Manhunt (2017)

Manhunt [追捕] (2017)

Starring Zhang Han-Yu, Masaharu Fukuyama, Ha Ji-Won, Stephy Qi Wei, Jun Kunimura, Nanami Sakuraba, Angeles Woo, Yasuaki Kurata, Hiroyuki Ikeuchi, Tao Okamoto, Naoto Takenaka

Directed by John Woo

Expectations: A new John Woo action movie… I love these! But I have very little expectation to love this one, honestly.

John Woo has made over 30 films in various genres, but he is best known for his heroic bloodshed films set in the dangerous world of cops and criminals. His last film to fit the category is 1997’s Face/Off, so calling Manhunt a highly anticipated film would still undersell the considerable excitement of action fans worldwide. There is virtually no film that can stand up to 20 years of pent-up desires, though, and Manhunt is no different. It is not the next Hard Boiled, and it will never achieve such widespread classic status as The Killer or A Better Tomorrow. Regardless of this, Manhunt is a very enjoyable film in its own right, and a nice return for John Woo to the style that made him an international sensation. The focus on the overall style is particularly key, as the film itself hardly resembles Woo’s masterworks in any literal sense.

Du Qiu (Zhang Han-Yu) is a Chinese lawyer working in Japan for Tenjin Pharmaceuticals, a powerful corporation developing cutting-edge drugs. After a company party, Du Qiu is found in his apartment with the corpse of a woman beside him. Charged with murder, Du Qiu escapes the arresting cops and runs for his life. Japanese policeman Yamura (Masaharu Fukuyama) suspects a set-up, and with his recruit sidekick Rika (Nanami Sakuraba) he begins investigating beyond what the initial facts indicate. These threads converge and overlap throughout the film in clever ways, developing the bond between Du Qiu and Yamura, just as you would expect in a heroic bloodshed film from John Woo. The relationship feels undercooked compared to the perfectly executed ones in The Killer or Hard Boiled, though.

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Quick Takes: The Happiness of the Katakuris, The Babadook, Terror Train

katakurisThe Happiness of the Katakuris [カタクリ家の幸福] (2001)

Starring Kenji Sawada, Keiko Matsuzaka, Shinji Takeda, Naomi Nishida, Kiyoshiro Imawano, Tetsuro Tamba, Naoto Takenaka, Tamaki Miyazaki, Takashi Matsuzaki
Directed by Takashi Miike

It’s a stretch to call Takashi Miike’s The Happiness of the Katakuris a horror movie, but it does require being something of a horror fan to truly enjoy its multi-genre insanity. The premise is pretty standard horror movie fare, but don’t be fooled; this is anything but a standard film. The Katakuri family has opened a Bed & Breakfast in a remote part of Japan and are very happy when they receive their first guest. They are not so overjoyed when they discover he’s killed himself, which plays out on-screen in one of the finest moments of movie musical I think I’ve ever seen. Yes, The Happiness of the Katakuris is a warped, horror-ish musical comedy… and it’s a blast. According to the booklet included in Arrow’s wonderful Blu-Ray edition, there’s apparently a whole genre of films similar to this in Japan, but until I see definitive proof I’ll regard The Happiness of the Katakuris as a unique product. Besides, even if wacky Japanese musicals are a thing, I can’t imagine the whole genre is quite this inspired. It’s also worthwhile to note that Miike’s film is a remake of Kim Jee-Woon’s The Quiet Family, but I haven’t seen that one so I can’t offer any comparisons. If you’re into weird cinema that strays far, far off the beaten path, or you’re looking to completely baffle your conservative, mainstream friends and relatives, The Happiness of the Katakuris is a fantastic selection. Plus: Tetsuro Tamba (who I’m familiar with from his roles in Hong Kong films such as The Water Margin)!

babadookThe Babadook (2014)

Starring Essie Davis, Noah Wiseman, Hayley McElhinney, Daniel Henshall, Barbara West, Benjamin Winspear, Chloe Hurn, Jacquy Phillips, Bridget Walters
Directed by Jennifer Kent

In general, I’m one of those people saying that modern horror just isn’t up to snuff. But then something like The Babadook comes along and proves me completely wrong. Artfully well-crafted and featuring an exceptional pair of performances from its leads (Essie Davis & Noah Wiseman), The Babadook is gripping from start to finish. I don’t want to spoil anything so I’ll remain vague, but what set the movie apart is that it engages as both a visceral horror movie and as an intellectual piece. I spent the whole film in rapt attention, creeped out to the hilt and always questioning and deconstructing what the film was feeding me. It’s even more impressive to learn that this is the feature debut of director Jennifer Kent! Cross your fingers, say the name of your favorite horror film three times into the mirror, and wish upon a star that The Babadook is the beginning of a stellar career and not a lone spark in the darkness. Either way, The Babadook is fan-fucking-tastic, and you need to check it out.

terror-train-movie-poster-1980-1020541661Terror Train (1980)

Starring Jamie Lee Curtis, Ben Johnson, Hart Bochner, David Copperfield, Derek McKinnon, Sandee Currie, Timothy Webber, Anthony Sherwood, Howard Busgang, Steve Michaels, Greg Swanson, Vanity
Directed by Roger Spottiswoode

You can quickly describe Terror Train as “a slasher set aboard a train,” but to do so is to overlook the fun of the movie. It’s a slasher on a train! With crazy Halloween masks, Jamie Lee Curtis and magic courtesy of the one and only David Copperfield! But maybe that doesn’t do it for you; you’re more of a discerning cinephile type. Well, Terror Train marks the directorial debut of Roger Spottiswoode, director of such cinematic classics as Turner & Hooch, Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot, and Tomorrow Never Dies! If that’s still not enough cred for you, Terror Train features cinematography by Oscar-winner John Alcott, who got his big break/promotion while working on something called 2001: A Space Odyssey and went on to shoot such classics as A Clockwork Orange, Barry Lyndon, The Shining, and Baby: Secret of the Lost Legend! As you might have figured out by now, I don’t have much to say about Terror Train! Nonetheless, it was a fun ride, and fans of late ’70s / early ’80s horror will most likely have a good time with it, too.

Stephen reviews: Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence (2004)

ghostintheshell2_1Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence [イノセンス GHOST IN THE SHELL (仮題)] (2004)

Starring Akio Ohtsuka, Kōichi Yamadera, Atsuko Tanaka, Tamio Ohki, Yutaka Nakano, Naoto Takenaka, Yoshiko Sakakibara

Directed by Mamoru Oshii

While the first Ghost in the Shell dealt primarily with mental identity, the “ghost” of the title, Innocence deals more with the physical robot body, the “shell” in this analogy. In that sense, it completes the theme nicely and is the perfect direction for the series to take. This time the police case is investigating a series of crazed robots that have killed their owners. This immediately made me think of Boomers from the Bubblegum Crisis/AD Police series, but like the first film, Innocence is so full of philosophical discussion on the definition of life and the distinction between man and machine that it stands apart from most anything else dealing with psycho robots.

It’s certainly an ambitious goal to make a sequel to such a complex and well-made film as Ghost in the Shell, and although I have a number of issues with it, it didn’t do a terrible job. Mostly what bugs me is what really just comes with the territory in a mid 2000s anime; it’s chock full of obnoxious and very obvious CG. When set next to the original, there is just no comparison between the natural grace of handcrafted animation and the jarring, stiff feel of CG. What makes this more annoying to me is that the moments that don’t rely on CG look fantastic, which only emphasizes how ugly the CG is. Much of the film does look amazing, and it just makes me bemoan the fact that the entire film wasn’t made so well.

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Mini-Review: Shinjuku Incident (2009)

Shinjuku Incident (2009)

Starring Jackie Chan, Naoto Takenaka, Daniel Wu, Chin Kar-lok, Xu Jinglei, Fan Bing-Bing, Masaya Kato, Jack Kao, Yasuaki Kurata, Lam Suet, Ken Lo, Kenya Sawada, Paul Chun

Directed by Derek Yee

Expectations: Moderate. Jackie Chan is always good.

It’s important to know going into Shinjuku Incident that it is not an action film. The DVD box will have you believe otherwise, but it is merely a ploy to get you to watch it because you like Jackie Chan and his action films. Thankfully I knew this, so my expectations were properly set for the crime drama that it is. It’s not without some limited moments of action as dictated by the story, but none of it is choreographed in any way, shape, or form like a martial arts film or even your standard Hong Kong crime action film. Shinjuku Incident shares more with Scarface or The Godfather than it does Police Story, but there’s nothing wrong with that.

With that out of the way, the film is a pretty good one. Directed by Derek Yee (star of one of my all-time favorite kung-fu films, Shaolin Intruders), Shinjuku Incident tells the story of Nick (Jackie Chan) who illegally enters Japan in an effort to better his life. He meets up with a group of friends already living there and together they struggle to survive in the harsh world of the Yakuza-controlled Shinjuku district. This early period of the film sets up the characters nicely, with their motives and struggles feeling rooted in reality. The film takes a turn at about the halfway point and becomes even more interesting by throwing Nick into a couple of sticky situations. Watching him react and seeing him make key decisions is where the film hits its stride, tying in earlier plot points and characters into its complex weave.

I’m pretty tired of crime drama these days as I rarely see anything that’s truly original, and Shinjuku Incident definitely doesn’t innovate in any major way, but it remains enjoyable throughout thanks to excellent acting from the entire cast. Jackie has a couple of actiony sequences and believably acts like he doesn’t know what he’s doing, struggling to hold his own against more seasoned fighters. Beyond the physicality though, Jackie brings a muted, thoughtful character to the screen that never ceases to be entertaining. The film also features some pretty good use of gore, which adds a lot to the visceral impact of the film.

Having recently seen The Town, I can’t help but compare the two similarly themed films. While The Town is more exciting, Shinjuku Incident is much more layered and full of character depth than The Town, and is a much more rewarding film for it. There are definitely better told crime boss tales, but Shinjuku Incident is still worth your time if you enjoy the genre and / or Asian cinema.

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