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Sheep Without A Shepherd (Wu Sha)

Director – Sam Quah – 2019 – China – Cert. 15 – 112m

*****

A family stands together when their daughter kills the local police chief’s son who is both a rapist and blackmailer – available to rent online in the new Chinese Cinema Season 2021 in the UK & Ireland.

This opens with a prison break in which the escapee ends up interred in a coffin next to the corpse of the man who was trying to get him out. That turns out to be a story told by Li Wiejie or Jie for short (Xiao Yang), an insatiable watcher of detective and crime thrillers. The film lays its cinematic cards on the table almost immediately by referencing Hitchcock, montage, sound effects, excitement and The Shawshank Redemption (Frank Darabont, 1994). Sheep Without A Shepherd is in thrall to the West’s suspense movies and plays out like one while at the same time retaining its distinctive Chinese character with its emphasis on the importance of family ties and loyalty.

Jie and his wife (Tan Zhuo) run a small store in Thailand. Their daughter Ping known in the family as PingPing (Audrey Hui) persuades dad to fund her to go to summer camp where she is drugged and videoed being gang-raped by privileged brat Su Cha (Beety) and his pals.… Read the rest

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Muscle

Director – Gerard Johnson – 2019 – UK – Cert. 18 – 110m

****

Pump it up! A man dissatisfied with his life comes under the influence of a manipulative bodybuilding trainer – in cinemas and on BFI Player, Curzon Home Cinema, iTunes, Sky Store, Virgin and other VoD platforms from Friday, December 4th; digital download from Monday, January 18th; Blu-ray and DVD from Monday, February 1st

Newcastle, UK. Simon (Cavan Clerkin) is at a dead end working days in a dodgy telesales job he hates and coming home at night to his partner Sarah (Polly Maberly) who no longer loves him. Whatever attracted her to him has gone. Looking for a way to move forward, Simon sees a man walk confidently out of a doorway and on realising it’s a local gym, decides to join. It’s not long before he’s under the influence of fellow member Terry (Craig Fairbrass), an ex-forces type who takes him under his wing as a personal trainer to help him transform his body. Under Terry’s influence, Simon changes his diet, reduces his drinking with colleagues to virtually nil and is suddenly achieving top sales at work. None of that is enough to stop Sarah leaving him.… Read the rest

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A Witness Out Of The Blue (Fan Zui Xian Chang)

Director – Fung Chi-Keung – 2019 – Hong Kong – Cert. N/C 15+ – 104m

****

When a member of a gang of jewel thieves is found dead, the murder suspect may not be the obvious person – online in the UK as part of Hong Kong Focus 2021 from Tuesday, February 9th to Monday, February 15th

Following a jewellery store heist, a gang of robbers are to meet to split the loot. But someone gets to gang member Homer Tsui first, slits his throat and makes off with the bag of jewellery. There are no witnesses unless you count the pet macaw which saw the whole thing. When gang leader Sean Wong (Louis Koo) arrives, Tsui is already dead.

Senior Inspector Yip (Philip Keung) is convinced Wong is guilty. “He’s harsh”, says pretty young officer Charmaine (Cherry Ngan), “but he takes care of you.” However, Officer Larry Lam (Louis Cheung Kai-Chung) seems to get on the wrong side of Yip all the time. Lam is passionate about caring for animals and runs a cat sanctuary in his spare time, but he’s got himself into debt with a loan shark setting it up and following an early morning run in with the moneylender arrives late to the crime scene of Tsui’s murder, not to mention slipping on some blood and falling flat on a corpse.… Read the rest

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Creepy (Kuripi: Itsuwari no rinjin)

Director – Kiyoshi Kurosawa – 2016 – Japan – Cert. 15 – 130m

****

Currently on BFI Player as part of 21st Century Japan, MUBI as part of The Uncanny Universe of Kiyoshi Kurosawa and Eureka Video Dual Format BluRay/DVD.

The following review originally appeared in Funimation UK.

Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s new crime thriller Creepy draws on Vertigo, Psycho and Audition.

The latest film by Kiyoshi Kurosawa to receive a UK cinema release is an extraordinary and highly original crime thriller with more than a passing nod to two better known Alfred Hitchcock films. Its opening reworks that of Vertigo (1958) while certain later narrative elements owe much to Psycho (1960) although not the parts of that film which are usually aped or recycled in other movies. It also recalls Takashi Miike’s notorious Audition (1999) in its overall structure. Yet despite these clear influences, Creepy is very much its own film.

Vertigo‘s first scene opens with the rung of a ladder grasped moments afterwards by a human hand. This develops into a chase sequence in which the vertigo of Detective ‘Scottie’ Ferguson (James Stewart) causes a cop to fall to his death. Creepy‘s first scene opens with bars over a window.… Read the rest

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Memories Of Murder (Salinui chueok)

Director – Bong Joon Ho – 2003 – South Korea – Cert. 15 – 131m

*****

Three cops attempt to track down a serial sex killer. Based on a real life, unsolved murder case. With Song Kang-ho in cinemas and on Curzon Home Cinema from Friday, September 11th

On one level, there’s nothing remarkable about Memories Of Murder, a crime movie about cops hunting a serial killer. This is a sub-genre done to death in Hollywood and elsewhere. On another level, however, it has the hallmarks of a really rich and strange talent getting hold of a well-worn formula and doing something fresh, new and original with it.

For one thing, it never dwells on the gore or fetishises the detail of the crimes. At the same time, like much Korean cinema, it never shies away from this material either. It’s unafraid to have an autopsy scene in which the pathologist discovers nine pieces of peach inside a corpse’s vagina but feels just as at ease that a testimony from a survivor throws up an important clue like, I didn’t see the killer’s face because if I had looked at him he’d have killed me, but I did notice he had soft hands.… Read the rest

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Shoplifters (Manbiki Kazoku)

Director – Hirokazu Kore-eda – 2018 – Japan – Cert. 15 – 121m – Palme d’Or winner

*****

Sleight of hand. A family of small time criminals takes a little girl into their care – now out on VoD

The nuclear family. Dad Osamu (Lily Franky) takes son Shota (Jyo Kairi) shoplifting at a local convenience store. Mum Nobuyo (Ando Sakura), a former sex worker, dispenses advice to her younger sister Aki (Matsuoka Mayu). Grandma (Kirin Kiki) lives with the family making a total of five persons in one small living space.

Father and son spot a little girl (Miyu Sasaki) sitting on the street. She’s hungry, so they take to theirs and give her a meal. Taking her home, it’s clear that neither father nor mother wants the child currently nor ever did. So the family decides to take Yuri in as its newest member.

Shota takes Yuri on a shoplifting trip but it doesn’t go so well… [Read the rest]

Out on Thunderbird Video. Also currently on Amazon Prime, BFI Player and Curzon Home Cinema (all rental). This review originally appeared in DMovies.org.

Trailer:

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A Dirty Carnival (Biyeolhan Geori)

Director – Yoo Ha – 2006 – South Korea – 140m

*****

As GoodFellas as it gets! Yoo Ha’s gangster film compares favourably to Scorsese’s classic on many levels, an underrated dirty gem of Korean noir – from the London Korean Film Festival (LKFF) 2017

Byung-doo, 29, (Jo In-sung) is a smart, lean and hungry gangster on the mean streets of Seoul, in A Dirty Carnival. As a debt collector he successfully collects payments from difficult customers. Yet his immediate boss Sang-chul (Yun Je-mun) pays him so little that Byung-doo must constantly beg him for the money to pay his mother’s apartment rent. Looking out for those beneath him and determined to better himself in the wider organisation, Byung-doo realises that its overall boss Hwang (Chun Ho-jin) would like nothing more than to get the sycophantic Prosecutor Park (Kwon Tae-won) off his back. Sang-chul clearly isn’t going to do anything about it so Byung-doo takes the task upon himself. He and one of his men drive into the back of Park’s car in a secluded spot and he kills the prosecutor when they get out of their cars to exchange details.

Byung-doo’s best mate Min-ho (Min Nam-koong) is an aspiring film director who can’t sell the script for the gangster film on which he’s working because the studio producer he approaches doesn’t think it’s realistic enough.… Read the rest

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Bluebeard (Haebing)

Director – Lee Soo-youn – 2017 – South Korea – 115m

****

A Korean Twin Peaks clone. A doctor becomes increasingly suspicious of his downstairs butchers’ shop neighbours: are they chopping people up and dumping their remains in the Han River?London Korean Film Festival (LKFF) 2017 teaser screening

Dr. Byun Seung-hoon (Cho Jin-woong) is working at a colonoscopy clinic where the owner puts in the occasional appearance. The drugs they use have the unfortunate side effect of making their patients talk freely just like people do in their sleep. One day he’s treating the demented father (Goo Shin) of his landlord Sung-geun ( Kim Dae-myung) who runs a butcher shop on the ground floor below his cramped apartment when the old man starts talking about where to put body parts such as the legs and the torso. When the TV news reports on a woman’s body found in pieces in the Han River, Byun puts two and two together.

When Dr. Byun is accosted by Sung-geun the same evening, the two go to the former’s flat and consume drink and food. Medical textbooks are stacked in piles. That’s all he reads. Oh, and mystery novels. He likes the latter because, he says, they provide him with answers… Another evening, his ex-wife comes over and tries to mend their relationship but it doesn’t work and she storms out after a furious row.… Read the rest