yet one more strategy to drain our very souls – and pocketbooks – dry. The two-disc set is touted as a “1.5 version” that includes a bonus disc of follow-up short films, which is intended to “extend the TOKYO GORE POLICE cinematic experience.”
However, I think that those who have seen any of the other released versions of the 109-minute twisted TOKYO GORE POLICE (such as the single-disc DVD released in January 2009) will agree that any additions (barring unseen footage or extended play) are as needed as an extra hour on Peter Jackson’s KING KONG (2005), a film that would have greatly benefited by removing about 40 minutes of the first hour.
Anyhow, for those who came in late, the thousands of gallons of blood gushing out all over the screen, on the camera lenses and the various slice ‘em and dice ‘em up actors are the result of a futuristic gore war between Tokyo’s newly created privatized police force versus the Engineers. Not to be confused with someone who drives a train or builds cars, these Engineers are a sometimes randy, rowdy or raunchy bunch of genetically created mutant murderers who when maimed morph into maniacal machinations of maliciousness.
Enter the Ruka (Eihi Shiina; the piano-wire wielder in AUDITION (1999)), Engineer hunter extraordinaire, whose goal is to find and finish off the head Engineer (Itsuji Itao), in order to railroad and derail his dreams of humankind domination. But the “key” to unlock her success goes beyond the door of damnation to reveal the reality of what and who she is.
As many Japanese, female driven action-gore films depict, Ruka wields a samurai sword. However, the film only contains six hack-and-whack fight scenes cumulatively lasting a poultry four minutes, which reflect action scenes featured in the Meiko Kaji starring LADY SNOWBLOOD films (1973 & 1974) and the FX influenced fight scene between Yuen Biao and the freaky creature in PEACOCK KING (1989). In a very obscure fashion, Ruka acts, dresses and looks a little like Beatrice Chia’s Silver character featured in the Hong Kong actioner short LOST TIME (2003).
Nishimura’s scatological sensibilities border on pee-thetic bathroom humor that are not just a bunch of croc but are influenced by Shintaro Katzu’s HANZO THE RAZOR films (1972, 1973 and 1974), which probably breaks every penile code this side of the Pecos. In this case, the words of Eric Idle from another Monty Python sketch will suffice, “Wink, wink, grin, grin, blink, blink. Know what I mean? Say no more.”
Part of the title of this sequel to GEN-X COPS (1999) basically summarizes the mindset of this film’s production: “Y”. In other words, why was this film ever made? The sham and shame of GEN-Y COPS’ June 2010, Universal Studios Home Video DVD reincarnation is the blatant title change to JACKIE CHAN PRESENTS GEN-Y COPS, as if Chan is actually part of the film, even though he had nothing to do with the original 2000 release. But of course as the film starts, one of the beginning captions boldly reads “JACKIE CHAN” then a bunch of other companies followed by “Presents…blah, blah, blah.”
At least when Quentin Tarantino attaches his name as the presenter, he’s a fan of the film and ultimately he cares about it. Such is not the case for Chan and GEN-Y COPS. Chan’s goal behind GEN-X COPS and his NEW POLICE STORY (2004) was to promote young new male talents, not unlike the legendary Hong Kong kung fu film director Chang Cheh did in the 1970s. To Chan, these films weren’t about finding new martial arts talent; they were showcasing cute young men acting innocently rugged and tough. Yet GEN-Y COPS lacks this sensibility (if you can call it sensible) as director Benny Chan, who also directed the aforementioned two films, goes off in some awkward directions that I’m sure kept Chan the man away from the set, even if he couldn’t keep his name away from the credits.
If you think that this blatant misrepresentation of using an actor’s fame is a sophomoric stunt to sell a film, that’s nothing compared to the movie’s mainstay. This would be the elite trio of men – Edison (Edison Chen); Match (Stephen Fung); and Alien (Sam Lee)) – a triumpherant of cops touted to be the best of the best, who take on only Hong Kong’s toughest cases, while looking like bratty kids in their 20s and guffawing and gabbing like a trio of adolescent teens. What would be adding to the grandeur of flummery is that these kids (I mean “young adults”) are speaking with Afro-American English-like dialogue, as if mimicking Caucasian rural kids having a racial identity crisis.
In a sort of sublime homage, GEN-Y COPS is a cross between Tsui Hark’s female robot romp I LOVE MARIA (1988) and ROBOCOP 2 (1990), except that the American-made RS-1 killing machine goes awry with “d-roid” rage at the hands of inventor Kurt (Richard Sun), who uses the bashing bot for bad because Kurt feels he was debased by the FBI.
Combine the Gen-Y lads with some Gen-XY cops (yes, females); mix in black and white, good and bad FBI agents; then add one Achmed, a Middle-Eastern baddy who wants the android avenger to destroy the infidels – and we have a recipe for stereotypical characters and an archetypical ending that reeks of low budget, weak script and eked out action.
From the action director of Jackie Chan’s PROJECT A II (1987), Nicky Li Chung-chi, one would expect that 13 years later he would be a better fight choreographer. Unfortunately, 13 is an unlucky number in the West, and in a film choc full of Westerners, it’s lucky for us that GEN-Y COPS has only 11 fights with a total screen time of 2 minutes and 38 seconds. Hmm, does this sound action packed to you?
Apart from shooting the fights from close angles – an attempt to hide that the handful of cool techniques and kicks are wire-enhanced – Li and his fight choreography crew made the fights “last longer” by shooting them at 24 frames per second (normal camera speed). If Li had shot them at the typical, Hong Kong fight speed (18–22 frames per second), each fight would have been even shorter.
With a running time of 109 minutes, the DVD can be viewed in English or Cantonese. Including closed-captioned for the hearing impaired, the single disc also has English, French and Spanish subtitles. Bonus materials include Talent Files (all about Jackie Chan), Theatrical Trailers, a “Making Of” documentary, and Deleted Scenes.
Perhaps if this movie was a 1950/60s Disney Film wherein we expected over the top teen-adult characterizations from the likes of Kurt Russell, Dean Jones and Hayley Mills, GEN-Y COPS might have garnered a foul ball home run, landing in a limbo where there exists a sort of Jackie Chan-esque “50-year old virgin in front of females” kind of mentality. But alas poor Yoric, this Hamlet is a cinematic omelet with egg on its face. Thank God for no GEN-Z COPS.
JACKIE CHAN PRESENTS GEN-Y COPS (2000). Directed by Benny Chan. Written by Chan Kiu-ying, Felix Chong, Bey Logan. Action direction by Nicky Li Chung-chi. Cast: Stephen Fung, Sam Lee, Edison Chen, Maggie Q, Christy Chung, Rachel Ngan, Richard Sun, Paul Rudd, Mark Hicks, Jude Poyer, Anthony Wong, Reuben Langdon.
Jason Scott Lee travels back in time for the same reason twice. No it’s not déjà vu; he just travels back in time for the same reason twice. The first time was with the 2003 direct-to-video release of TIMECOP: THE BERLIN DECISION; the second time is with the brand new, June 2010 release, not meant to fool you same with a slightly different title – TIMECOP 2: THE BERLIN DECISION. And guess what? The film has not changed, the fights are still bad and the time continuum for now remains undisturbed.
There is one disturbing piece of video on the revamp that just about summarizes the sleaze factor of Hollywood, with blatant lies sold as the God’s honest truth – but to the folks that made this film, god is just a word.
On paper, the TIMECOP films (Jean Claude Van Damme’s TIMECOP  and this movie) sound interesting. A time machine has been invented and people who abuse its power for personal gain become targets for a time-traveling police force know as the Time Enforcement Commission (TEC). Although the films are far from hi-tech, TIMECOP 2 attempts to push the envelope of the Grandfather Paradox (if you go back in time and kill your grandfather before he meets your grandmother would you still exist?) while debating the long time “What if?” question of righting a wrong from the past.
When good TEC cop Brandon Miller (Thomas Ian Giffith) convinces himself he has the moral obligation to go back in time and assassinate Adolph Hitler as a means to prevent the death of 11 million people, ultra-good TEC cop Ryan Chan (Jason Scott Lee) is there to stop him. However, things go awry as Miller and Chan’s plans don’t go as planned; their paths move toward different plains that result in similar pains.
Stories about time travel are of course not new. Early examples of the theme are mentioned in the Sanskrit epic of ancient India “Mahabharata” (circa 700 BC, about the same time Homer wrote the “Illiad”) and the Jewish Talmud (AD 200). Some early examples that are purely about time travel to the future are the Japanese tale “Urashima Taro” (AD 720) and Louis-Sebastien Mercier’s “The Year 2440: A Dream If Ever There Were One” (1771).
Enrique Gaspar y Rimbau’s book “El Anacronopete” (1887) was the first story to feature time travel via a time machine. H.G. Wells’ novel “The Time Machine” (1895) eventually becoming the blueprint for later time travel stories featuring vehicles that allow the time traveller to pick and choose where and when he wanted to go, such as in TIMECOP 2.
Even 10 years after DRAGON: THE BRUCE LEE STORY (1993) and five years after SOLDIER (1998) time had not changed Jason Scott Lee’s martial arts skills or the abilities of the fight choreographer, former Bruce Lee student Jerry Poteet. Bruce recognized that film fight choreography and real fights were completely different animals, yet Poteet and his cinematic protégé Jason wrongly assumed that reel fights should be real-looking rather than creative, entertaining, and dramatic. It has been the curse of American-made martial arts films since the 1970s, only slightly changed during the 1990s, but even then stunt coordinators and directors didn’t know (and many still don’t) how to shoot a martial arts fight scene.
On the set of SOLDIER, Jason once told me that Jackie Chan is not a martial artist (true he’s not, but then neither is Jason) and that Chan doesn’t know how to make or shoot a good fight scene. The second part of his comment says it all and that attitude pervades in TIMECOP 2. However, when Jason tries to copy a fight from Chan’s BATTLE CREEK BRAWL (1980), it’s rather pathetic; not even tight camera angles and makeshift editing can hide it.
With a running time of 81 mins, the “action-packed” TIMECOP 2 has 13 fights that cumulatively last about seven minutes. The new DVD, released on June 1, has closed-captions for the hearing impaired, and has English, French and Spanish subtitles. Bonus material include 3 minutes and 30 seconds of behind-the-scenes rambling with actress Tava Smiley and a 10-minute “Making of” track.
So what was the part that disturbed me? During the “Making of” sequence, producer Mike Elliot boldly fibs that the fight choreographers of TIMECOP 2 “are famous in the world. In fact, they were the martial arts choreographers for Bruce Lee in Bruce Lee’s movies.” Huh?
Including TIMECOP 2, Poteet has choreographed only four films. Furthermore, Bruce Lee’s main choreographers included himself, Sammo Hung, and the late Lam Ching-ying. Lee and Lam need to come back and haunt Elliot into telling the truth. Then we’d have a really interesting time travel story to watch.
TIME COP 2: THE BERLIN DECISION (2003). Directed by Steve Boyum. Written by Gary Scott Thompson, based on the comic series by Mike Richardson and Mark Verheiden. Cast: Jason Scott Lee, Thomas Ian Griffith, Mary Page Keller, John Beck, Tava Smiley, Josh Hammond, Tricia Barry, Sam Ly.