Kung Fu Hustle (2004) Martial Arts Comedy Feels Like a Musical

Kung Fu Hustle (2004) Martial Arts Comedy Feels Like a Musical Screen Shot 2015-07-01 at 19.18.56
Directed, co-written by and starring Stephen Chow, as a sort of follow up to his 2001 film Shaolin Soccer, Kung Fu Hustle follows a similar premise as the earlier film. In this marital arts comedy, which does feel like a musical in many parts, the idea is that kung fu masters can come in any guise and be found in the most unusual places.

This award winning film begins by showing the rise of the notorious Axe Gang and then moves to a suburb of Shanghai where the tiny township of Pig Sty is ruled with an iron fist by the landlord and his wife. Two con men who dream of joining the Axe Gang try to fool the locals into believing that they are gangsters from the notorious group.

After trying to force a barber into giving them free haircut as well as insisting that he pay them for protection, the hair cutter gets the landlady involved. She takes off a sandal and proceeds to beat Sing (Chow) pretty soundly. He warns her that he will call his brother Axe Gang members and throws a firecracker over a house.

The cracker hits a real Axe Gang member and Sing, after telling the leader that he is one of them, lets the gang take over. The landlady of Pig Sty departs rapidly and the head Axe man approaches the barber who says he is not afraid. As the gang head moves to kill the other man, something invisible hits him and he is knocked into a barrel. With his back broken he calls for backup.

The entire Axe Gang invade the town and three kung fu masters from the small township defeat the whole gang, the noodle cook, a shower curtain salesman and a handyman all save Pig Sty. The landlady tells them off and says the gang will not rest until they destroy the town and tells the three local heroes that they should leave. While she tells off the entire suburb, Sing and his friend Donut try to throw knives at her and they all end up sticking into Sing.

The two leave Pig Sty and Sing “heals” himself while the Axe Gang set out to destroy the small township. It is up to Sing, the landlord and the landlady to save the day and defeat the evil Axe Gang.

Kung Fu Hustle is easily one of the funniest martial arts films ever made. The action is on par with most Warner Bros Looney Tunes cartoons and is just as entertaining. From Sing ending up with three knives in his body, being bitten on the lips by two poisonous snakes and being chased for miles by the irate landlady to two supernatural assassins who use musical instruments to defeat their enemies, this film delights.

This movie is a homage to all martial arts film from China with many nods and winks to Bruce Lee, who helped to revolutionize the art of screen fighting in the cinema. The plot and story are wide ranging with many surprises along the way.

The film is on Netflix at the moment, but for those who despise subtitles, there are DVD copies of the film that have been dubbed. Kung Fu Hustle is a real 5 out of 5 stars for comedy and a record number of belly laughs, watch this one and prepare to be entertained. A cracking good film that does feel almost like a comedic martial arts musical.

Try it, you’ll like it.

R.I.P.D. (2013) Howard the Duck Dressed as Jonah Hex?

Film poster for RIPDThere are many reasons that R.I.P.D. (Rest in Peace Department), the Dark Horse limited edition comic-based film died a dismal death on screen and Jeff Bridges announced that the “suits” screwed the whole thing up after the movie got panned universally and was even compared at one point to Howard the Duck. Critic Roger Moore also blasted the film and called it the worst comic book adaptation since Jonah Hex.

Ouch.

A trifle unfair of Moore as at least R.I.P.D. did not have Megan Fox in it. Although the film is a stinker overall despite having a good cast to work with. Starring Jeff Bridges, Ryan Reynolds, Mary Louise Parker, Kevin Bacon and Stephanie Szostak the film should have entertained with so much talent shoved into one film.

Directed by Richard Schwentke (RED, Insurgent) the film confuses more than it entertains and spends far too much time on the James Hong, Marisa Miller gag which appears to be a lift from Dead Like Me where the returned deceased look different from when they were alive. Having said that, the joke could have been used to much better effect with a little more emphasis on the interaction of the two “avatars.”

The comic book, published by Dark Horse Comics; who published, amongst other cult favorites, Hellboy and Sin City, ran for four issues. Not unusual for the comic publisher who seems to specialize in “one-offs” and limited editions of comics. In the comic, the joke includes the fact that Nick Cruz and Roy’s big boss is indeed “God” and that there is a heaven and a hell. While the film skirts around this issue by referring to “judgement” and they mention hell, Nick’s old partner Bobby Hayes (Bacon) mentions that he refuses to go there, the big boss thing aka, God, is shuffled off to the side.

*To be fair, however, I have never read the comics and apart from the odd synopsis of the short-lived series, can only guess at the “God angle,” although it does seem that this was part and parcel of the wry tongue-in-cheek delivery of the comic.*

The plot of the film, which apparently does follow the comic’s main premise, has Nick Cruz being killed, although in the Dark Horse publication he does not know who killed him and in the film Nick knows his crooked partner did him in.

*A major complaint that I had with the film was the whole “shot in the face” schtick that is mentioned several times in the movie and the scene where Reynolds as Cruz is pumped full of lead, not one of the bullets hits him in the face. Was this considered too graphic or horrid for the film’s PG-13 rating or just on oversight?*

Watching the film one cannot help but have a sort of Deja Vu feeling. It is not too dissimilar to Last Action Hero; the Arnold Schwarzenegger hodgepodge where the comedy made no real sense, such as the inclusion of a cartoon cat as cop, and the producers used a “kitchen sink” approach to the comedic mix. R.I.P.D. feels much the same. The biggest difference between the two films is reception, Roger Ebert actually admitted to liking parts of the Schwarzenegger film.

It should be pointed out that Bridges got a chance to pay respect to his late father Lloyd Bridges with a visual lifted straight from Airplane!. Father Lloyd played a character named McCroskey in the 1980 film who had “picked the wrong time” to stop a number of things, including sniffing glue. At one point in the hysterically funny film, Bridges Senior has a close up of his wildly smiling face and his hair is standing straight up. The camera repositions and the audience can see that McCroskey is upside down. Jeff Bridges replicates that shot as his Sheriff Roy hangs upside down under a building overhang holding a rope attached to a “dead-o.” Complete with wild smile and long hair dangling Bridges does the shot, although without the camera repositioning.

R.I.P.D. iS just not as entertaining as it could have been. The lack of direction, the kitchen sink attitude towards its comedy and the missing coherency hurts the film overall. Bridges and Reynolds fail to mesh as the former seems to be channeling his Rooster Cogburn and the latter plays it all too serious. The two styles never quite fit together.

Watching the film, I kept wanting to see more of Miller and Hong in action and wondered how Mary Louise Parker could still look so young and attractive. This is a 2 out of 5 star film with little to recommend it except for the presence of the beautiful Parker and Szostak who each brighten up the film with their performances. The chaps in the movie are never really given a chance to shine.

Sorry fellas.

While the film is not really Howard the Duck dressed as Jonah Hex, it is a curious blend of both these misbegotten films where direction and focus were both lost by those making the film and the actors never stood a chance. Wait for this one to show up on telly.

10 June 2015

Michael Knox-Smith

Heir (2015): Disturbing Dark and Powerful

Poster for Heir
Written and directed by Richard Powell (Worm, Familiar, Consumption) the 2015 short film Heir from Fatal Pictures is a walk on the dark side of life. This disturbingly dark movie will have its world premiere at Montreal’s FanTasia International Film Festival this summer.

Robert Nolan plays Gordon, the father of Paul who harbors a dark secret side to himself known only to Denis played by Bill Oberst Jr. Nolan (Mourning has Broken, Worm, Familiar) is a Powell regular and worked in several of his films. The actor specializes in bringing a lot to any of the roles he plays. His characters have an impressive depth and he brings an air of believability to the table.

Bill Oberst Jr. (Scary or Die, Take This Lollipop) as Denis is disturbingly twisted and terrifying. Only Oberst can deliver a character that simultaneously comes across as perverse and knowingly evil with such conviction. From the moment we meet the man in a cafe, with the sign behind the counter advertising British meat pies, the viewer knows that this is not a nice chap at all.

The film begins with Gordon sitting in front of his computer. The room is dark and the screen lights up his face as he crops a picture of a boy and woman while flashing back to the day he took their picture. The man is setting up a “play date.” Glancing nervously and guiltily around the room he gets directions.

Still from Heir
Gordon and Paul meet Denis

The man at the other end of the computer conversation is Denis, an old “school” buddy of Gordon’s. This soon reveals itself to be a lie of convenience, when the man jokingly asks the father of Paul about what subjects they “shared.” At first glance it seems that the only thing these two share is a taste for perversion.

“It smells in here,” the boy says as the buzzing of a fly is heard in the background. We are as uneasy as the youngster and Denis begins to become aggressive in his desire. The conflict in Heir appears initially to be the contrast of both men. Gordon who has been, apparently, attempting to control his urges where Denis has allowed himself to go with his base desires and is rotting in his den of evil.

Cinematographer Michael Jari Davidson has the camera crisp and clear until he allows the shadows to fall across Gordon’s face at the appropriate moments. Lighting plays a clear role in the film and is used to emphasis the underlying moods of the players. Davidson continues to go above and beyond, just as he did in Mourning Has Broken.

Oberst Jr and Nolan deliver as different sides of the same coin. The two actors are excellent at what they do and their casting was spot on. Powell is an expert at showing the darker side of the world in unique and disturbing ways. There should be a few gongs for this film in Montreal and both Bill and Robert should walk away with some honors.

Still from Heir
Gordon and Denis

This is a brilliantly dark film with a disturbing feeling of depth and one which should prompt some heavy duty discussion after viewing. Prepare to be surprised, disturbed and entertained. Heir will have its world premiere at the Montreal FanTasia International Film Festival this summer.

27 May 2015

Michael Knox-Smith

Heir (2015): Disturbing Dark and Powerful [UPDATE]

Written and directed by Richard Powell (Worm, Familiar, Consumption) the 2015 short film Heir from Fatal Pictures is a walk on the dark side of life. T

Poster for Heir

[UPDATE]

Zach Green has informed Mike’s Film Talk that Heir has been nominated for Best Short Film at the 14th Annual Rondo Hatton Classic Horror Awards. For those who would like to vote for the film, click the link and read the instructions. Congratulations to Zach and his cast/crew for the nomination.

Written and directed by Richard Powell (Worm, Familiar, Consumption) the 2015 short film Heir from Fatal Pictures is a walk on the dark side of life. This disturbingly dark movie will have its world premiere at Montreal’s FanTasia International Film Festival this summer.

Robert Nolan plays Gordon, the father of Paul who harbors a dark secret side to himself known only to Denis played by Bill Oberst Jr. Nolan (Mourning has Broken, Worm, Familiar) is a Powell regular and worked in several of his films. The actor specializes in bringing a lot to any of the roles he plays. His characters have an impressive depth and he brings an air of believability to the table.

Bill Oberst Jr. (Scary or Die, Take This Lollipop) as Denis is disturbingly twisted and terrifying. Only Oberst can deliver a character that simultaneously comes across as perverse and knowingly evil with such conviction. From the moment we meet the man in a cafe, with the sign behind the counter advertising British meat pies, the viewer knows that this is not a nice chap at all.

The film begins with Gordon sitting in front of his computer. The room is dark and the screen lights up his face as he crops a picture of a boy and woman while flashing back to the day he took their picture. The man is setting up a “play date.” Glancing nervously and guiltily around the room he gets directions.

Still from Heir
Gordon and Paul meet Denis

The man at the other end of the computer conversation is Denis, an old “school” buddy of Gordon’s. This soon reveals itself to be a lie of convenience, when the man jokingly asks the father of Paul about what subjects they “shared.” At first glance it seems that the only thing these two share is a taste for perversion.

“It smells in here,” the boy says as the buzzing of a fly is heard in the background. We are as uneasy as the youngster and Denis begins to become aggressive in his desire. The conflict in Heir appears initially to be the contrast of both men. Gordon who has been, apparently, attempting to control his urges where Denis has allowed himself to go with his base desires and is rotting in his den of evil.

Cinematographer Michael Jari Davidson has the camera crisp and clear until he allows the shadows to fall across Gordon’s face at the appropriate moments. Lighting plays a clear role in the film and is used to emphasis the underlying moods of the players. Davidson continues to go above and beyond, just as he did in Mourning Has Broken.

Oberst Jr and Nolan deliver as different sides of the same coin. The two actors are excellent at what they do and their casting was spot on. Powell is an expert at showing the darker side of the world in unique and disturbing ways. There should be a few gongs for this film in Montreal and both Bill and Robert should walk away with some honors.

Still from Heir
Gordon and Denis

This is a brilliantly dark film with a disturbing feeling of depth and one which should prompt some heavy duty discussion after viewing. Prepare to be surprised, disturbed and entertained. Heir will have its world premiere at the Montreal FanTasia International Film Festival this summer.

27 May 2015

Michael Knox-Smith

A Blood Pledge (2008) Whispering Corridors 5 Review

The last in a series about South Korean all-girl schools, A Blood Pledge also known as Whispering Corridors 5, is the only one set obviously in a Catholic School. It is interesting to note that each film in the series, which are all considered part of the franchise, has a different director and writer.

All have similar themes, an emphasis on friendship and betrayal of same, fierce competition for grades/scores in class, which in turn leads to even more competition to get into a good university.

Girl crushes, teen pregnancy, Korean teenage girls portrayed as bitchy, bullying and overly obsessed with money and class, dysfunctional family units, and betrayal all are part of the franchise formula along with curses, urban myths and of course supernatural occurrences.

The first three films in the series are really the best. In my honest opinion, as the “sequels” continued they borrowed freely from whatever new trends in Asian horror were prevalent at the time of filming or when writing screenplays.

A Blood Pledge is directed by Jong Yong-Lee, who was actually a co-writer on the superior 2002 film Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, Yong-Lee also wrote the screenplay for A Blood Pledge and the film marks his second time in the director’s chair, his second credit for writing and first feature length film.

Now, despite what IMDb maintains the storyline is; it is not about FOUR friends who make a suicide pact. There are only three who decide to swear an oath that they will die before their time. The mistake seems to have been brought about because a fourth joins the group later, after the blood oath, or pledge, and she is the only one who perishes.

Leader of an elite trio of friends, Eugene, or Eun-Jo, is a manipulative little schemer who does not like losing at anything. As she has been knocked off her spot as student with the highest grade average, mainly because of her “out of school” romance with the rich love rat Ki-ho, she comes up with a plan to knock current leader Yoo-Jin out of the top spot. Her grades have slipped so much that she is no longer in the list of top ten best students.

Eugene kicks an old established member out of her group and woos Yoo-Jin’s best mate Soy into her little trio, with the idea that the former straight A student will become so upset that her grades will drop. The plan backfires when Ki-ho goes after the new girl and in the process, dumps Eugene and impregnates Soy.

Oops!

She then plans to kill Soy, win back Ki-ho and resume her place as top straight A student. Unfortunately everything goes wrong when Yoo-Jin goes over the side of a school building instead of Soy and dies. The dead girl soon begins appearing and her younger sister keeps approaching Soy for answers.

The school, broken into various cliques and class loyalties, is a hotbed of rumors, theories, backbiting and mudslinging between the different factions.

A Blood Pledge is entertaining. Sadly, though, it is not a fitting end to the brilliant trilogy that started the whole thing off. While it does not borrow quite so heavily from the franchise as Voice did for example, the film feels like a poor relative to the series and seems as though it was meant to be a “made for TV” version of the franchise.

It is confusing and hard to follow at times, mainly because of flashbacks and the fact that Eugene, Eun-Jo and Soy resemble each other so much. It would have helped if the director had at least changed their hairstyles a bit. At times other events transpire that never have a real explanation of why or what exactly had been done. The locker scene in particular, you’ll know what I mean when you see it.

Another example is the “evil mother of the rich love rat” car scene. Good stuff, but it did not really fit the motif here…

I would recommend watching A Blood Pledge, and Voice actually, just so you can finish the franchise off. Then sit down and watch the first three and enjoy the best the series has to offer.

That’s it from me this week so until next time, keep watching the movies and have fun!

Here is the video from my YouTube channel where I talk about the film. Enjoy:

22 May 2015

Michael Knox-Smith