Curse of Evil (1982)

curseofevil_1Curse of Evil [邪咒] (1982)

Starring Tai Liang-Chun, Ngaai Fei, Lily Li Li-Li, Lau Nga-Lai, Yau Chui-Ling, Eric Chan Ga-Kei, Wang Lai, Leung Tin, Angelina Lo Yuen-Yen, Wong Ching-Ho, Lau Siu-Kwan, Jason Pai Piao

Directed by Kuei Chih-Hung

Expectations: The poster is great and I love Kuei Chih-Hung, so I have high hopes.

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There is a lot to like about Curse of Evil and its twisted family dynamic and ultra-gooey FX work. Unfortunately, the film is pretty hard to penetrate as the story is muddled and the characters are hard to keep track of. For instance there are a couple of pairs of siblings, but they both dress in the same clothes. I wasn’t really familiar with most of the actresses either, so as much as I feel dumb to say it, they all kinda ran together. But honestly, the writing of the individual characters isn’t strong enough to distinguish them from one another, so that’s really the main concern.

The story is one that requires an in-depth explanation of the past to make sense, and since this one’s only 78 minutes long, that means Curse of Evil opens with a big ol’ info dump. There was once a wealthy family, the House of Shi, but tragedy struck and bandits killed 13 members of the family. Their bodies were thrown into the mansion’s dry well and ever since then the remaining family members (only a mother and her infant son) have been cursed by the angered Dragon King. We pick up the film 20 years later, as Madam Shi is celebrating her 50th birthday. But, y’know there’s that Dragon King curse, so her son, now 20 years old, dies, along with his wife. This leaves their two daughters to be raised by Madam Shi. At this point the film jumps another 15 years, when the daughters are about 20-ish. Phew.

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Haunted Tales (1980)

hauntedtales_2Haunted Tales [碟仙] (1980)

Starring Ching Li, Ling Yun, Lin Chen-Chi, Lau Luk-Wah, Yeung Chi-Hing, Ku Kuan-Chung, Chan Shen, Shum Lo, Liu Lai-Ling, Sa Sa, Lau Nga-Ying

Directed by Chor Yuen (The Ghost, Story #1) & Mou Tun-Fei (The Prize Winner, Story #2)

Expectations: The poster is great, so I have high hopes.

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Haunted Tales is a two-film horror anthology from the Shaw Studio, but those expecting a common theme between the tales should seek such synchronicity elsewhere. The first story is a reserved, classically styled ghost story, and the second is a debaucherous, exploitative morality play that’s closer to something Kuei Chih-Hung would have made. But while the tales do not complement one another, they are both engaging and quite entertaining in their differing ways, so Haunted Tales comes out as a great Shaw Brothers take on the horror anthology.

My research on the film led me to this post on the wonderful and always informative Cool Ass Cinema website. I encourage you to read the post if you’re interested in this film, or just some behind-the-scenes ideas of how the Shaw studio was run, and while you’re there explore the site a bit. It’s full of great stuff! Anyway, the gist is that the first story (The Ghost) began life with Chor Yuen as Hellish Soul in 1975, but production shut down and a few years later Ho Meng-Hua was brought in to complete some re-shoots (which also resulted in an unfinished feature). The Prize Winner, Mou Tun-Fei’s short that closes the film, also began shooting as a feature. Instead of completing the features, they were salvaged and combined into Haunted Tales. That explains the differences in tone!

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Stephen reviews: Night on the Galactic Railroad (1985)

NightontheGalacticRailroad_1Night on the Galactic Railroad [銀河鉄道の夜, Ginga Tetsudō no Yoru] (1985)
AKA Kenji Miyazawa’s Night on the Galactic Express

Starring Mayumi Tanaka, Chika Sakamoto, Chikao Ohtsuka, Hidehiro Kikuchi, Junko Hori

Directed by Gisaburō Sugii


If you’ve been around this site for a few years, you may recall a film I reviewed a while back called Spring and Chaos. It was a biopic about Kenji Miyazawa, Japan’s foremost literary figure. This film is the adaptation of Miyazawa’s most famous book, Night on the Galactic Railroad. And these two films have more than a passing connection. Now that I’ve finally seen Night on the Galactic Railroad, I can see just how strongly it influenced Spring and Chaos. That later film is as much a tribute to this film as it is to Miyazawa himself.

Watching this film also drove home just how indebted the Galaxy Express 999 series is to Miyazawa’s original novel, though this film’s adaptation of the book came out quite some time after Galaxy Express. In fact, the two titles are nearly identical, with “galaxy express” and “galactic railroad” simply being alternate translations of “ginga tetsudō.” Any way you slice it, Miyazawa’s little fable has had a massive influence on anime and manga, to say nothing of what it did to Japanese literature.

Continue reading Stephen reviews: Night on the Galactic Railroad (1985) →

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.

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

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.

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

Stephen reviews: Project A-ko 2: Plot of the Daitokuji Financial Group (1987)

ProjectA-ko2_1Project A-ko 2: Plot of the Daitokuji Financial Group [プロジェクトA子2 大徳寺財閥の陰謀] (1987)

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

Directed by Yuji Moriyama

 


With the success of Project A-ko, it should come as no surprise that a sequel was quickly put out. What is a bit surprising is that instead of a full theatrical film, all the sequels to Project A-ko were much shorter, direct-to-video releases. As a result, Project A-ko 2 suffers from a pretty big downgrade in quality. The animation is nowhere near as good, and the music lacks that memorable charm of the first film. This also adds up to some less satisfying action as well.

With Katsuhiko Nishijima stepping down as director, it might be tempting to blame Yuji Moriyama who took his place. I do think Nishijima did a better job; Moriyama tends to linger over the jokes a little too long, and he doesn’t have quite the flair for exciting action scenes. But Moriyama is certainly no stranger to the franchise. He was character designer, animation director, and one of three screenwriters for the first film, so he didn’t just pop up out of nowhere with no idea what to do.
Continue reading Stephen reviews: Project A-ko 2: Plot of the Daitokuji Financial Group (1987) →

Stephen reviews: Project A-ko (1986)

projecta-ko_1Project A-ko [プロジェクトA子] (1986)

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

Directed by Katsuhiko Nishijima


Thirty years ago Project A-ko took the anime industry by storm. It was one of the biggest names in anime, and thoroughly beloved by just about any anime fan in the ’90s. So now, for its 30th anniversary… well, pretty much nothing is happening other than me writing up this review. The franchise has been dormant for the past 25 years, and people seem to have just forgotten about the whole thing. I suspect there are vast swaths of younger anime fans who have never seen it, possibly never even heard of it.

This strikes me as strange. More than any other title, save for perhaps Akira or Ghost in the Shell, A-ko was the face of anime in the West. And if you ask me, I would say A-ko is a much truer definition of the art form. Akira and Ghost in the Shell were great films, no question about it, but they are the face of anime solely because they have mainstream appeal. People who don’t like anime often like those films anyway, because they don’t really represent what anime is like. Anime is about over-the-top absurdism, larger-than-life action, and exaggerated emotions which cannot be portrayed with live action; because human faces cannot actually contort like that.

Continue reading Stephen reviews: Project A-ko (1986) →

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