The Bride from Hell (1972)

The Bride from Hell [鬼新娘] (1972)

Starring Margaret Hsing Hui, Yang Fang, Lui Ming, Got Siu-Bo, Kong Ha, Chang Feng, Carrie Ku Mei, Pan Chieh-Yi, Chang I-Fei, Chiu Keung

Directed by Chou Hsu-Chiang

Expectations: For some reason, I’m not expecting much.


Prior to its Blu-ray release from 88 Films, The Bride from Hell barely registered on my radar. Anything titled The Bride from Hell is surely worth a look, especially to a big fan of Hong Kong horror like myself, but this was a film that I literally never heard anyone talking about. Coupled with a production year in the early ’70s, I kind of wrote it off as a tame example of early Shaw horror before the gross-out glory days of Kuei Chih-Hung. But then here it is, receiving a Blu-ray release before many other, well-known Shaw horror films, and it came with a rather loving and excited endorsement from 88 Films. My expectations remained muted, and perhaps because of this, I really, really enjoyed this one. The title is perhaps a little misleading, and a Google translation of the Chinese title says that it means “Ghost Bride” which makes a lot more sense.

The Bride from Hell is relatively slow, but I was hooked from the first moment. A coffin sits in a marsh of swirling fog and tall grasses. It opens and a woman emerges, twirling and bathed in the time-honored traditional green light of the Hong Kong horror film. Then we meet a pair of fellas walking by a lake, Nie Yun Peng (Yang Fang) and his servant Da Huo Zi (Got Siu-Bo). A woman stands forlornly at the edge of the water, but when they approach they fear she is a ghost and run off. They seek refuge in a country home, where Anu (Margaret Hsing Hui) lives with a servant of her own (Kong Ha). During the night, both of the men decide to peep on their female counterpart, but when they’re caught they propose marriage to make it right. So begins the supernatural shenanigans of The Bride from Hell.

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The Ghost Lovers (1974)

The Ghost Lovers [艷女還魂] (1974)
AKA A Woman with Half Soul

Starring Li Ching, Lam Wai-Tiu, Kim Mu-Yeong, Joo Yong, Chan Mei-Hua, Shum Lo, Wang Han-Chen, Wong Ching-Ho, James Ma Chim-Si, Hung Sing-Chung, Fung Ging-Man

Directed by Shin Sang-Ok

Expectations: Moderate.


A title like The Ghost Lovers signals a horror film with a softer edge, and this is definitely the case. It’s not so much a horror film as it is a supernatural drama, although there are lots of good scares and frightful images peppered through the film. I expected this to be the case so I wasn’t disappointed, but I wasn’t ready for how the film would twist the traditional ghost narrative into something unique. The film begins rather straightforward, but as the tragedy of the situations deepen the whole thing sort of flips in on itself. It’s hard to describe without spoiling it, and maybe even drawing attention to this point will diminish its power a bit, but it worked on me and hopefully it’ll work on you, too.

Song Lian-Hua (Li Ching) lies deathly ill in her bed, surrounded by her wet nurse and her family. Song has been betrothed to Han Shi-Long (Lam Wai-Tiu) since they were children, but they haven’t seen each other since. Han’s father was once governor of their town, but was forced to flee after his name was illegitimately slandered and they lost everything. With Song’s condition worsening, they send for Han to visit Song before she dies, but when the messenger returns he says that Han set out two days prior and should have already arrived! Promptly thereafter, Song Lian-Hua dies and it would seem that these star-crossed lovers were doomed to never meet (and Li Ching never to utter a single line in a film she stars in!)

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Gorgeous (1999)

gorgeous_1Gorgeous [玻璃樽] (1999)
AKA Under Control, High Risk

Starring Jackie Chan, Shu Qi, Tony Leung Chiu-Wai, Emil Chow Wah-Kin, Bradley James Allan, Richie Ren Xian-Qi, Chan Chung-Yung, Elaine Kam Yin-Ling, Tats Lau Yi-Tat

Directed by Vincent Kok

Expectations: Hopeful, but it doesn’t look great.

threestar


When it comes to Jackie Chan, the late ’90s were the height of my obsessive period. I rarely watched anything else, and my friends and I would scour the budding Internet for info on old film and news of upcoming films. So imagine my surprise when I was putting together the chronological list for this Jackie Chan series and I discovered a Hong Kong movie called Gorgeous that was released just five months after Rush Hour. I had been under the impression that once Jackie came to Hollywood, he was basically just over here making movies, but no! He actually jumped around quite a bit between continents, continuing to make Hong Kong films while his American career flourished. I guess my excuse was that Star Wars: Episode I was dropping about that same time, so my attention was sufficiently diverted.

In any case, Gorgeous is a very different type of movie for Jackie Chan, trading in the typical action movie plot for romantic comedy. There’s still has a good amount of action, though it does feel more shoehorned in than it would in a more distinct good vs. bad storyline. But that’s a fairly good problem to have, as problems go; the end result is that the audience is treated to some really stellar examples of Jackie Chan action! But I do think it’s important to know before jumping into this one that it’s not really an action movie, and that even the romantic element is somewhat underdeveloped.

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Stephen reviews: Project A-ko 4: Final (1989)

projectako4_1Project A-ko: Final [プロジェクトA子 完結篇] (1989)

Starring Miki Ito, Emi Shinohara, Michie Tomizawa, Tessho Genda, Shuichi Ikeda, Asami Mukaidono, Daisuke Gori, Sayuri Ikemoto, Yoshitada Ohtsuka

Directed by Yuji Moriyama


I can’t say why the filmmakers decided to call it quits at part 4. Perhaps they ran into funding trouble or just ran out of ideas. Maybe it was a case of staff arguing over the direction of the series. Since I’ve never seen any behind-the-scenes info on the Project A-ko sequels (and probably never will), I can only rely on my own unsubstantiated guesses. For whatever it’s worth, I think they realized there wasn’t anywhere else for the series to go and wanted to end the franchise gracefully rather than milk it until it became a stale echo of its former glory.

One of the reasons I say this is because Project A-ko 4 is basically a rehash of the first film. It once again mainly involves an alien invasion that interrupts A-ko and B-ko’s bickering. In fact, the great feud between the two has become so routine that even the other characters are unfazed by it at this point. The big difference this time is that their teacher, Miss Ayumi, is getting married to Kei, so the fight is over him rather than C-ko. This makes C-ko feel abandoned, and she spends much of the film rather depressed.

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Stephen reviews: Project A-ko 3: Cinderella Rhapsody (1988)

projecta-ko3_1Project A-ko 3: Cinderella Rhapsody [プロジェクトA子3 シンデレララプソディ] (1988)

Starring Miki Ito, Emi Shinohara, Michie Tomizawa, Tessho Genda, Shuichi Ikeda, Asami Mukaidono, Daisuke Gori, Sayuri Ikemoto

Directed by Yuji Moriyama


This time the series takes an odd turn. Cinderella Rhapsody starts off with a sepia-toned scene of several women playing pool. The style is much more realistic, and the tone is closer to film noir than slapstick. It focuses on subtle movements and glances like the slight jostle of earrings when someone tilts her head. It is only with great effort that you can tell the characters are actually A-ko, B-ko, and C-ko. The scene plays out slowly, without any comedy other than A-ko’s break shot literally breaking the balls, and your first thought upon seeing it will probably be, “Did I just put on the wrong movie?”

In a way, this scene is a good metaphor for the entire film. It’s out of place, the jokes are less frequent, it plays its parodies too straight, and it’s just kinda boring. What’s more, the opening scene has some of the best animation since the original film, making it feel like a waste of effort that could have gone into a more interesting scene. Overall, Cinderella Rhapsody is a disappointing entry in the series.

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Stephen reviews: Short Peace (2013)

shortpeace_1Short Peace [ショート・ピース] (2013)

Starring Fuka Haruna, Koichi Yamadera, Saori Hayami, Masakazu Morita, Mutsumi Tamura, Daisuke Namikawa, Keikou Sakai, Takehiro Murozono, Issei Futamata, Tomoyuki Dan, Shigeru Ushiyama, Akio Otuka, Ryutaro Okiayu

Directed by Katsuhiro Otomo, Koji Morimoto, Shuhei Morita, Hiroaki Ando, Hajime Katoki


Last time I reviewed one of the oldest anime anthology films, so this time I’m reviewing one of the newest. As with Robot Carnival, Short Peace was orchestrated by Katsuhiro Otomo. Unlike Robot Carnival, though, there really aren’t any connecting themes to Short Peace. The title suggests something regarding war and how easily it can begin, but that isn’t delved into at all. I feel like they wasted a good title here, as well as an interesting premise that might have made for a better film.

The anthology is also made completely in CG (the main character of the opening segment appears to be the only exception), which annoyed me, but I do have to admit that it is some of the best CG I have seen in an anime. But it isn’t the CG that bugged me as much as the stories themselves. They’re not bad really, but they lack the spark of joy that I got from Robot Carnival. I couldn’t connect to them in the same way, and the film felt a bit stale because of that.

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Miracles (1989)

MrCantonandLadyRose_1Miracles [奇蹟] (1989)
AKA Mr. Canton and Lady Rose, Miracle, Black Dragon, The Canton Godfather, Big Brother

Starring Jackie Chan, Anita Mui, Gua Ah-Leh, Richard Ng, O Chun-Hung, Sunny Fang Kang, Bill Tung, Tien Feng, Ngai Jan, Gloria Yip Wan-Yee, Wu Ma, Billy Lau Nam-Kwong, Lo Lieh, Lee Hoi-Sang, Michael Chow Man-Kin, Paul Che Biu-Law

Directed by Jackie Chan

Expectations: Very High. It’s the only classic Jackie film I’ve never seen.

threestar


Miracles is Jackie Chan’s favorite of all the films he’s made, but I doubt many of his fans share the sentiment. It is a lavishly produced film, a true achievement for Jackie Chan the director, but from a viewer’s perspective it is a bit all over the place. It is a prime example of the flexible approach to mixing genre and tone often seen in Hong Kong films, and as such it is both a rousing success and somewhat underwhelming. I imagine that future viewings of the film will only make it better in my estimation, as it won’t be working against 20-some years of expectation and personal hype.

Jackie’s film is a remake of the Frank Capra film A Pocketful of Miracles, which in turn was a remake of the earlier Frank Capra film Lady for a Day. I haven’t seen either of the Capra films, but judging from their synopses it would seem that their stories are more focused on the deceptive plotline that makes up the bulk of the second half of Miracles. Again I haven’t seen the other films, but this would make sense because just watching Miracles, it feels like the first half is almost entirely unnecessary in a strict plot sense.

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