13TH San Diego Asian Film Festival: "Real" Fant-Asia Films Have Finally Arrived

SDAFF LOGOIt’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).
painted-skinThe 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.”
Flying DaggersIn 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?”
Dead BiteAnd 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.
Dead SushiBack 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 bookDoomsday 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.


Indomina Releasing partners with IMAX Theatres to provide limited exclusive IMAX 3-D engagements of this Fant-Asia fantasy film from producer-director Tsui Hark, the man behind A CHINESE GHOST STORY and so many other Asian fantasy epics. One of China’s biggest box office hits, THE FLYING SWORDS OF DRAGON GATE is a first for that country, in terms of its IMAX 3-D format, with a big chunk of change coming from the specialty theatres. The plot, based on a classic story that has already been filmed twice, has a band of marauders posing as ordinary citizens while seeking treasure in the Dragon Inn, which according to legend was built on the site of a lost city. Cast: Jet Li, Xun Zhou, Kun Chen, Lunmei Kwai, Huchun Li, Mavis Fan, Siu-Wong Fan, Chia Hui Liu.
Theatrical Release Date: Friday, August 31, 2012
Rated R for some Violence
Running time: 121 minutes

  • Boston: AMC Loews Boston Common 19
  • Skokie (near Chicago): AMC Showplace Village Crossing 18
  • Dallas: AMC Northpark 15
  • Houston: AMC Gulf Pointe 30
  • Arcadia: AMC Santa Anita 16
  • Burbank: AMC Burbank 16
  • Torrance: AMC Del Amo 18
  • New York: AMC Loews 34th Street 14
  • Paramus: AMC Garden State 16
  • San Diego: AMC Mission Valley 20
  • Emeryville: AMC Bay Street 16
  • Santa Clara: AMC Mercado 20
  • Seattle: Pacific Science Center
  • Tukwila: AMC Southcenter 16
  • McLean (near Washington DC): AMC Tysons Corner 16

PAINTED SKIN: THE RESURRECTION theatrical engagements

Well Go Entertainment opens this Fant-Asia film in limited U.S. engagements. PAINTED SKIN: THE RESURRECTION is a sort of semi-sequel to PAINTED SKIN (2008): most of the original cast members (except for star Donnie Yen) return, although not necessarily in the same roles. The theatrical trailer looks gorgeous, and frankly it’s been too long since one of these epic Oriental fantasies played on the big screen on these shores. Let’s hope it’s better than ZOO WARRIORS!
PAINTED SKIN: THE RESURRECTION  is presented in its original language with English subtitles. Starting August 17, you can find it in these theatres:

AMC Empire 25
234 West 42nd Street
New York New York 10036
United States
AMC Puente Hills 20
1560 South Azusa Avenue
City Of Industry California 91748
United States
AMC Atlantic Times Square 14
450 N Atlantic Blvd
Monterey Park California 91754
United States
AMC Metreon 16
101 Fourth Street
San Francisco California 94103
United States
AMC Cupertino Square 16
10123 N Wolfe Rd
Cupertino California 95014
United States
AMC Kennedy Commons
33 William Kitchen Road
Scarborough Ontario M1P 5B7


According to ancient lore, if a human freely offers their heart to a demon, that monster can become mortal, experiencing the true pains and passions of existence. This is the ultimate triumph of the underworld.
Xiaowei (Xun Zhou, THE GREAT MAGICIAN, FLYING SWORDS OF DRAGON GATE), a millennia-old fox spirit, is freed from her frozen prison and transforms into a dangerous seductress, consuming living hearts to keep her beautiful as she searches for her chance to become human.
Meanwhile, Princess Jing (Wei Zhao, 14 BLADES, RED CLIFF, SHAOLIN SOCCER),hiding her marred beauty behind a golden mask, flees an unknown threat to her kingdom by pursuing the only man she ever loved: the guard who was unable to protect her, so many years ago.
A twist of fate brings Princess Jing and Xiaowei together, and a slow game of wits, deceit, and seduction begins for the princess’ very own heart.


  • Director: Wuershan
  • Cast: Xun Zhou, Kun Chen, Wei Zhao, Mini Yang, Shao-Feng Feng, Fei Xiang, Tingjia Chen
  • Producer: Chen KuoFu
  • Run Time: 120 min.
  • Theatrical Date: August 17, 2012


Ghost Story of Yotsuya (Tokaido Yotsuya Kaidan)

tokaido 2There is a tradition in Japan to present ghost stories during the warm summer months. An 18th century kabuki play by Nanboku Tsuruya provided the most popular and durable storyline – that of an ambitious, would-be samurai named Iemon who marries and then murders Iwa, whose ghost returns to wreak revenge on her faithless husband.The story has been filmed numerous times; director Nobuo Nakagawa’s 1959 version THE GHOST STORY OF YOTSUYA (Tokaido Yotsuya Kaidan) is, many feel, the best filmed adaptation of this classic Japanese tale.
Though most versions of the tale follow the same basic storyline, there are interesting variations. There were several silent adaptations, now mostly lost, including Daisuke Ito’s silent YOTSUYA GHOST STORY NEW EDITION (Shinpan yotsuya kaidan, Nikkatsu, 1928), which starred Matsumoto Taisuke as Iyemon, & Fushimi Naoe in a double role as Oiwa & Osode. Other silent versions include Inoue Kintarou’s IROHAGANA YOTSUYA KAIDAN (1927), Nakagawa Shirou’s TOKAIDO YOTSUYA KAIDAN (1927), one by film pioneer Shozu Makino from 1912, and over a dozen others. Early talkie versions were done in 1936 by Furumi Takuji and in 1937 by Onoe Eigorou. Keisuke Kinoshita did a two-part political version in 1949 that did its best to eliminate the ghost elements of the tale, making Iemon sympathetic.
Masaki Mori’s 1956 version featured Tomisaburo Wakayama, best known as Itto Ogami from the Lone Wolf and Cub movies. Wakayama starred also in the 1961 version directed by Yasushi Kato known as KAIDAN OIWA NO BUREI (GHOST OF OIWA). The same year as Nakagawa’s color version, Kenji Misumi did a black-and-white version released in the U.S. as THOU SHALT NOT BE JEALOUS, starring Kazuo Hasegawa.
Kazuo Mori, best known for the Zatoichi series, did YATSUYA KAIDAN: OIWA NO BUREI (CURSE OF THE GHOST aka GHOST OF OIWA) in 1969. 1981 brought the release of MASHO NO NATSU: YATSUYA KAIDAN YORI (aka SUMMER DEMON or SUMMER OF EVIL) from Yukio Ninagawa. Kinji Fukasaku (MESSAGE FROM SPACE; BATTLE ROYALE) contributed the notable CREST OF BETRAYAL version in 1994, that actually manages to combine both the Yotsuya ghost story with the tale of the 47 Ronin, two of Japan’s most popular tales.
Nakagawa is considered by many to have been Japan’s first great horror director. In addition to his version of THE GHOST STORY OF YOTSUYA, he also directed  SNAKE WOMAN’S CURSE (Kaidan Hebi-Onna, 1968), JIGOKU (“Hell,” 1960), LADY VAMPIRE (Onna Kyuketsuki, 1959), THE GHOST OF KASANE (Kaidan Kasane-ga-fuchi, 1957), BLACK CAT MANSION (Borei Kaibyo Yashiki, 1958), and others.
A few things that distinguish Nakagawa’s version of the tale is that this Shintoho production was the first in color and widescreen. Shigeru Amachi, who also starred in Nakagawa’s famed evocation of Buddhist hell JIGOKU, gives a strong performance as Iemon Tamiya, a drunken, libertine ronin (i.e. a samurai without a lord to serve). At the start of the film, he accosts some nobles and asks one of them, Samon (Shinjiro Asano), for his daughter’s hand in marriage. Samon has a low opinion of the wastrel and turns Iemon down flat, infuriating the ronin so that he takes his sword and kills the entire group as they flee from his rage.
Iemon, realizing that murdering his intended bride’s father will not endear him to her – not to mention how the constabulary is likely to react to multiple homicides – conspires with his partner-in-crime Naosuke (Shuntaro Emi) to lay the blame on a local bandit Usaburo, claiming that they valiantly fought a band of ruffians who got away. Iemon promises Iwa (Kazuko Wakasugi) that he will avenge her father’s murder, securing her hand in marriage and her fortune for himself.
Naosuke becomes attracted to Iwa’s sister Osode, and threatens to expose Iemon if he will not assist in eliminating the sisters’ suspicious brother. When the brother goes to a sacred waterfall to pray for justice, the rogues stab him in the back and push him off the cliff. They return to town with a story about how they were attacked by the same bandits as before, and the pair split up to seek the non-existent bandits.
Iemon and Iwa have a child, but Iemon proves a poor husband, spending most of his nights out drinking, while Iwa begins to suffer from ill health. Iemon gambles most of his wife’s money away, but one night he inadvertently foils a mugging, causing the robbers to flee and the nobles to thank him effulsively, while Iemon instantly falls for the nobleman’s lovely daughter Ume (Junko Ikeuchi). The nobleman offers Iemon a reward, and Iemon ironically responds with the same speech about honor that Samon had given him right before Iemon had murdered him.
Meanwhile, Naosuke is frustrated that Osode refuses to marry or sleep with him until he makes good his promise to avenge her father’s death. When Iemon happens to bump into Naosuke, Naosuke wonders whether he can pull off the murdering bandits gimmick a third time, but resolves that he’ll need another plan. Naosuke comes up with the idea of procuring some poison to kill Iwa to make way for Iemon to marry Ume. Because the portly village massues Takuetsu (Jun Otomo) is constantly coming by to see the ailing Iwa, a rumor has sprung up that the pair are having an affair. Naosuke sees how Iemon can claim to have caught the pair in flagrante to justify the murder of his wife. Dishonorable to the core, Iemon readily agrees to the plan and conspires to make Takuetsu his patsy.
In a telling scene, Iwa cries tears of joy that her husband has started treating her kindly for a change, apparently attempting to see to her happiness rather than being thoroughly selfish all the time. Little does she realize that his thoughtfulness in giving her the medicine she requires is simply a ruse to provide poison in her cup of tea. Takuetsu comes to give her a massage and starts coming on to her because Iemon has suggested that she fancies the doctor: however, Iwa, innocent and loyal to her faithless husband, is shocked by Takuetsu’s behavior.
tokaido yotsuyakaiden1959Then it is Takuetsu’s turn to be shocked as the poison causes the skin on Iwa’s forehead to break out and become discolored, depriving her of her beauty. The shaken Takuetsu confesses that it was Iemon who asked him to seduce her. Realizing the extent of Iemon’s treachery, Iwa vows to kill their infant child rather than leave it to such a father. (Nakagawa doesn’t show this death, but the baby disappears from thenceforth, suggesting that Iwa did indeed carry out her vow).
When Iemon returns, he kills Takuestu for “betraying” him, and then with Naosuke’s help, nails the body of Takuetsu and Iwa to the shutters from his house, and has them carried to the local lake and cast into the water to sink. Naosuke finally sees the bandit that he had earlier blamed the other murders on, and proceeds to stab the bandit in the back so that he can finally marry Osode.
It is at this point that the genre elements now dominate the film. Iemon becomes haunted by visions of his dead wife nailed to the shutter. Naosuke snags Iwa’s comb and kimono with his fishing line and makes the mistake of taking them home to Iwa’s sister, who naturally recognizes these very personal items. When Iwa’s apparition appears in Naosuke’s home, he breaks down and confesses to helping Iemon kill Samon.
Iemon visits Ume’s parents, but when Iwa’s ghost reappears, he strikes out, killing his prospective bride and his prospective father-in-law when his blade passes through the ghost and strikes them instead. Osode finds that her brother wasn’t dead after all, but survived his attack, and the pair team up to get their revenge.
tokaido_yotsuya_kaidan3Nakagawa gives the film a very rich look, with beautiful art direction and lighting. Unlike  American or European horror films fo the era, however, there is not much attempt to build atmosphere — no creepy sounds, crashing thunderstorms, or howling winds to generate feelings of dread. Instead, the film is briskly paced and presents the supernatural elements rather matter-of-factly. Nonetheless, there is some terrific imagery in the latter part of GHOSTY STORY OF YOTSUYA, particularly the makeup on Iwa and the image of bloody water or bodies floating on shutters in the air.
The narrative very much fits into the Japanese tradition of critiquing corruption and the lack of honor among those most entrusted with upholding the honorable traditions. Iemon is a most thorough villain, as is Naosuke, and we know inevitably they will be paid to pay for their terrible crimes. Nakagawa does a great job of building our suspense in finding just how such vengeance will be extracted.
Nakagawa depicts the ghosts so that they may well be figments of Iemon’s wicked imagination – a sudden appearance of conscience in a hitherto totally immoral character.  As in THE GHOST OF KASANE, spirits provoke and enrage Iemon until he takes action that drives him to his own self-destruction. (A few years later, Mario Bava adopted a similar approach in such films as BLACK SABBATH and KILL, BABY, KILL, in which ghostly vengeance is staged so ambiguously that it appears the victims may actually be killing themselves.)
tokaido ph_GhostStory_mTHE GHOST STORY OF YOTSUYA isn’t a film for those with attention-deficient disorder. The characters are solidly portrayed and the psychologies are built up before there is much in the way of a pay-off. However, I must say that I find the conclusion far more satisfying than those endless horror films of the recent past which substitute a few seconds of explicit gore for interesting characterization or a plot worth paying attention to.
THE GHOST STORY OF YOTSUYA (Tokaido Yotsuya Kaidan, 1959). Director: Nobuo Nakagawa. Cinematographer: Tadashi Nishimoto. Music: Michiaki Watanabe. Producer: Mitsugu Okura. Cast: Shigeru Amachi, Noriko Kitazawa, Shuntaro Emi, Junko Ikeuchi, Ryozaburo Nakamura, Jun Otomo, Kazuko Wakasugi Writer: Masayoshi Onuki, Yoshihiro Ishikawa.

Yogi Bear, Original Tron, & Best Laid Plans: CFQ Post-Mortem Podcast 1:44.1

The Nightmare Lives: An indelible image from YOGI BEAR.
The Nightmare Lives: An indelible image from YOGI BEAR.

So, in the place of a CINEFANTASTIQUE PODCAST in which we discuss our top ten lists for 2010, we give you a CINEFANTASTIQUE POST-MORTEM in which we discuss doing a show in which we discuss our top ten lists for 2010. Who knew a little thing like a holiday weekend was going to interfere with our plans?
Oh, Steve Biodrowski also delivers his verdict on the Surprisingly Not Intolerable YOGI BEAR; and Lawrence French and Dan Persons join him in an evaluation on the original TRON’s retro-future, and on the evocative Japanese horror film, ONIBABA.
Maybe not the Lionel train set you wanted under your tree, but at least it’s not a boxful of underwear. Click on the player to hear the show.


Author Signing in LA: The Ultimate Guide to the Martial Arts Movies of the 1970s

BOOK COVER-not the backWhen 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 
FromDavidTadman-3To 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. 
Craig-With Jackie Chan 1992The 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. 
Craig-GordonLiuThe 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.

The Warrior’s Way Review

The Warriors Way posterIn many ways, there’s no movie concept more juvenile, more basic, or more ridiculous than Cowboys Vs. Ninjas. They come from opposite sides of the globe, of course, and certainly the loose, devil-may-care murderin’ style of a cowboy’s gun is no match for the stealthy throat-slitting sword of a trained assassin. On top of all that, what do they have to fight over? Ninjas never really seem to like brothels, and honor isn’t worth much on the dusty plain.

Despite (or possibly because of) all these limitations, Korean writer-director Sngmoo Lee’s THE WARRIOR’S WAY (2010) proves to be a stylish and aesthetically wonderful action film that takes pride in its B-level plot. There’s not much missing from the title for me to tell, except perhaps some of the characters names. Yang (newcomer Dong-gun Jang), we are told by both a narrator and subtitles, is the most powerful swordsman in the history of mankind – we know because he kills the former most powerful swordsman in the history of mankind. Yang is a member of the Sad Flutes (“The sound made when the throat is slit” he explains), and it is this ninja squad that he betrays by refusing to kill little April, the last living member of a rival clan.

Seeking solace and safety, Yang travels way out west to the town of Lode, population 500, where drunkards, clowns, midgets, and world-class beauties fend off a tribe of cowboy-bandits led by Danny Huston’s intimidating Colonel. Huston, whose father and sister each hold a place in the Hollywood Hall of Fame, is just one member of an A-list cast doing their best to seem serious here. Indeed, certain inhabitants of the squalid town are played by Kate Bosworth as the requisite love interest and none other than Oscar-winner Geoffrey Rush as the never-not-drunk Ron, who (as fate would have it) turns out to be a master gunslinger. This cast elevates what could have been a typical New Zealander-American-Korean swords-and-bullets love story into a slightly less typical New Zealander-American-Korean swords-and-bullets love story.

The Warriors Way high-flying martial arts actionAlthough taking potshots at the plot of THE WARRIORS WAY is easy, the style and atmosphere  are wholly different matters. The action sequences are relatively standard for any film with ninjas, but they appear completely fresh because of their visual beauty. Lee has an eye for angles and colors, using intensely vivid CGI and a lot of green screen to wring out as much adrenaline as he can from the genre. Almost from the beginning, the Cowboys vs. Ninjas  set-up seems contrived, but the various gunshots, knife-throws, and dynamite explosions bring out an impressively original group of scenes. One of my particular favorites has very little to do with visual effects or style, but really just with a line by Colonel: “See you in hell, little girl. Wear something nasty.”

Rush, Huston, and Bosworth all know what they have gotten themselves into, and it is a true pleasure to see talented actors have a little fun. Rush is getting rave reviews as we speak for Tom Hooper’s THE KING’S SPEECH, but who would rather see a stuffy British drama then a nearly-scriptless bloodbath on a Friday night? Bosworth’s last big foray into sci-fi was Bryan Singer’s lukewarm SUPERMAN RETURNS (2006), but here she makes a bit more of an impression playing someone with a backbone and a deadly glint in her eye. What’s more, just for the men in the audience who don’t get enough of a rush from the blood spurting out in glass clouds, she spends the final act of the film in a corset while kicking ass. Huston hits more familiar notes than even the nearly-silent Yang, and here he recycles bits and pieces of his more intimidating roles – films like THE PROPOSITION and 30 DAYS OF NIGHT spring powerfully to mind. But this sort of character is his specialty, and as a Jonah Hex-style cowboy, he adds  pizzazz to a role that we know is pretty easy to butcher (just ask Josh Brolin).

Small side-note: the film’s score seemed much more impressive to me than the film itself, utilizing everything from electric and Spanish guitars, quiet flutes, and full orchestras. I did not realize until the end credits that the master behind PAN’S LABYRINTH, Javier Navarrete, composed the original music – someone give this man a franchise.

THE WARRIRORS WAY (Rogue, December 3, 2010). Written and Directed by: Sngmoo Lee. Original music by: Javier Navarrete. Cast:

  • Yang – Dong-gun Jang
  • Ron – Geoffrey Rush
  • Lynne – Kate Bosworth
  • Colonel – Danny Huston
  • 8-Ball – Tony Cox
  • Saddest Flute – Ti Lung
  • Baby April – Analin Rudd

What's Coming from Anchor Bay – New York Comic Con Special Podcast

Manga's REDLINE.
Manga's REDLINE.

We wrap up our sadly-too-brief coverage of New York Comic with a quick duck into the floor booth of Anchor Bay Entertain- ment. There, after gorging ourselves on copious free buttons and fliers (we’re all about the gimmes), we sat down with the company’s Kevin Carney and Erin Carter to find out what’s in store via their Manga anime division and live-action home video arm. Find out more about REDLINE, I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE and the homevid release of AMC’s eagerly awaited THE WALKING DEAD by clicking on the player.

Alakazam the Great (1960): A 50th Anniversary Review

AlakazamTheGreat-2-titleLet’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.  MY BOOK COVER-not the back
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.
AlakazamTheGreat-3-the gangAlong 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.
AlakazamTheGreat-4-lobby-fister-bullThe 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.
AlakazamTheGreat-cloudOne 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.