A Thousand Year Old Fox (1969)

thousandyearsfox_2A Thousand Year Old Fox [천년호] (1969)
AKA Thousand Years Old Fox

Starring Shin Young-Kyun, Kim Ji-Su, Kim Hye-Jeong, Kim Nan-Yeong, Kang Kye-Shik, Lee Ki-Young

Directed by Shin Sang-Ok

Expectations: Pretty high.

threestar


The Korean Film Archive calls A Thousand Year Old Fox, “The pinnacle of 1960s cinematic horror, which successfully experiments with the ingenious combination of fantasy, action, and melodrama.” I don’t have any real knowledge of the late ’60s in South Korea, so I can’t comment on the film being at the pinnacle of the country’s horror genre, but I can say that the rest of the description is apt. But it’s probably fair to assume that this was an impressive film in its day, because on the strength of this film — and presumably director Shin Sang-Ok’s reputation as “one of the greatest Korean producer-directors of his era” — A Thousand Year Old Fox was picked up for Hong Kong distribution by the Shaw Brothers, and Shin was contracted to make a few films directly for the studio. A Thousand Year Old Fox wasn’t released in Hong Kong until 1971, but it failed to catch on there, making just shy of HK$300,000 in a year where the number one film, The Big Boss, made over HK$3 million.

A Thousand Year-Old Fox tells a love-triangle story about General Kim (Shin Young-Kyun), who has just returned to his country after two years of defending the borders from bandits, Queen Jinseong (Kim Hye-Jeong), who only has eyes for the general, and the general’s loving wife, Yeo-hwa (Kim Ji-Su), who is eagerly awaiting her husband’s return. The queen seduces the general, keeping him at the palace and delaying his reunion with his wife and child. Meanwhile, the queen sends her guards to banish Yeo-hwa from the kingdom, and while traveling a group of bandits ambush Yeo-hwa’s party. The bandits stomp Yeo-hwa’s infant to death, but she uses this moment to make her escape. She runs as fast as she can through the forest and the fields, only to fall into a small lake and drown before the bandits catch up to her. But this is no ordinary body of water, it’s one inhabited by a bodyless fox spirit. The fox draws strength from Yeo-hwa’s heightened emotions and strong desire for revenge and is able to inhabit her body. And you thought it was a complicated situation when it was just a simple three-human love triangle!

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Stephen reviews: Appleseed α (2014)

appleseedalpha_1Appleseed α [アップルシード アルファ] (2014)
AKA Appleseed Alpha

Starring Luci Christian, David Matranga, Wendel Calvert, Chris Hutchinson, Adam Gibbs, Brina Palencia, Elizabeth Bunch, Joshua Sheltz

Directed by Shinji Aramaki


Welcome to the last, or at least most recent, Appleseed film. I’m glad to finally be here because that means I don’t have to keep watching this stuff any more. I’ve gotten more than my fill of Appleseed this past month. I held out a bit of hope that this new one would be an improvement, but that was a false hope. Appleseed α is pretty much the same as the others. Except for that whole part about not having the Japanese audio. Yeah, that was a rather unpleasant surprise.

I poked about for an explanation, and the best I could come up with is the same explanation Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust had, that the Japanese audio wasn’t finished yet, and may still be in production as far as I know. I didn’t look very hard, though. Unlike Bloodlust, Appleseed α isn’t all that great of a film. Bloodlust‘s crappy dub was a tragedy, but Appleseed? Eh, who cares? It’s not worth getting bothered over. The good thing is that, also unlike Bloodlust, the actors in Appleseed were actually trying to act. I grew up with anime in the 1990s, and I will never ever get over the initial fear when watching an English dub that it’ll sound like shit. I know the industry standard has improved since then, but at this point it’s a knee-jerk reaction that I’m never going to grow out of.

Continue reading Stephen reviews: Appleseed α (2014) →

Shaw Brothers Movies on iTunes!

shaw_itunes

If you didn’t already know, Celestial has made many Shaw Brothers films available via iTunes! They’re beautiful HD-quality videos, and in many instances the film comes with both subtitled and dubbed versions. Certain movies — such as one of my favorites Vengeance! — even make their North American debut (unless Vengeance! had some VHS release I’m not aware of). In any case, if you’re a Shaw Brothers fan this is a fantastic way to build up your collection with many films not available on Region 1 DVD. The films are also available on other International iTunes stores, but since I’m in the US I don’t know a lot about that. What I’m trying to say is that if you’re in another country, you should definitely give your local iTunes a search.

But if you’ve used iTunes before, then you know that the search function is far from perfect. Films are indexed by title alone, so manually searching for all the Shaw Brothers movies can be a real chore. That’s where I come in, providing a list of all the films currently available, as well as direct links to them on iTunes! As new films are added to the service I’ll post updates, too!

Rentals will set you back $2.99 SD or $3.99 HD per film, while purchasing runs $4.99 SD or $7.99 HD. There have also been sales in the past (such as a $0.99 rental of 36th Chamber of Shaolin), so if you’re an interested fan, you would probably benefit from liking Celestial’s Shaw Brothers Facebook page so you don’t miss the deals! I’m not getting paid for this either, I’m just a big fan hoping to steer more people towards these wonderful films.

Currently up for both rental and sale (in SD or HD):
(Click the film title to see the film in iTunes!)

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Book Review: Electric Shadows: the Secret History of Kung Fu Movies (2013)

IMG_0017Electric Shadows: the Secret History of Kung Fu Movies, Vol. 1 (2013)
by Jean Lukitsh

Published as an E-Book on August 15, 2013

fourstar


I consider myself fairly knowledgeable about martial arts films, but prior to reading Jean Lukitsh’s Electric Shadows: the Secret History of Kung Fu Movies Vol. 1, I knew absolutely nothing about the birth of Chinese cinema or how deeply embedded the martial arts genre has always been within it. There was always a part of me that imagined the early days of Chinese film were lost to the sands of time; China is not known for their film preservation, and few films from before the 1940s or ’50s seem to be available to someone as far removed from China as I am. So I was surprised and fascinated to find that this book not only contained stories from the silent era, but also included a few links to clips of some surviving films, including this rather impressive fight scene from the 1927 film Romance of the Western Chamber (which, oddly enough, is available on DVD from Netflix or Amazon in its entirety)!

Names like Ren Pengnian or Zhang Shichuan previously meant nothing to me, but the book has enlightened me to their contributions to the formation of martial arts as a genre, and to Chinese cinema overall. Some of the most interesting passages in the book even connect some of the pioneers of Chinese cinema with later greats like Sammo Hung or others. Sammo Hung is well-known as one of the multi-talented filmmakers responsible for the dominant rise of the kung fu film through the ’60s, ’70s & ’80s, but to find out that his grandmother, Chin Tsi-ang (later known as Mama Hung), was one of the genre’s first female stars was mind-blowing. I later looked into her career in more depth and found out that she continued working throughout her life, appearing in tons of classic Shaw and Golden Harvest films as an extra, and one of her final performances can be seen in Wong Kar-Wai’s In the Mood for Love.

Perhaps the biggest surprise to me was that the martial arts genre began in the silent era. I was under the impression that there were some kung fu and wuxia films sprinkled throughout Chinese film history, but that it wasn’t a fully fledged genre until the mid-’60s when the Shaws kicked off their color productions. In fact, the Shaw Brothers were merely revitalizing an already well-established genre. This becomes plainly apparent in their selection of Temple of the Red Lotus as their first color martial arts film, as it is a remake of the first martial arts smash hit, The Burning of Red Lotus Temple (1928, directed by Zhang Shichuan).

But I don’t want to go into too many specifics and ruin the book’s impact. Fans of classic martial arts films will learn much about their beloved genre in a very quick and easy read. It’s a pretty short book, too, but the amount of information and history packed into it will astound you. I’m definitely going to read it again to help absorb some of the intricacy of the who’s who aspect to the history, and I wouldn’t be surprised if other fans felt the need to do the same.

And the best part is that it’s a steal at only $2.99! If only film school was so affordable. The end of the book teases four future volumes, and since it’s already been over a year since this volume was released, hopefully Vol. 2 isn’t too far off.

Stephen reviews: Appleseed: Ex Machina (2007)

tk73wZ7JF3GlIDYnhkbT9lxDJFKAppleseed: Ex Machina [エクスマキナ] (2007)
AKA Appleseed Saga: Ex Machina

Starring Ai Kobayashi, Kouichi Yamadera, Gara Takashima, Miyuki Sawashiro, Naoko Kouda, Rei Igarashi, Takaya Hashi, Yuuji Kishi

Directed by Shinji Aramaki


I suppose Appleseed: Ex Machina is a sequel to the 2004 film, but there isn’t any carryover between the two films. They’re basically two completely unrelated stories about the same people in the same place doing the same stuff. Athena is clearly younger than before, though, so make of that what you will. Maybe plastic surgery in Olympus is really awesome. I would say that it’s a good idea to watch one of the prior films just to have an idea about the characters, but honestly things here are so unrelated and formulaic that there’s no real point. The background and setting are pretty much irrelevant in this film. It’s a future police action movie; that’s all you need to know.

They also nabbed John Woo as producer, and they’re quite proud of that fact, even blasting loose with a flock of pigeons when his name pops up in the opening credits. I’m not sure how much he was involved with things, but I can definitely see the difference his influence made. The action scenes are a lot more over-the-top and intricate than the 2004 film, despite having the same director.

Continue reading Stephen reviews: Appleseed: Ex Machina (2007) →

Top 10 Film Discoveries of 2014

I usually watch mostly old movies, and 2014 was a banner year for that. I think I saw something like 12 2014 movies in 2014, so there’s really no point in me making a Top 10, or even a Top 5, of those. My favorite was easily The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, if you care. So as I have done the past couple of years, I instead present a Top 10 of films I saw in 2014 that were “New to Me.” Enjoy!


#10 The 14 Amazons (1972)
Directed by Cheng Kang
Reviewed February 7, 2014

14amazons_5

I saw less Shaw Brothers films in 2014 than I intended to, but the ones I did see were largely very impressive. One of the best was Cheng Kang’s large-scale epic The 14 Amazons. Based on the Generals of the Yang family group of stories that have been passed down through Chinese culture since as early as the 11th century, The 14 Amazons relates the story of how the Yang family widows and their teenage grandson went into battle to defend the western Song borders. It’s got everything you could want in a war adventure film… and more (like the human bridge)! Highly recommended!

#9 Oldboy (2003)
Directed by Park Chan-wook
Reviewed January 27, 2014

oldboy_3

Even though Oldboy is relatively new in comparison to the other movies on this list, it was one of those that I was most shameful about not having seen yet. And boy am I glad I finally sat down to watch it! It’s a stunning film that twists and turns its way to an outstanding finale that refuses to be forgotten. Suddenly all those praiseful conversations that made me feel shame in my Oldboy ignorance made sense. There are a lot of films that get branded with the “Modern Classic” label, but Oldboy is one that is truly deserving of the title. If you can, do your best to see the film unspoiled and knowing as little as possible! You’ll be glad you did.
Continue reading Top 10 Film Discoveries of 2014 →

Scandal Sheet (1952)

scandal_sheet_xlgScandal Sheet (1952)
AKA The Dark Page

Starring Broderick Crawford, Donna Reed, John Derek, Rosemary DeCamp, Henry O’Neill, Harry Morgan, James Millican, Griff Barnett

Directed by Phil Karlson

Expectations: Fairly high.

threehalfstar


At this point in my review series on the writing and story credits of Sam Fuller (that he did not direct), I’ve learned to expect few returns. The films rarely recall the work of Sam Fuller himself, as his fiery style had usually been watered down by a few studio writers before the films made it to the screen. But right from the opening scene, Scandal Sheet evokes the spirit of Fuller’s work. It definitely doesn’t feel like something Fuller made or anything, but there is a raw, pulpy vibe that will likely satisfy all but the most critical Fuller fans.

One of these critics was apparently Sam Fuller himself, as the film’s only mention in his memoir, A Third Face, is to quickly dismiss it as “disappointing.” I have no doubt that to Fuller Scandal Sheet was indeed a total disappointment. The film was based upon his first novel, The Dark Page, which he finished writing right before leaving for the front lines of World War II. While overseas, he learned that his mother had been successful in finding a publisher for the novel, and later (while Fuller was still at war) the novel’s film rights were sold to Howard Hawks, who hoped to direct a film version starring Humphrey Bogart and Edward G. Robinson.

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