No Blood No Tears: Teaching Guy Ritchie a Thing or Two.

No Blood No Tears (Pido nunmuldo eobshi) is co-written and directed by Seung-wan Ryoo. The same director who brought us the brilliant films Arahan and Crying Fist. Ryoo has directed ten films so far and judging from his work on the three films I’ve mentioned, I am desperate to see more of his films.

The plot of No Blood No Tears revolves around two female characters.  Su-ji played by Do-yeon Jeon who is a “wanna be” popstar whose boyfriend is a homicidal monster and Kyeong-seon played by Hye-yeong Lee  is the reluctant, “hard as nails” female gangster whose dead husband’s gambling debts have forced her to take on ‘real’ work as a cab driver. Kyeong-seon is also trying to go straight, when she was younger she was a safe-cracker and has no wish to go back to prison. The two females literally bump into each other at the beginning of the film with Su-ji driving straight into the side of Kyeong-seon’s cab.  The two women have nothing in common and due to the strained circumstances of their meeting, don’t look like they will bond at all. But fate is a funny thing and it turns out that they both need money. Lots of money.

Su-ji needs the cash to get away from her cruel boyfriend and to get the plastic surgery she needs to pursue her career. Kyeong-seon needs the money to pay off the loan shark her dead husband owes money to. Since neither woman can achieve what they need alone, Su-ji suggests they team up to steal what they need from her boyfriends club.

Su-ji’s ‘terminator’ style boyfriend’s club  specializes in illegal dog-fights. The club is making money hand over fist. The two girls work on a plan that will allow them to enter the club unnoticed, switch the duffle bag that is used to transport the nights takings to the mob with a bag filled with newspaper. The plan looks like a ‘shoe-in’ except for one  problem the two girls are not the only folks who have decided to help themselves to some of the clubs money. Two other groups  have also picked the same night as Su-ji and Kyeong-seon.

This film is a very above average heist film. The pacing is taut and the action is ferocious. The film also has it’s fair share of funny moments as well.  The director has used  his “regular”- Seung-beom Ryu – Arahan and Crying Fist, again for his first class comic acting that we’ve seen in Arahan. Goo Shin plays KGB, the scary, cruel, and seemingly indestructible boyfriend of Ju-ji.

The divergent groups clash, intertwine and double cross each other. It can get a little confusing if you haven’t been paying attention. During the middle of the film it becomes a case of ‘Bag, Bag, who’s got the Bag?’ With the amount of times that the cash filled duffle bag changes hands, you can get lost in the shuffle. There is a lot of brilliant wire work, and the fights scenes have been choreographed brilliantly. The cinematography is spot-on, with a sharp ‘drabness’ that shows what kind of world these people inhabit.

I enjoyed this film very much, so much so, that after I’d finished watching it I immediately started looking to see if there had been a sequel. Everyone in the film gave an outstanding performance. If you want to see what films like Snatch and Lock, Stock and Smoking Barrel  could have been, watch this film. Don’t get me wrong, I adore LSSB…a lot. But After watching this film I realized it could have been even better.

Mum and Dad: Keeping Horror in the Family

Shot with an estimated budget of just £100,000 ($157,000) this film sets the goal posts for “shoe string budget” films.  First time director Steven Sheil also wrote the film, putting him in the illustrious company of peers like Shane Meadows (Dead Man’s Shoes and This is England) and James Watkins (Eden Lake). This small elite group of British film makers have made brilliant and successful   films that they wrote and directed for  ridiculously tiny amounts of money.
The horror film Mum and Dad shows us first hand what happens when we talk to strangers or trust them. It also proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that you really don’t know the people you work with.
The films starts out in Heathrow Airport where cleaner Lena (played by Holby City Alumnus Olga Fedori)  gets to know her fellow workers, brother and sister team, Birdie and Elbie (Ainsley Howard and Toby Alexander). Birdie takes a shine to Lena and tells her about her wonderful parents. Lena explains that she doesn’t get along with her parents and wants to move away from home. At the end of their shift, Lena misses her bus home, and Birdie invites Lena to stay at her house which is near the end of a runway. Lena agrees and follows Birdie and Elbie to a gap in the runway security fence. Clamouring through the gap, they all proceed to the house.
After arriving in Birdie and Elbie’s home, the brother and sister disappear leaving Lena alone. She just starts to explore the house when she meets Dad (played brilliantly by actor Perry Benson) who knocks her out and injects her with something. Lena regains conciousness only to find that she is in a dark room. All she can hear are the tortured screams of someone in the house. Dad then enters the room with Mum (played with sinister madness by Dido Miles). Mum tells  Lena that she will belong to her and she injects Lena again.
The  film deals with a host of indignities inflicted upon Lena. Watching the film, I kept wondering who was going to rape Lena first, Mum or Dad. The entire household appear to be insane sexual deviants who rely on stolen items from the airport to help them get by. It also turns out that Birdie and Elbie are “adopted” just as Lena will be. The only real child that Mum and Dad have is a daughter who is chained to her bed in an attic room.  The daughter suffered severe brain damage after being born with the umbilical cord wrapped around her neck. Dad explains, quite gleefully, that as she was a home delivery he had to cut the cord with his teeth.
Lena soon realises that if she does not escape, she will become the mad couples new “daughter.”   Mum and Dad  explain that other “children” who could not  behave were disposed of.  Since their definition of behaving includes being tortured and sexually molested, Lena  starts playing Mum, Dad, Birdie and Elbie against one another with the hope of getting away.
Steven Sheil  based his film on real life rapists and serial killers Fred and Rosemary West whose victims included their own flesh and blood daughter. The film could have been very grim viewing but the director has taken a lot of the sting out of the tale by injecting large doses of black humour. I found myself cringing one moment and laughing the next. The film  deals  with taboo issues such as cannibalism, sexual fetishes, and incest on top of the main topics of kidnapping, murder and theft.
The title of this review could very easily have been Mum and Dad: Horror on a Budget. The director and the cast and crew have proven you don’t need big Hollywood type funds to make an entertaining film.  Writer/director Steven Sheil has produced a film that has been hailed as one of the most disturbing Brit-Horror films to emerge  in recent years. Do not watch this film if you are at all squeamish, but if you can stand a lot of gore, this is a must-see.
Personally, I cannot wait to see what Steven Sheil has in store for us in his next feature.

Long Weekend: Horror in the Outback

Directed by  Colin Eggleston (b:1941 – d:2002) Long Weekend is a piece of low budget genius.  This was only the second feature film helmed by Eggleston and despite the fact that the film bombed in Australia, it went on to win five awards. Part of the reason the film did so badly was probably down to the public placing it in the category of “Ozploitation.”

 John Hargreaves and Briony Behets play Peter and Marcia a young urban couple who are going on holiday. We notice very quickly that Peter and Marcia are a “chalk and cheese” couple. Peter has decided that they are going to ‘rough it’ on a beach in the outback. Marcia has her heart set on staying in a nice hotel somewhere. Somewhat begrudgingly Marcia agrees to try the camping trip idea, but with the proviso that if she really doesn’t like it they can spend the rest of the holiday in a hotel.

From the minute they get into their Jeep and start driving, we the audience can feel the tension between the couple. This tension fluctuates through most of the film and even before Peter runs over a ‘Joey’ leaving it to die in the road, we get a sense of foreboding. A feeling that this trip is not really a good idea.

Long Weekend is mostly a “fish-out-of-water” film. Peter and Marcia do not belong in the countryside.  City dwellers first and foremost they really have no idea what they should be doing once they reach their ‘supposed’ destination.  On their way to the beach they get lost, mainly because the locals at the petrol station do not go out of their way to give them directions, but also because they are careless.

Both Peter and Marcia have a complete disregard about the wildlife they encounter and it’s  natural habitat. John Hargreaves as Peter shows us a man who is basically selfish and immature. He thinks nothing of killing the local flora and fauna or leaving his litter scattered about the previously pristine area.

Brioney Behets (who was married to the director at the time) gives Marcia an edge, a feeling of loss and the willingness to bridge the distance between her and Peter. Initially we sympathize Marcia but unfortunately she suffers from the same problems as Peter, selfishness and immaturity. She also has little respect or knowledge of how the countryside works. They are both completely out of their comfort zone and it shows. But only Marcia is smart enough to vocalise her fear and distaste of the great outdoors.

The only time in the film the two characters unite is in their mutual fear of a huge black shape in the water. Marcia hears a downright scary cry or call from an unknown animal. She goes down to the beach to tell Peter and she sees the black shape moving towards him. Marcia begins screaming hysterically for Peter to get out of the water. Peter, in true urban fashion, shoots the black shape repeatedly.

I can honestly say that when I first watched this film, it made me so uneasy that even I did not want to venture into the great outdoors and I grew up there. The sense of foreboding that we feel at the beginning of the film hits fever pitch after the couple arrive at their destination.  When nature begins to exact a toll from the couple for their criminal behaviour, fever pitch rises to a frenzy.

Long Weekend was remade in 2008 and it is almost a complete frame for frame re-imaging, of the original, but the remake, believe it or not, cranks up the action considerably. It is one of the few remakes that I enjoyed as much as the original.

But I leave you with one request, if at all possible, watch the original first.

Arahan – Kung Fu Comedy

ARAHAN  directed and written by Seung-wan Ryoo (he also wrote and directed No Blood No Tears and Crying Fist among others) is a fantastic romp through modern South Korea.

Seung-beom Ryu plays bumbling cop Sang-hwan, he is a sincere but inept character at the beginning of the film. While chasing a thief, he gets hit by a “palm-blast” directed by a young lady who is trying to help him. This event has a two-fold effect. Sang-hawn is instantly memorized by the beauty of this young lady and he is injured by the power of her palm-blast.   The girl takes Sang-hawn to her father, a martial arts instructor, for treatment. After regaining his senses Sang-hwan finds out the girl is Wi-jin and she is learning how to be a martial arts master.

Sang-hwan is so taken by Wi-jin’s beauty that he completely misses what her father is saying. He has discovered while treating Sang-hwan that his “chi” is very powerful and that he has the potential to become a martial arts master as well.  Wi-jin’s father insists that Sang-hawn start learning the skills that will make him a master. Excited at the prospect of learning the powerful palm-blast and getting to train with Wi-jin, he accepts.

Sang-hawn and Wi-jin are taught by five martial arts experts. Their main goal is to help Wi-jin and Sang-hwan round up their numbers to defeat an evil sixth martial arts expert who is determined to destroy the world.

Seung-beom Ryu is an extremely talented actor. In Arahan he shows a great flair for comedy and physical action. I have always thought of him as the South Korean Jerry Lewis. Early in the film his character is subjected to complete humiliation by a gang of crooks. Later in the film, he gets revenge with some very unwelcome help by Wi-jin. While he is training Ryu shows the gradual growth of his character not only in his martial arts skills but in his personal growth as well.

This film is a brilliant blend of comedy and action. There is a scene towards the beginning of the film where Wi-jin is explaining to Sang-hwan that everyone has ‘chi’ and they use it everyday. This sequence alone is worth the price of admission (or the price of renting the DVD). A rapid montage of people doing seemingly impossible tasks shows just how these ‘normal’ people use their ‘chi’ to their benefit.

While Sang-hwan and Wi-jin train, the evil master is busy trying to take revenge on his former colleagues, the five masters who are now training the young couple.  The five masters are played by actors well known for their past performances as martial arts experts in South Korean Cinema. Director Ryoo planned this film as a homage to the popular South Korean films of the seventies and eighties.

So-yi Yoon plays Wi-jin. This was her first foray into feature films and her performance was impressive. She performed all her own stunts and I found her completely believable as the girl who must follow her destiny to become a master martial artist.

The overall story arc was easy to follow and incredibly funny. The only time the film gets “serious” is when the final battle between the evil master and the young couple takes place. This was my first introduction to South Korean comedy action films and I immediately fell in love with all the characters and what they were doing. I also fell in love with the genre.

Take a moment to watch this wonderful film and you won’t regret it. Pop some corn, and settle back to watch one of the best exports to come out of South Korean cinema.

Tower Heist…Ocean’s Five?

As I am a huge Ben Stiller fan I was really looking forward to his latest effort, Tower Heist. I will say up front I liked the film. I could have loved it, but the ending let it down a bit. Stiller who is the son of the comedy duo Stiller and Meara has never failed to deliver in the comedy field. Must be something in his genes.
Now unlike  Tropic Thunder and Zoolander, Stiller is not at the helm of this film. I can’t help but feel that if he had written and directed Tower Heist it would have been great instead of just good.One of the things that let this film down was the way the studios marketed it. The teasers and trailers that hyped the film made it seen like an outright comedy. This was not the case.
Cover of "Tropic Thunder (Unrated Directo...
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The film was a “genre bender” as my daughter likes to put it. It fell more into the range of a funny Action/Caper film.  It was not an outright comedy.  I know this because when I watch a comedy, I usually have to watch it at least twice.  Because if it is a good comedy I have laughed so much while watching it I have missed huge chunks of dialogue. I did not have that problem with Tower Heist.

English: Ben Stiller at the 2010 Toronto Inter...

The cast list is impressive. Ben Stiller, Eddie Murphy, Alan Alda, Casey Affleck, Matthew Broderick, Tea Leoni, and Judd Hirsh. It seems like ensemble films are all the rage at the moment. All the actors acquitted themselves wonderfully with their respective performances. Ms Leoni in particular showed a flair for comedy that was surprising.

English: Eddie Murphy at Tribeca Film Festival...

The plot revolves around an exclusive apartment building that appears to be a thinly veiled version of Trump Tower. The folks who live in this building are near the top of the Forbes list. Stiller plays Josh Kovacs the manager of the apartment building. Casey Affleck plays Kovacs’s brother-in-law Charlie the bumbling concierge. Matthew Broderick is the hapless Mr Fitzhugh who has lost everything and is being evicted from his apartment.

English: Alan Alda (born January 28, 1936) is ...

Alan Alda portrays shyster Arthur Shaw  with his usual sense of style. Shaw is a financial investment  whiz who has a close relationship with Kovacs. Kovacs asks Shaw to invest the apartment buildings staff retirement fund for them with the hopes of improving their pensions. Enter Tea Leoni as Special Agent Claire Denham who arrests Shaw for fraud. It seems that Shaw is only a whiz at taking people’s money and investing it into his own pocket. Kovacs then decides that the money must be in Shaw’s apartment and that he needs to get it back.

Kovacs then coerces his brother-in-law, Mr Fitzhugh, new employee Enrique Dev’Reaux (played by Michael Peña) and his criminal neighbour and one-time school mate Eddie Murphy into entering Shaw’s apartment and retrieving the stolen pension fund.

The film is clever and it did make me laugh in all the right places. The misguided marketing campaign used by the studios though did not do the film any favours. As I mentioned before this is not an outright comedy film. It was an Action/Caper  film with a lot of laughs in it. It was a definite winner and a film I enjoyed watching.

So if you watch the film think  ’Ocean’s Five’  and you will most likely not be disappointed.