Even in the anything-to-get-your-adrenaline-pumping world of Hong Kong cinema, RIGOR MORTIS stands out. The story of a famous actor, Chin Siu-Ho (played by actual famous actor Chin Siu-Ho — your heard us), who has to contend with a seedy apartment building whose walls reverberate with echoes of his most famous film, the hopping vampire horror-comedy MR. VAMPIRE — including mysterious spirits, a mystical warrior-cum-resterateur (played by MR. VAMPIRE cast-mate Anthony “Friend” Chan), and, yes, a hopping vampire — the film plays as both a tribute to, and a dark and dizzyingly intense reimagining of, a beloved sub-genre. Director Juno Mak makes his feature film debut with this visually stunning, shockingly violent, and at times surprisingly moving, effort, and we were eager to discuss the roots of the project in the legendary MR. VAMPIRE franchise, and the challenges of creating this effects-laden feast. Click on the player to hear the show.
In the future — and by “future,” we mean 2001 — the Chinese prison system will be stupid. Also violent, sadistic, and quite, quite unsanitary — what with there not being a wall, fixture or floor that isn’t thoroughly coated with the viscera of its unfortunate inhabitants — but mostly really, really dumb. That’s the big take-away from RIKI-OH: THE STORY OF RICKY, an ultra-violent Hong Kong martial arts film that doesn’t so much tell a story as throw buckets of gore around and hope that viewers will, Rorschach-like, synthesize meaning from the incoherent mess.
Multimediumrare.com’s Orenthal Hawkins joins Temple of Bad’s Andrea Lipinski, Kevin Lauderdale, and Dan Persons to celebrate ToB’s first anniversary, curse Dan’s name for being the one to pick this episode’s feature, and engage in possibly the liveliest exploration of a bad movie since the Temple opened its doors with a discussion of BIRDEMIC: SHOCK AND TERROR.
Some people’s pasts come back to haunt them; some come back to kill them. In Peter Ho-Sun Chan’s martial arts film, DRAGON, Donnie Yen plays a loving husband living with his wife and child in a small, Chinese village at the beginning of the twentieth century. But when he seemingly inadvertently foils a robbery attempt, the investigation by a dedicated detective (Tekeshi Kaneshiro) reveals that the humble villager may not be all he seems. As the truth comes out in layers of deception and revelation, it becomes more and more obvious that the village savior also has a family past, one that could doom him, his loved ones, and anyone who knows him.
Yen not only stars in the film, but also was responsible for the action sequences, and the combination of intriguing storyline with eye-dazzling martial arts sequences makes this one of the best entertainments to come out of Hong Kong in a while. We were delighted to talk to Yen about how it all came together. Click on the player to hear my interview.
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A young boy gifted with the ability to see ghosts has to rise to the challenge when his small New England town is cursed by the spirit of a vengeful witch in PARANORMAN, the latest 3D stop-motion animated effort from Oregon’s Laika Studios. With an onslaught of mouldering zombies, voluble spirits, and malevolent storm fronts, plus a production that pushes the artistic boundaries of stop-motion in terms of scope and character performance, the film has no shortage of ambition. But is that enough? Cinefantastique Online’s Steve Biodrowski and Lawrence French differ wildly with Dan Persons on this point, and the group discuss their divergent impressions in this episode. Plus: Dan’s capsules of the energetic Hong Kong fantasy/actioner PAINTED SKIN: THE RESURRECTION, and the indie science fiction romantic comedy CODEPENDENT LESBIAN SPACE ALIEN SEEKS SAME.
Supplicants worshipping at the altar of the Temple of Bad know that there is no length they wouldn’t travel, no sacrifice they would spare, to seek out the most sublime of regrettable cinema. Thus, noble adventurers Andrea Lipinski, Kevin Lauderdale, and Dan Persons have packed up the knapsacks, folded their sleeping rolls, and held their pith (helmets) for a dangerous trip into the Himalayas. And what do they find there? A Chinese explorer named Johnny, a blonde jungle girl named Samantha a severely doped-up cheetah, and some schmuck in a monkey suit pretending he’s the MIGHTY PEKING MAN.
Yes, come join the ToB gang as they assail The Shaw Bros.’ attempt to ape (get it? GET IT?) Dino DeLaurentiis’ KING KONG. There’ll be elephant stampedes, there’ll be quicksand, there’ll be musical numbers, there’ll terrifying climbs up towering, fifty-story buildings (bring your oxygen tank), there’ll be lots of people panicking in front of rear-projection screens. What there won’t be is enough time to stop laughing as the film barrels its way from one goofy set-up to the next. And we wouldn’t have it any other way.
Click the player to hear the show.
So, there, that’s one New Years resolution out of the way for me. A few months after the theatrical release of KUNG FU PANDA 2, I was able to score an interview with its director, Jennifer Yuh Nelson. With the home video release of the film (in just about every format available, including Amazon Instant Video and a Blu-ray boxed set that also includes the first KFP and a new short film, SECRETS OF THE MASTER), I felt it was time to raise some attention for this beautifully mounted, entertaining sequel.
KFP2 was, I felt, unjustly maligned in its original release. Thing is, what most critics seemed to feel was its greatest flaw — not enough focus on lovable doofus panda Po (Jack Black) — I saw as its greatest strength. Instead of the first film’s fish-out-of-water scenario, the sequel uses Po’s elevation to kung fu master to engage in a full embrace of Hong Kong action, casting him into a story that sees the panda facing off against a megalomaniacal peacock who has developed a weapon that may render martial arts obsolete: the cannon. It’s Jackie Chan enhanced with a lush, animation style — bridging over numerous formats, including 2D and shadow puppets — and highlighted with exquisitely choreographed battle scenes; exciting, funny, and a dazzling visual feast. For the love of martial arts, or pure, bravura animation, you need to see this.
Click on the player to hear my interview with Nelson.
Break out the Purell, Steven Soderbergh is in mainstream thriller mode and he’s decided to get under your skin — almost literally — with a tale about a virus that doesn’t know when to quit. CONTAGION follows Soderbergh’s TRAFFIC template, spinning a world-spanning drama of people trying to survive the ravages of a fast-acting and deadly disease. Caught up in the turmoil: everyday dad Matt Damon; asshole blogger Jude Law; CDC doctors Jennifer Ehle, Kate Winslet, Demetri Martin, and Marion Cotillard; and government officials Laurence Fishburne, Bryan Cranston, and Enrico Colantoni.
Join Cinefantastique Online’s Lawrence French and Dan Persons as they examine Soderbergh’s skill at applying an indie film’s spontaneous production approach and incisive worldview to the dynamic momentum of a mainstream drama, debate whether the globe-hopping scenario does a disservice to the film’s characters, and consider whether it’s advisable for mature film critics to engage in a little social research by faking coughing fits during screenings (short answer: probably not).
Also: A celebration of the 45th anniversary of STAR TREK’s debut; plus what’s coming this week in theaters (spoiler: nothing) and home video.