The Super Inframan (1975)

The Super Inframan (1975) movie poster

director Hua Shan
viewed: 07/23/2017

I wish I’d seen The Super Inframan when I was a kid. I would have loved the heck out of it.

I grew up on  Shōwa period Godzilla, loved The Space Giants and Ultraman and even sort of enjoyed Spectreman (it seemed cheaper than the others).

Super Inframan is wall-to-wall, non-stop action and monsters and fighting and hilarity.

It’s purely sublime.

All hail, Princess Dragon Mom!

The Devil (1981)

The Devil (1980) VHS box cover

director Jen-Chieh Chang
viewed: 06/08/2017

As obscure as The Devil is, the internet has more than beat me at summing up with 1980’s HK/Taiwanese horror picture: “A hideously ugly witch casts spells on her victims which turns their insides into snakes and worms.” – IMDb.com

This was the B-side to The Rapist (1994) on a cheap dvd from Videoasia. A weird pairing other than from obscurity.

Not without its charms, The Devil has some gruesomeness and worms and snakes and effluvia. And a kid named Ding Dong who wears some strange outfits and would make this movie quite the fish in the barrel for MST3K or whomever.

The Rapist (1994)

The Rapist (1994) DVD cover

director Chuen-Yee Cha
viewed: 06/08/2017

The Rapist is a sleazy little category 3 Hong Kong policier about a serial rapist on the loose and the police team trying to catch him.

At its sleazier moments, it’s kind of creepy and weird and dark. But more of the film is focused on the police procedural (such as it is), the many man hours and hackneyed schemes of catching a rapist who is getting more violent and graduating to murder.

The lead cop has an obsessional quality that almost links him to the rapist, able to envision the crimes, think like the killer. Is it because he was raped himself as he jokes? Or that his younger sister was raped and traumatized? The psychological angles are not all that sharp and some of the joking (i.e., that the rapes wouldn’t happen if there were more prostitutes out there) certainly off-key.

Interesting, but only so much so.

Human Lanterns (1982)

Human Lanterns (1982) movie poster

director Chung Sun
viewed: 01/18/2017

Pretty pleasing Shaw Brothers Wuxia flick verging towards horror. Human Lanterns has the feel of a traditional ghost story revenge fable, but it’s luridly colorful, packed with action, blood, gore, and a crazy guy in a hairy skull mask. What’s not to like?

Ultimately, a tale of revenge, it also plays out a bit Yojimbo-like. Two big shots in a small village vie and complete with one another in many ways, but especially in the art of lantern making. The more evil of the two seeks out a talented craftsman who he had scarred in the past to help him deliver the winning lantern. The scarred craftsman decides to employ an ancient technique that requires human skin for his lanterns and sets about kidnapping and murdering the women in the two competitors’ lives, setting them more and more against one another.

The set design and camerawork are excellent, and the use of color does echo of the hues of Mario Bava.

The Mighty Peking Man (1977)

The Mighty Peking Man (1977) movie poster

director Ho Meng-hua
viewed: 12/04/2016

The Hong Kong King Kong knock-off The Mighty Peking Man is a mesmerizing one-off, a kaiju wildly camp, unintentionally comic, and oddly endearing.

There is a lot to love here, with the lovely Evelyne Kraft (RIP) as a jungle girl raised by her giant ape named Utam.  Kraft’s animal skin bikini clinging miraculously to her left breast throughout is well worth mentioning.  This blonde Tarzan of the Himalayas frolics with a good number of potentially dangerous creatures including a leopard and a tiger.  She gets bitten on the inner thigh by a venomous snake, which our hero Johnny (Danny Lee) must suck out rather suggestively.  Then there is that scene where Utam watches Johnny and Samantha as she is known making love and wanders away rather chagrined.

My favorite, though, is any time Utam has to shout or scream.  The rubber of his mask and his teeth pop weirdly, hilariously.

I don’t know what else to say but it’s so terrible yet so appealing and entertaining.  Star scoring escapes me.

I do have to throw in one last thing.  This amazing poster for an alternate title of Goliathon which is just sublime, though seems to get Utam all wrong.

Goliathon movie poster (alternate to The Mighty Peking Man)

Seeding of a Ghost (1983)

Seeding of a Ghost (1983) movie poster

director Chuan Yang
viewed: 05/15/2015

Notorious Shaw Brothers’ bananas horror film, Seeding of a Ghost, most certainly has its charms.  It’s the wacky story of a cuckolded taxi driver, who is cursed when he accidentally gives a crafty wizard a ride.  Long, convoluted story shortened, his wife is raped and murdered and to seek revenge he employs his former evil fare to wreak revenge via black magic.

This includes several levels of reviving the corpse of his wife and eventually “seeding” her.  Um, yeah, that is what it seems to suggest.

There are lots of very kooky and pretty awesome traditional FX and some outréness of which to be quite proud.  Definitely worth seeing if you like your Hong Kong horror as coo-coo and outrageous as it gets.

I can’t recall when or where I first read about this film, but I think it goes back a couple of decades.  I’d never seen it before, but let me tell you, it’s a keeper.

Men Behind the Sun (1988)

Men Behind the Sun (1988) movie poster

director T. F. Mou
viewed: 05/09/2015

When I first started on my trek through “most disturbing” or “most disgusting” films last year, one of the movies that constantly showed up on lists was T.F. Mou’s Men Behind the Sun.  It didn’t ring bells for me.

The film is a narrative approach to the frightening, horrific true-life human experiments performed by the Japanese Unit 731 in the waning days of World War II.  Inspired by the Nazis and the things that they were doing, Lt. Gen. Shiro Ishii led outrageous and most terrible human tests on things like frostbite, starvation, human vivisection, all sorts of sick and twisted stuff.  The reality is in many ways far more stunning and shocking than the contents of this film.

The film, which I believe was made with educational intentions, goes from potentially serious to absolutely hilariously grotesque in its exploitation-style special effects and overall sensibilities.  From a perspective of horrors and shock and grotesqueries, it’s far more comically gruesome than impactful like Come and See (1985), a Russian film about horrors of World War II that often makes many of the same lists of gruesome films.

I say that not to devalue it, but more to differentiate.  Come and See is tremendously powerful and upsetting.  Men Behind the Sun is not quite a laugh-riot, but far more so.  The realities that it attempts to depict are as horrific as you can imagine.  But the film is far enough detached from reality in its production, so it’s really almost fun.

Police Story 3: Super Cop (1992)

Super Cop (1992) movie poster

director Stanley Tong
viewed: 05/30/2014

It’s been a long time, Jackie Chan, since we’ve met in a movie.

There was a time, mainly the 1990’s, I guess, where Hong Kong film inspired and took over a lot of my time and attention, and of course, HK’s great Jackie Chan was the king of an era.  It was in the 1990’s that Chan’s push (along with a  lot of other HK talents) into Hollywood began in successful earnest.

It was the 1996 American release, redubbed (literally in two ways) Supercop, with the accompanying movie poster above.  At the time, Police Story 3: Super Cop was already several years old and had become considered one of Chan’s best movies.

I thought it would be worth giving it a spin with the kids.  Felix was familiar with Jackie Chan, though I’m not sure in what context exactly.  For all the movie-watching we’ve done, there has been virtually no “kung fu” or martial arts-oriented fare.  While Supercop isn’t a pure martial arts film, but one of big action, possibly with reasonable contemporary American analogues, it is first and foremost a Jackie Chan movie.

It’s funny and fast-paced, and ultimately the big scenes and big stunts are the ones that stand out.  Like Chan hanging from a rope ladder below a helicopter, flying over Kuala Lumpur.  Or Michelle Yeoh (the absolutely beautiful and amazing Michelle Yeoh) jumping a motorcycle onto a moving train.  And of course, the Chan name of the game is that the stunts are done by the real stars, especially Chan and Yeoh.  And the outtakes and bloopers at the end of the film, showing how real and dangerous, and funny the reality is behind the film and its big moments.

That said, this American dub, in which Chan did his own voice, is a bit of a muddle of a story and a lot less exciting in its downtime moments.  The kids enjoyed it okay.  Neither seemed overly taken with it, though they liked the big ending and the outtakes.

Me, I guess I was a little disappointed this time around.  I’d remembered enjoying it a lot back in the day, but it seems less a classic to me now.  Michelle Yeoh almost steals the show, she’s so good and so physical, matching Chan stunt for stunt.  She’s awesome.

But so it Jackie Chan.

The Mission

The Mission (1999) movie poster

(1999) director Johnnie To
viewed: 09/04/10

Johnnie To’s lean, fast-paced gangster film The Mission is definitely a fine example of the genre.  When a mob boss narrowly escapes an attempted execution, he hires an idiosyncratic but highly professional crew of bodyguards to make sure he doesn’t get killed and to track his assailants.  Great character performances abound in this taut Hong Kong action flick.

There was a time when I watched a lot of Hong Kong films, but now they’re less common in my viewing, vying for roster space with lots of other films.  Oddly enough, I think I’ve had The Mission in my queue for almost as many years as I’ve had a queue.   Back in 2002, I caught To’s Fulltime Killer (2001) at the San Francisco International Film Festival, and then some time after that, I read an article about a number of films that To had either produced or directed that were supposed to be great and queued a number of them.  At the time, though, the only one that I managed to watch was Patrick Yau’s The Odd One Dies (1997), which I did like a lot.

I’d always head that The Mission was pretty top notch, and it is.  With a running time below 90 minutes, the film gets going before the title sequence has even finished and before you even have a total grasp on the situation.  In that sense, maybe it’s a little too quick and concise.  It took me a while to feel confident that I knew what was going on.  But the film is shot with a simple elegance and the characters are all unique and well-done, that their personalities are well-sketched even in the few brief brushstrokes.

The film also features some cool, classic Hong Kong gangster set ups, guns pointed at one another in a complicated Mexican standoff.  But perhaps the film’s best sequence has the mafia boss protected by his five bodyguards in a mall, in which they all stand stock-still, waiting for the attackers to approach.  The camera works its way around the armed men, describing angles and vantage points, hidden killers lying in wait, and just plays out as a just really cool shoot-out.

The film is what it is, a genre film, with a relatively simple storyline, but it moves quickly and deftly.  It’s kind of shocking that this film wasn’t re-made in America yet, because you can totally imagine such a thing done (right or wrong).  My only real complaint was that the DVD was a poor one.  The picture wasn’t great, but worst of all, through several “chapters”, a ghost image of one of the introductory titles appeared in the middle of the image.  I assume this wasn’t an intentional “watermark” on the film but just some degraded aspect of the DVD.  This would be a cool movie to see on the big screen.

Ashes of Time Redux

Ashes of Time (1994) movie poster

(1994) dir. Wong Kar-Wai
viewed: 08/20/09

There was a time, not too long ago, that Wong Kar-Wai was one of my favorite living directors.  From Days of Being Wild (1990), Chungking Express (1994), Ashes of Time (pre-Redux) (1994), and Fallen Angels (1995), he managed, with some aesthetic direction from frequent collaborator, cinematographer Christopher Doyle, to create a strange mixture of urban loneliness and longing, amidst the glowing neon of nighttime, and a somewhat French New Wave influenced sense of abstraction while adhering to his stories.

And honestly, Ashes of Time was perhaps my personal favorite, though perhaps Days of Being Wild is now.  I liked the transposition of his characters and tonality into a period film, a sword-fighting film, which was something that I was also enjoying.  In many ways, it was quite anomalous in his films, as he is so urban.  But in other ways, it tied back, with assassins, lost loves, long stretches of yearning, and even centered around a restaurant of sorts.

The story with the “Redux” was that the original negative had been damaged or lost or something, and Wong Kaw-Wai had long wished to have either re-edited or represented his film.  So, this version, I think, is more than a tad modified, but is essentially the same film.  It had been so long, I couldn’t really say.

I had been drawn to the film with its themes of memory and forgetting and its stellar cast featuring both Tony Leungs, Jacky Cheung, Maggie Cheung, Brigitte Lin, and the late Leslie Cheung.  And the film is still a visual pleasure, mixing strange color tintings and interesting juxtapositions of close-ups and items like birdcages.  And the film does still evoke its mood, of people lost and mixed-up from their obligations and loves, strewn out across the world in a somewhat existential nowhere.

But it didn’t speak to me as strongly as it had in the past, and I don’t know if that is due to the new edit, or more likely just to my changing person.  It’s still an interesting film, still probably one of his most interesting.  Yet Wong Kar-Wai, perhaps, by not having really evolved deeply in the meantime, even his older, more thought-provoking work, seems a retread of itself.  A redux, if you will.