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Eastern Promises

Director – David Cronenberg – 2007 – Canada, UK – Cert. 18 – 100m

****

After a London midwife delivers a dying woman’s baby she finds herself attracting the attention of the Russian mafia – reviewed in Third Way, 2007; on BBC iPlayer until Thursday, October 6th 2022

An immediately recognisable, ethnically diverse London unseen in previous movies about the capital. A Chechen unexpectedly gets his throat cut in a barber’s shop; a pregnant Russian teenager walks into a chemist’s, asks for help and collapses in a pool of her own blood. Given the director, you’d be forgiven for expecting such imagery to pervade the whole film, but Eastern Promises originated not with Cronenberg but screenwriter Steven Knight, whose acclaimed screenplay for Dirty Pretty Things (Stephen Frears, 2002) explored the hidden, ethnic workforce in the underbelly of contemporary, multicultural London. (He also wrote the recent Wilberforce biopic Amazing Grace, Michael Apted, 2006).

Eastern Promises takes us into related territory, again in the capital – this time Russian Vory V Zakone gangsters, sex trafficking and murder. Cronenberg puts this on the screen with all the precision and finesse one would expect, eliciting terrific performances and contributions from cast and crew.

Trafalgar hospital midwife Anna Khitrova (Naomi Watts), the daughter of a Russian father and an English mother, provides our point of entry into this unfamiliar world as the midwife who must deliver the baby from the dying teenager.… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies

Bullet Train

Director – David Leitch – 2022 – UK – Cert. 15 – 126m

***

A man boards a bullet train in Tokyo to steal a suitcase only to be prevented from leaving the train every time he tries to get off it – lightweight action thriller is out in UK cinemas on Wednesday, August 3rd

This adaptation of mystery writer Kotoro Isaka’s 2010 novel, for which the Japanese title literally translates as Maria Beetle, concerns five assassins, each with their separate agenda, who board a bullet train. The film casts Westerners in many of these roles, repopulating the film with an international cast of Americans, Brits and Japanese. Brad Pitt as the lead obviously has box office clout, and is as watchable as ever in this film, however the film has inevitably been accused of whitewashing (even though ‘white’ here would seem to include Puerto Rican and African-American).

The producers here seem to think Japanese high speed rail journeys will draw international audiences but entirely Japanese characters will not. Whether or not they’re correct, casting the film the way they have reinforces this notion. Who else could have done it, you ask? Off the top of my head, I can think of three Hong Kong Chinese, any of whom would work: Chow Yun-fat, Jackie Chan or Tony Leung Chiu-wai.… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies

Breakout Brothers (To Yuk Hing Dai, 逃獄兄弟)

Director – Mak Ho-pong – 2020 – Hong Kong – 12 (Camden Council) – 90m

****

Three prison inmates attempt to escape so that they can attend to various pressing, personal issues– online in the UK as part of Focus Hong Kong 2022 Making Waves from Friday, July 8th to Sunday, July 10th

The generic side of Hong Kong movies (kung fu, supernatural, swordplay, gangster, horror, comedy) has long been one of the strengths of that territory’s film production. This one has already spawned two sequels (Breakout Brothers 2, 2021 and Breakout Brothers 3, 2022, both Mak Ho-pong). In essence, it’s deceptively simple: three inmates in prison attempt to break out. This is hardly an original concept, however two elements makes it different.

One, it’s conceived and shot as a caper movie. It’s not really a comedy, but it most definitely has a lightweight feel. This is brilliantly established from the get-go with the introduction of the score by Pong Chow and Noel Li, which follows a long tradition of themes in caper movies and TV series typified by Mission: Impossible (composed by Lalo Schifrin, 1966) with its driving yet off-kilter bass-line. In Breakout Brothers, this is accompanied by a striking, graphic,opening title sequence as good as that for Collectors (Park Jung Bae, 2020), the difference here being that Breakout Brothers lives up to the promise of its superlative title sequence whereas Collectors doesn’t.… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies Music

Burst City (Bakuretsu Toshi Burst City, 爆裂都市 BURST CITY)

Director – Sogo Ishii – 1982 – Japan – Cert. 18 – 115m

Film ****

Cultural significance *****

Arguably the lynchpin film that brought Japanese cinema back from the brink of extinction in the early 1980s and paved the way for much of what was to follow – on Blu-ray from Monday, November 20th 2020

Looked at today through Western eyes, the opening with its breakneck, speeded up race through (presumably) Tokyo cutting between nighttime and daytime POV shots, with motorbike noises, anticipates the more demented pixillated chase scenes of Tetsuo: The Iron Man (Shinya Tsukamoto, 1989), shots of bikers recall the anti-establishment feel of Easy Rider (Dennis Hopper, 1969) and patterns caused by moving lights burning into film emulsion recall Norman McClaren and Len Lye’s early animation experiments drawing and painting direct onto film. Then it seems to turn into Mad Max (George Miller, 1979) by way of a gangster film elements (two men in a car wearing a suit and a leather jacket respectively) who avoid a near collision with two punks on a motorcycle and sidecar.

How many of these precedents Ishii had in mind (or even had seen) when he made this is impossible to say.… Read the rest

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Get Carter (1971)

Director – Mike Hodges – 1971 – UK – Cert. 18 – 111m

*****

A London gangster takes the train to Newcastle to find out who killed his brother… and why… in a defining film for both Michael Caine and British cinema – back out in cinemas on Friday, May 27th

Fifty years old, Hodges’ first feature has aged well in the main. Viewed today, this gangster film has a lot going for it. It reduces London to seedy, windowless rooms where men watch pornographic slide shows or their unfaithful wives service their lovers’ sexual fantasies over long distance phone calls. After the opening London to Newcastle train journey to the strains of Roy Budd’s memorable score, It quickly settles into its Newcastle milieu of pub interiors, terraced houses, rented rooms, back to back streets, pedestrians, cars, harbours and ferries. It has a memorable finale in which one man pursues another across a beach to a coal heap.

There’s a background about prostitution which turns out to be highly significant to the plot, with histories of men luring girls into pornographic movies. Few of the women (Britt Ekland, Rosemary Dunham, Petra Markham) seem happy – they are sex objects to service the men, or prostitutes, or victims of male trickery.… Read the rest

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Animation Features Movies

The Bad Guys

Director – Pierre Perifel – 2022 – US – Cert. U – 100m

****1/2

A group of criminal animals led by a wolf mastermind pretend to go straight to pull off their greatest job ever – animated feature previews Saturday and Sunday, March 26th & 27th, out in cinemas on Friday, April 1st

It sounds a near impossible feat to pull off, yet The Bad Guys manages to successfully parody the meanness and violence of the gangster movie genre in a children’s animated film without any of the meanness and violence normally associated with that genre. It opens with two guys (well, a wolf and a snake) hanging out in a restaurant shooting the breeze. Yes, there’s only the two of them, but anyone who knows their gangster movies will immediately think of the six guys sitting around a restaurant table at the start of Reservoir Dogs (Quentin Tarantino, 1993) and to underscore the point, the characters are called Mr. Wolf and Mr. Snake (along with, when we meet them shortly after, Ms. Tarantula, Mr. Piranha and Mr. Shark). They’re animals, but they could just as easily have been colours.

As his animal type suggests, Mr Wolf (voice: Sam Rockwell) is the leader of the pack.… Read the rest

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Detective Chinatown 3 (Tang Ren Jie Tan An 3, 唐人街探案3)

Director – Chen Sicheng – 2021 – UK – Cert. 15 – 136m

****

The Chinese franchise’s super-sleuth and bumbling sidekick join forces with their Japanese and Thai counterparts in Japan – out in cinemas on Tuesday, January 25th and 26th only

No sooner have the brilliant crime-solving sleuth Qin Feng (Liu Haoran) and his likeable if barely competent sidekick Tang Ren (Wang Baoqiang) flown in to Tokyo and met their contact there, the sharp and colourful Hiroshi Noda (Satoshi Tsumabuki), than they find themselves embroiled in one of the most seriously bonkers action sequences in the movies in recent years when members of (at least) two gangs suddenly attack in the airport to the inspired accompaniment of the pop song ‘Welcome To Tokyo’ (which gets rolled out again for a cheerful, cast of thousands, song and dance routine accompanying the end credits). Extensive mayhem ensures. A man rolls down a long flight of steps in an oil drum. Two groups of smartly uniformed and skirted women do battle (one group in red, one in blue – stewardesses from rival airlines, perhaps?). Workmen in hard hats and overalls descend from scaffolding to join the melee.

Knowing this will be an impossible act to follow, the film then throws in a pursuer Jack Jaa (Thai martial arts sensation Tony Jaa from Ong-bak, Prachya Pinkaew, 2003) on the Tokyo subway before having the trio flee him on go-karts while he comes unstoppably and hilariously after them by stealing a child’s bicycle with tiny wheels.… Read the rest

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Raging Fire (Nou Fo, 怒火)

Director – Benny Chan – 2021 – Hong Kong – Cert.15 – 126m

***1/2

A cop comes up against his former disillusioned protégé who is now the mastermind behind a criminal gang – in cinemas from Friday, November 12th

A big deal is about to go down. Uber-honest cop Cheung Sung-bong (Donnie Yen) heads a unit constantly in trouble with his superiors owing to his refusal to take pay offs and play their corruption game. They consequently repeatedly block him from accessing supplies and equipment he and his men need to properly do their job. This has gone on for years, with officers cracking under the inevitable strain from time to time. One such is his protégé Yau Kong-ngo (Nicholas Tse), booted off the force for beating a suspect to death. Cheung has kept in touch with him in the interim.

The night of the big deal, Cheung is denied his team’s required equipment and consequently arrives late to the scene of the incident. The absence of Cheung’s expertise on site causes a fellow police colleague to be killed along with various gang members. Unbeknownst to Cheung, the second gang involved in the deal – which double-crosses the first – is headed up by the disillusioned Yau.… Read the rest

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Animation Features Live Action Movies

Collectors (도굴)

**1/2

Director – Park Jung Bae – 2020 – South Korea – Cert. 12 – 114m

A disparate group of tomb raiders attempt to outwit each other to find and obtain a valuable archaeological artifact in this lightweight, comedy caper – from LKFF, the London Korean Film Festival which runs in cinemas from Thursday, November 4th to Friday, November 19th

A grave hunter probing the earth with a cane-like tool hits an object several feet down. Putting his ear to the Earth, he hears a muffled child’s voice: “help me”. Horrified, he starts to dig the earth with his bare hands.

A strikingly graphic 2D-animated title sequence, in two-tone light ochre and black, with hands reaching out to one another through shafts of light, a boy crawling up an underground tunnel, a boy and girl reunited with an adult, a man crawling between multi-storey buildings by rope, high heeled female legs walking through a museum display of cultural artifacts, lots of modern urban imagery including driving a fast sports car through a city, lots of underground digging / mining imagery and a couple of male characters, one looking suspiciously like Indiana Jones, complete with hat and whip.

Burial alive is just one of the many disparate elements thrown together in this lightweight, comedy caper which combines historical Korean archaeology with grave robbing, double-cross, a super rich, big business villain, ruthless gangsters, Seoul locations, and a happy-go-lucky wheeler-dealer thief hero.… Read the rest

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A Moment Of Romance (Tin Joek Yau Ching, 天若有情)

Director – Benny Chan – 1990 – Hong Kong – Cert.18 – 92m

***1/2

When a biker and gang member on the lam from a jewel heist takes a well-to-do girl hostage then falls for her, their romance is doomed – from the London East Asia Film Festival (LEAFF), on now

Gang member Wah (Andy Lau) is the archetypal bad boy who, in the opening sequence, speeds through a narrow gap between two lorries and wilfully breaks a wing mirror on a stationary police vehicle as he rides past. Director Chan keeps up the mayhem with a sequence of two competing lorries on a makeshift racing circuit, each with a pretty girl standing on top – until one of them crashes into a stationery car sending the falling girl through its windscreen and scattering the onlookers as the police approach.

Ascendant gang member Trumpet seems to have it in for Wah and puts him on getaway car duty for a jewel heist. Wah must improvise when cops happen by chance to turn up outside the building while the crime is in progress and during the ensuing pursuit by car, in which he gets the robbers successfully away from the scene, and on foot, his only way of escaping the cops is to take an innocent bystander hostage.… Read the rest