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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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Possessor

Director – Brandon Cronenberg – 2020 – Canada – Cert. 18 – 103m

*****

A woman possesses other people’s bodies via technology to assassinate selected targets – on VoD via BFI Player and Crouch End Arthouse from Friday, November 27th and on Digital HD from Monday, February 1st following its debut in the BFI London Film Festival 2020 on Friday, October 16th.

Anyone who’s seen Brandon Cronenberg’s earlier Antiviral (2012) will know that he is a force to be reckoned with, operating in much the same area as his father David (whose Crash, 1996, is currently out on VoD and is released on UHD and BD on December 14th) but with his own, highly individual slant. And equally impressive.

His protagonist here is assassin Tasya Vos (Andrea Riseborough) whose boss Girder (Jennifer Jason Leigh) inserts Vos’ consciousness into others so she can carry out hits on designated targets while occupying their bodies and consciousnesses. Lately, though, things haven’t been going quite to plan. In the body of Holly (Gabrielle Graham), Vos picks up a cutlery knife then repeatedly and bloodily stabs her target with it rather than simply shooting him with the supplied gun. Although Vos gives all the right answers in the psychological evaluation tests following her return, Girder is concerned.… Read the rest

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Jellyfish

Director – Che Chun Hei – 2018 – Hong Kong – Cert. N/C 12+ – 30m

****1/2

A gangland sniper’s shooting of his designated target leads to a friendship with a dog and further unauthorised killings – online and Free To View in the UK in the Fresh Wave short films strand of Hong Kong Focus 2021 from Tuesday, February 9th to Monday, February 15th

Gangland boss Shing (Lau Kong) sets up a sniper (Bowie Chan Wai Wing) in an apartment in a block overlooking a patch of waste ground. Every day, a man walks his dog over this patch. The man is the sniper’s designated target. So the sniper sets up his gun, passes the time, tries to get a decent signal on the TV, smokes, relaxes on the sofa, anything but look through his viewfinder and watch the man and dog pass.

Finally, the order “today” comes though his pager from Shing. One shot and the guy is dead. The dog just sits there, remaining where his master fell. A black van rolls up. Two guys. One has a revolver and thinks of shooting the dog, but doesn’t do it.

The sniper feels for the dog. He takes it food.… Read the rest

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Possessor

The irredeemable flesh

Possessor
Directed by Brandon Cronenberg
Certificate 18, 103 minutes
Released 27 November

The controversial director David Cronenberg has long been an exponent of something he calls ‘the new flesh’, ways that humanity might transcend its bodies. His son Brandon is the same, his new film Possessor concerning the world of cybernetic industrial espionage. Tasya Vos (Andrea Riseborough) is an assassin working for a company run by Girder (Jennifer Jason Leigh), which injects her consciousness into other people as host personalities so that, wearing the clothing of their minds and bodies, she can kill designated targets before being extracted…

His father’s notorious Crash (1996) was restored for reissue in November… [Read more]

Read the full review in Reform.

Read my alternative review here.

Trailer:

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Beasts Clawing At Straws (Jipuragirado Japgo Sipeun Jimseungdeul)

Director – Kim Yong-hoon– 2020 – South Korea – 108m

****

A number of individuals in dire financial straits do whatever they can to get hold of a bag of money – terrific opening night film from the London East Asia Film Festival (LEAFF), on now

Seemingly disparate plot strands suggest a group of separate stories about to be narrated in parallel, but in fact they’re all part of the same story and eventually converge in this compelling thriller involving an ensemble of characters and a bag of money. A number of the characters are in dire and indeed impossible financial circumstances with no obvious way out. The bag of money, when it turns up in each of their lives, represents a possible escape route for each of them.

Lowly bathhouse attendant Jung-man (Bae Seong-woo) finds the abandoned carryall stuffed full with wads of banknotes in a locker on the premises. Of course, the right thing to do would be to hand it in to his boss, but his boss is a nasty piece of work who fires any employee who’s late twice. Besides, Jung-man’s incontinent mother (Youn Yuh-jung) who lives in his home has dementia, refuses to wear incontinence pads and makes life hell for his wife who works a menial cleaner’s job at the airport.… 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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Every Time I Die

Director – Robi Michael – 2019 – US – 97m

***1/2

Reality disintegrates around a man tormented by the accidental, childhood death of his sister – on VoD from Monday, October 26th

People who’ve apparently died then come back to life have often reported the sensation of going down a dark tunnel towards the light, which they then haven’t reached because they’ve been brought back to life. That motif is realised a repeated, clumsy special effect at various points in Every Time I Die, along with more subtle and arguably more successful variants on the same theme, such as a child waking up in a hospital room where the door is slightly ajar revealing a light source beyond.

Other elements recur too: protagonist Sam (Drew Fonteiro) repeatedly feels a pain in his head and blacks out, only to repeatedly come to or wake up in another scenario. He wakes as a young lad of eight (Kenneth Moronta), a camera on the table in front of him, in the hospital room with the door ajar and the light beyond, Then he wakes up, in that device we’ve seen so many times in movies where it was all a dream. Here he wakes staring at the face of Mia (Melissa Macedo) who has spent the night with him and now must leave early to go back to her husband Tyler (Tyler Dash White), a soldier recently returned from several months away on active duty.… Read the rest

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ManHunt (Zhui bu)

Director – John Woo – 2017 – China, Hong Kong – Cert. 15 – 109m

*****

Hong Kong action director John Woo’s return to form – currently on Netflix.

The late Japanese actor Ken Takakura who died in 2014 appeared in more than 200 films and made his name playing ex-cons and gangsters for Toei studios between the mid-fifties and mid-seventies. He was a major inspiration for Hong Kong director John Woo who here remakes the 1976 Takakura vehicle Manhunt.

Du Qiu (Chinese actor Zhang Hanyu) finds himself in a Japanese bar swapping notes on movies with the mama-san Rain (Korea’s Ha Ji-won). Almost immediately, a loutish group of men in suits storm into the same bar to demand he leaves so she can give them her full attention. Once he’s gone, Rain and her partner Dawn (the director’s daughter Angeles Woo) proceed to gun down the suits, the camera whirling around them as Woo choreographs the mayhem.

Du is a lawyer working for a pharma company. The morning after a huge corporate event he wakes up to find a dead woman (Tao Okamoto) lying next to him in his bed. Implicated in her murder, he goes on the run.… Read the rest

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Pixie

Director – Barnaby Thompson – 2020 – Ireland – Cert. 15 – 93m

***1/2

A free-spirited, rule-bending Irishwoman takes on a world of small-time gangsters from the inside – in cinemas from Friday, October 23rd

The West of Ireland. Fergus (Fra Fee) and Colin (Rory Fleck Byrne) have received a tip-off about a shipment coming to a country church. Colin has recently split with longtime girlfriend Pixie. Entering the vestry and presumably expecting gangster types, the pair are surprised to find four priests, two who are visiting from Afghanistan “to discover the lessons we’ve learned from dealing with the IRA”. Our two protagonists, suspicious that Catholics don’t exist in Afghanistan, find themselves in a shoot out. After which, they discover the bag containing the drugs shipment.

We’ve not even met the central character yet. Pixie (Olivia Cooke) adores and dotes on her gangster stepfather Dermot O’Brien (Colm Meaney) but hates and distrusts her quick-tempered stepbrother Mike. She heads out to drink tequila in a bar where, coincidentally, Frankie (Ben Hardy) and Harland (Daryl McCormack) are picking up pills from Daniel (Chris Walley). Frankie always fancied Pixie and, encouraged by Daniel’s lewd, drugs-fuelled suggestions regarding Pixie’s sexual proclivities, Frankie, with Harland in tow, drives out to Pixie’s remote house at two in the morning.… Read the rest

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The Intruder (El Prófugo)

Director – Natalia Meta – 2020 – Argentina, Mexico – Cert. – 95m

***1/2

A woman moves between dreams and reality as she starts to fear that a foreign entity may be taking her over – on BFI Player as part of the BFI London Film Festival 2020 from 20.30 Monday, October 12th to 20.30 Thursday, October 15th

This opens with a close up of a woman’s body bound in bondage gear. She speaks in Japanese and then somewhat disorientatingly (as if this disturbing imagery hadn’t already thrown you enough) in a different voice in Spanish. Voice actress Inés (Erica Rivas) is working in a dubbing theatre. “More powerful, Inés”, says the man in the booth. After a take or two more, he’s got what he needed and they move on to the next clip.

The film’s a bit like that. The opening is representative of what is to follow: a series of bravura and often disturbing sequences that suck you in and make you wonder exactly where the film will end up. As the sequences build, one on another, I was fully expecting this to be a five star review. Alas, the film didn’t seem to know how to end and the final scene, which needed to somehow pull everything together and make sense of the larger whole, quite simply didn’t.… Read the rest