Friends (1974)

Friends_1Friends [朋友] (1974)

Starring David Chiang, Alexander Fu Sheng, Lily Li Li-Li, Lee Yung-Git, Lo Dik, Matsuoka Minoru, Wai Wang, Helen Ko, Danny Chow Yuen-Kin, Chen Wo-Fu, Bruce Tong Yim-Chaan, Wang Kuang-Yu

Directed by Chang Cheh

Expectations: I’m really excited for this one. I’ve really come to love these deliquent youth movies of Chang Cheh’s.

threestar


From a quick glance over Chang Cheh’s filmography, Friends seems to be his final modern-day delinquent youth action drama. And wouldn’t you know it… it feels like it! There is a positive energy running through Friends that isn’t in the other films. Friends notably starts with a scene set years after the main section of the film, when the titular friends are gathered together and reminiscing over their wild, youthful days gone by. They are all successful in their various fields, and can now look back on their earlier struggles and laugh at their absurdity. Chang’s previous youth films were all steeped in angst and an inability to fit in with society in one way or another, so to open Friends showing that these characters have already achieved this goal of assimilating successfully into society (and seemingly doing so without compromising their dreams) immediately announces a different type of film than his other films in the genre.

The film then cuts back in time an indiscriminate number of years, to when the group was just a bunch of unmotivated friends stuck in entry-level jobs. Hua Heng (David Chiang) dreams of being an artist, but for now he has a job painting a mural on the side of the Seiko building. Hua’s girlfriend, Gao Xin (Lily Li Li-Li), is a bar girl deep in debt to her employer, and at risk for turning to prostitution to pay him back. The others work as delivery boys, mechanics, and other similar jobs, but there is one outlier.

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Bleed (2002)

bleed_1Starring Debbie Rochon, Danny Wolske, Allen Nabors, Orly Tepper, Ronnie Gene Blevins, Laura Nativo, Julie Strain, Brinke Stevens, Lloyd Kaufman

Directed by Devin Hamilton & Dennis Petersen

Expectations: Hopefully it doesn’t make my eyes bleed.

On the general scale:
onestar

On the B-movie scale:
onehalfstar


I’m racking my brain for a way to best describe Bleed, but all I’m getting back is the EBS test tone, and that sure isn’t helping me think. Bleed is a poor excuse for a movie, but at the same time it’s an easy movie to get through. Not in a “so bad it’s good” way, it’s just paced well and it shows enough promise to assume it will get interesting. I didn’t like Bleed, but I definitely didn’t hate it either. I wouldn’t call it boring because I was genuinely engaged, but it’s ultimately vapid and not worth watching because it takes all that potential and blows it to oblivion in the final minutes. I’d almost rather be bored than disrespected like that!

Bleed opens with a couple of bros leaving a house party. One is dressed as a cheap streetwalker, the other a maid. They part ways, and soon after someone in all black wearing an expressionless white mask slices the hooker upwards from his balls to his collarbone. It’s surprisingly gory for a Full Moon film, with entrails spilling out of the wound, but don’t get too excited gorehounds. Besides this moment there isn’t much more, but it’s worth noting that what gore there is looks relatively good given the film’s probable very low budget.

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Well of Doom (1974)

WellofDoom_1Well of Doom [吃人井] (1974)

Starring Wang Ping, Chang Chi-Yu, Sally Chen Sha-Li, Sit Hon, Wong Yung, Pao Chin, Wong Yu, Shan Mao, Kong Yeung, Yuen Sam, Richard Tung Chin-Hu

Directed by Ting Shan-Hsi

Expectations: High. The title is very intriguing.

threestar


Well of Doom has all the ingredients for a tense thriller, but it actively avoids fully engaging them in the ways that other films have accustomed viewers to. This could have easily been a Shaw Brothers, period-set version of Wes Craven’s Last House on the Left, and for a time I thought it was headed in that direction. Instead, Well of Doom is something far more varied and interesting, especially in how it has its characters play so much against expectations. The premise of the film is one we’ve seen before, but director Ting Shan-Hsi handles it in a unique way for Well of Doom.

The film opens by introducing us to a poor family living in the mountains of Taiwan. None of them particularly enjoy their hard life away from civilization, but they make do. An old monk, the previous owner of the home, told the father that he would one day return and give the father a large sum of money. That was about six years ago, with no sign of the monk. The father refuses to move away because of this, even though Da-Niu (Sally Chen Sha-Li), one of his three adult daughters, needs ongoing medical attention to deal with her childlike mental capacity. The eldest, Er-Niu (Chang Chi-Yu), is levelheaded and resigned to her life of seclusion and solitude, but her sister San-Niu (Wang Ping) longs for a husband above everything else. One day the father goes to town to buy some supplies, and unbeknownst to him the bandits Copper Head Eight (Sit Hon) and Iron Gun Six (Wong Yung) are traveling through the mountains with their apprentice, One Hundred (Pao Chin).

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I’m on a Podcast — Forgotten Filmcast #75: The Satan Bug

vintage-cat-headphones

After almost a year and a half, I’m back on a podcast! That’s how it goes when you don’t actively pursue those kinds of things. Anyway, you can hear me talk with Todd Liebenow of Forgotten Films on the 75th episode of his Forgotten Filmcast! We got together to discuss the 1965 John Sturges film The Satan Bug, a movie far less entertaining than its title. Commune with the pod and enjoy! I’ve embedded it below for quick listening, but if you wanna subscribe to the show or listen on a portable device you can head to iTunes, PodOmatic or Your Listen.

As always, I love feedback, so if you listen to the show let me know what you think! Thanks for listening!

Thunderbolt (1995)

thunderbolt_1Thunderbolt [霹靂火] (1995)
AKA Dead Heat

Starring Jackie Chan, Anita Yuen Wing-Yee, Michael Wong Man-Tak, Dayo Wong Chi-Wah, Thorsten Nickel, Ken Lo, Chor Yuen

Directed by Gordon Chan

Expectations: Very high!

On the general scale:
twohalfstar

Just the action:
threehalfstar


The one-two punch of Drunken Master II and Rumble in the Bronx is an incredibly tough act to follow, and Thunderbolt is not up to the challenge! Hahahaha, but really it’s kind of a mess of a movie. This is where your love of simple entertainment and Jackie Chan come in! By all normal metrics, Thunderbolt should be a disjointed failure, but it’s actually an entertaining, offbeat gem in the Jackie catalog. I enjoyed it so much as a teen that I actually thought showing it to my grandma was a great idea, choosing it specifically because I thought other, better films would be a harder sell. What’s funny is that re-watching the film now, I can kind of understand what I was thinking.

Thunderbolt continues the trend of Jackie Chan films attempting to appeal to the wider international audience, like Police Story III and Rumble in the Bronx. Thunderbolt goes a step further by limiting the martial arts and replacing it with cars, something more inclusive in a general sense than hand-to-hand fighting. The story retains a slight Hong Kong flavor, but overall the film barely feels like a Hong Kong production. It’s also more in the serious vein of Crime Story than the standard Jackie action comedy, thus avoiding some of the inherent cultural differences in humor. This is my long-winded way of saying that I must have thought my grandma would respond better to something a little closer in sensibility to US films than something like Drunken Master II. I was trying to ease her into the world of kung fu. Hahahaha… it didn’t work.

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Virgins of the Seven Seas (1974)

VirginsoftheSevenSeas_1Virgins of the Seven Seas [洋妓, Karate, Küsse, blonde Katzen] (1974)
AKA The Bod Squad, Enter the Seven Virgins, Foreign Prostitutes

Starring Sonja Jeannine, Diana Drube, Gillian Bray, Tamara Elliot, Deborah Ralls, Yueh Hua, Lau Wai-Ling, Wang Hsieh, Helen Ko, Li Min-Lang, Kong Yeung, Wang Han-Chen, Law Hon, Chan Lap-Ban, Chu Yau-Ko, Sai Gwa-Pau, Aai Dung-Gwa

Directed by Ernst Hofbauer & Kuei Chih-Hung

Expectations: Low. I’m expecting something trashy.

On the general scale:
twostar

On the B-movie scale:
threehalfstar


In addition to being the year of newfound freedom, 1974 was the first year the Shaw Brothers partnered up with some other international studios to co-produce films. I imagine they did so in hopes of reaching new markets, perhaps in an attempt to replicate what Golden Harvest & Warner Bros. had done with Enter the Dragon. Virgins of the Seven Seas was the first of these Shaw co-productions to be released, and it also holds the distinction of being the trashiest Shaw Brothers film I’ve seen yet. And to be honest, I don’t know that I expect any future film to unseat it!

The film features a simple tale of human trafficking and revenge, but mostly it features a lot of nudity. These poor actresses spend almost the entire film topless, tied up or having simulated attempted rapes inflicted upon them; I can’t imagine it was a great filmmaking experience for them. But these are the sacrifices you have to make when filming a movie about five German women kidnapped by pirates who learn kung fu and take revenge on their captors. The film is not shy about being as trashy as it wants to be, but I must admit that the nearly non-stop nudity does give the film a quality of reality that it would not otherwise have. Is it gratuitous? Of course, but because of the gratuity and the relentless aggression of the villains, the women’s fear and vulnerability never left my mind. The film is an exploitation sex comedy with kung fu, so it’s about as far from a message movie as you can get, but regardless it made me reckon with the horrors of human trafficking and the the victims of the sex trade in a heightened, visceral manner.

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Arnold Quick Takes: The Long Goodbye, The Rundown, The Kid & I

longgoodbyeThe Long Goodbye (1973)
onestar

Starring Elliott Gould, Nina van Pallandt, Sterling Hayden, Mark Rydell, Henry Gibson, David Arkin, Jim Bouton, Warren Berlinger, Jo Ann Brody, Stephen Coit
Directed by Robert Altman

Raymond Chandler is one of my favorite authors. After many, many years of procrastination, I finally read The Long Goodbye last month. It instantly became one of my favorite books from any author, and it is by far Chandler’s best. To put it bluntly: Robert Altman’s film version is a horrid adaptation of one of the best books I’ve ever read. Yet, this is a film with a fantastic reputation among film buffs! I can only surmise that they haven’t read the book. I understand that Altman’s goal was to subvert the detective genre with The Long Goodbye, but what I find most interesting is that Chandler’s novel does this better in many ways already. Much of the novel’s complexity is completely lost, and while some that is to be expected in any adaptation, it is very clear from the beginning that Altman was never interested in actually adapting Chandler’s novel. He supposedly didn’t even read the whole thing! The style, soul, and substance that made The Long Goodbye such a resonant piece of work are unceremoniously sucked out and replaced with an entirely different, Altman energy. I honestly don’t know that a faithful adaptation of The Long Goodbye could work as a film, but this sole attempt literally gets every aspect of the novel wrong. Even taking my love of Chandler out of the equation, the film itself hardly feels worthy of praise.

Oh yeah, I was watching this because of Arnold’s cameo. Even this was a disappointment! Arnold doesn’t get to say anything, although for what it’s worth, he sports a weird mustache and strips down to his underwear in one of the oddest gangster confrontation moments I’ve ever seen. WTF.  And don’t even get me started on the recurring Long Goodbye theme song… [and then, then I made a noise like this — HHUUUAAHH  HHUUUAAHH  HHHUUUUUUUUUAAAAAAAAHHHHH] I’ll stick with the book, thank you very much.

the_rundownThe Rundown (2003)
twohalfstar

Starring Dwayne Johnson, Seann William Scott, Rosario Dawson, Christopher Walken, Ewen Bremner, Jon Gries, William Lucking, Ernie Reyes Jr.
Directed by Peter Berg

The Rundown was the first starring role for The Rock, and he easily proved that he could be a capable leading man. It’s not a great film by any means, but it has an odd charm that most mainstream films, especially ones from this era, don’t have for me. Arnold’s cameo isn’t anything more than the quick line, “Have fun,” but in this single moment during the film’s opening, Arnold effectively passes the bodybuilder-turned-action-hero mantle to The Rock. He’s a perfect fit, too; he’s got the body, the charisma and the acting chops to do very well. And now, 13 years later, he definitely has! But The Rock isn’t Arnold, so The Rundown isn’t the type of movie that Arnold himself could have starred in. The Rock is given a few hand-to-hand fights, and the action choreographer (Andy Cheng) wisely incorporated wrestling takedowns and the like into the choreography to take advantage of The Rock’s special skill set. Capoeira figures largely into the film’s most impressive fight, as well as some excellent wirework. I was honestly taken aback by how much I liked the choreography. It felt very Hong Kong-influenced, so when I discovered that Andy Cheng was a stunt double/member of the Jackie Chan Stunt Team for a few years, it all made sense. Overall, the action is pretty good, the comedy not so much, but it was still a lot more fun than I remember it being.

The Kid & I (2005)
threestar

Starring Tom Arnold, Eric Gores, Linda Hamilton, Joe Mantegna, Henry Winkler, Richard Edson, Shannon Elizabeth, Brenda Strong, Arielle Kebbel, Yvette Nicole Brown, Gabrielle Sanalitro
Directed by Penelope Spheeris

The Kid & I genuinely surprised me. It’s well-written and it boasts a great cast with a bunch of fun cameos (including Shaq and Arnold as themselves). I wasn’t expecting anything, but I was instantly won over by the unexpectedly dark suicide humor that opens the film. What makes the film even more interesting is that it’s a blend of fact and fiction. The film revolves around Tom Arnold writing a vanity project for a billionaire’s kid to star in, and the kid is played by Eric Gores, son to real-life billionaire Alec Gores. The Gores family lives next door to Tom Arnold, so the film serves as both the vanity project AND a sort of documentary peek inside the making of the movie. This kind of thing could have easily gone off the rails, but the cast performs admirably and it is impressively well-directed and edited. I’ve wanted to delve into the work of Penelope Spheeris for a while now, but The Kid & I solidifies that inclination to explore the work of this interesting and varied filmmaker.
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