A neorealist tale that just happens to have a tightly coiled Bruce Lee awaiting to strike down the sickness of the oppressive drug smuggling capitalist exploiting migrants and their labor 🤣. How this film uses Bruce Lee's magnetic persona, slowly building up the viewer's anticipation as they await for this quiet viper to strike, well, it serves the film extremely well. Tension and release, whether sexual tension or not-by-choice pacifism, it's this suppressed energy that is eventually released to conduct a morally righteous endeavor that reveals Bruce Lee to be a walking weapon of mass destruction. He is mythic, the men need him and the women desire him. Narcissistic? Probably, yet one could argue that is half of what an effective celebrity persona entails and Lee personifies this in The Big Boss. The way this film unfurls in retrospect feels prescient in the recognition of what Lee is and would become. Maybe I've been watching too many films from some of the all-time greats of fight choreography as of late but I found the fight sequences in this to be merely serviceable. They are at their best when exploiting Lee's natural ability, but I don't think they stand out above average martial arts choreography. Is that sacrilege? I have no idea.
Another delightful film from Akiko Ohku in which her directorial prowess is perhaps most pertinent among the films of hers I've had the pleasure of seeing so far. Fantastic Girls is a little different in the fact that this story isn't centered so much around a sole subject's search for truth, connection, and meaning in modernity. It concerns itself with the relationship between two young women, the balance of their relationship, and the vestiges of adolescence that linger into the present. It's as charming and playful as I've come to expect from Ohku's films yet like much of her films it uses this welcoming veneer to ultimately excavate some hearty existential questions about life. Fantastic Girls is a film that conceptually speaking may even sound generic or too familiar for those uninitiated with the world of Ohku but her ability to find such moments of wonder in such stories always strikes me, exhibiting the nature of living with such a magical aesthetic tableau that reaches towards a form of ethereality while never diluting or devaluing the cutting nature of the underlying emotions she wishes to investigate. Interweaving the past and present seamlessly, Fantastic Girls is ultimately a wonderfully rendered story of female friendship, the nature of being, and the need for reflection. In the end, I think the throughline of Ohku's work is our social natures, and how we as humans need connection. There are moments of tragedy, heartbreak, regret, and pain - this is a certainty in life - yet the way Okhu embeds these stories with such an understated optimism about the beauty that is life is really special, these trials and tribulations define us and make life worth living.
Imagine going into this film blind with no reference point beyond this sharing the same director as Soul Kitchen. That person in this hypothetical scenario would be in for one hell of a surprise. I love how ugly and grotesque the film is. It's not great by any means but it knows what it is depicting and just openly embraces all of its nastiest proclivities for ugliness both materially and metaphysically. I don't see this film as having any real layers or subtext, it just places everything in plain sight. Subtlety and psychoanalysis are not the intent here. There is no search for understanding only exhibition, and one needs to look no further than how the main character is portrayed. He is a serial killer resembling a creature more than a man. Physically deformed and mentally rancid, he is emblematic in a figurative sense of the ugliness of such heinous violence. A repulsive, vile film with intent, Akin doesn't want to analyze such depravity and brutality nor prescribe any type of solution or understanding, he simply wants to show it for what it is beyond the need to moralize. I, for one, respect that, despite it not quite managing to be among the very best films of its ilk - Angst, Henry: Portrait of a serial killer, etc.
Umetsugu Inoue's The Brain-Stealers is a pulpy Shaw Brothers' spy flick that is a campy, colorful cinematic treat. Inoue's workmanlike direction in Hong Kong is admittedly a step-down from the promise of his exceptional early work in Japan but the Brain Stealers exhibits his penchant for sculpting a vibrant aesthetic with a keen eye towards expressivity, composition, and texture. His ingenuity as a filmmaker is very transparent throughout a 60's pop spy thriller like this, and in moments it's truly a sight to behold. Featuring a familiar conception for many of these spy thrillers of the 1960s - a scientific breakthrough, the global powers that wish to control it, and the agents they deploy in order to secure it for their own interests - The Brain Stealers is heavy on the type of heightened shenanigans one hopes for including Body-swap antics, an underground lair, continuously shifting allegiances, absurd narrative twists, and wonderful gadgetry. Lily Ho as the ass-kicking female protagonist and daughter to the scientist who everyone is after is wonderful here, encapsulating the grace and beauty orthodoxy expects out of the femininity while simultaneously subverting those expectations with the precise physicality and power she brings to the action choreography. I'm basically a sucker for any of these 60's pop aesthetic spy thrillers and this is a fun one!
Existential longing, loneliness, and the pursuit of something real, something reciprocal, to provide comfort when confronted with our mortality and insignificance 🤝 Being a fan of New York Jets. In all seriousness, a wonderful film that is never sentimental or saccharine. It is deeply honest about what it means to live and love while deploying a formal style that beautifully elucidates the search for connection in an increasingly artificial world. It's lazy to merely view technology as solely an increasingly alienating apparatus, and Haru is one of those films that truly gets this right, striking the right balance. The internet is a tool to be utilized, it may rearrange and reconfigure some aspects of social life by reinforcing our insecurities or worst impulses, but ultimately it also creates new pathways to navigate as we as social creatures search eternally for connection and reassurance. Need to dive into Yoshimitsu Morita's oeuvre, this was my first, but it surely won't be my last.
Obscene Entitlement and insatiable Pride vs. Abject Moral Depravity, how you wrestle inside me. Everyone in this movie kind of sucks huh? This isn't a critique but more an observation, as I found myself contemplating whether or not this film intentionally skewers the social order in which masculine pride/entitlement, and the perpetual nature of violence it fosters, are inevitable when value is ascribed to conquest, personal attainment, and status - a harmonious state of living cannot exist and moral depravity is inevitable. I'm not sure that's entirely accurate but it is an interesting reading of the film so I'm rolling with it. I mean, it's a movie about a guy who makes Lanterns out of human flesh so maybe I should calm down, I don't know.. Anyway, Human Lanterns is a visual feast, featuring a panoply of stunning imagery. The use of use of color, lighting and composition is striking throughout compared to other films of its ilk, yet I'd be lying if I didn't admit that I struggled to connect with this one as much as some other wuxia films influenced heavily by the horror genre. I did love the baddie's whole little get-up - this would be a bomb Halloween costume!
I truly appreciate Lino's penchant for beating the living hell out of a full squad of police officers. A strong sequel that is more an extension of the first film than a newly developed story. This, of course, has many benefits when you are talking about Action cinema. Lost Bullet 2 doesn't get bogged down in details, it has little ground to cover in terms of dramatic stakes or character development and because of this, it delivers a non-stop display of propulsive action spectacle full of bone-crunching fisticuffs, wonderful vehicular violence, and impressive stunt work. Both films will certainly have their champions, it's a matter of preference, and while I think it's arguably hard to even draw comparisons when this film is such a tactical continuation of the first film, I slightly prefer this sequel purely due the fact that it ups the ante, delivering streamlined kineticism and a ton of wow-inducing practical carnage. That electric front bumper hitch thingamajig had me hooting n' hollering. Easily one of the best action films of the year. Once again, bring on the sequel.
Love of all things cinema brought me here.